8:15 pm: An hour later than when I usually leave office. Uber booked. Driver is four minutes away. Drop off around 8:55 pm. Sigh.
8:18 pm: Driver is 0.5 km away.
8:21 pm: Driver is 0.9 km away.
8:22 pm: “Bhaiya aap aage chale gaye hai! (you’ve gone too far ahead)”
8:25 pm: Ride started. “Sorry ma’am, GPS issues.”
8:30 pm: Boisterous Punjabi tracks are playing on the car radio. I glance out of the window at hurried cars driving by and the bokeh of headlights, streetlights and rear-lights. Loud and impatient honks. Mask covered faces – N95, cotton, surgical and makeshift (handkerchiefs tied around face). Sensory overload. Honk. I look away.
8:32 pm: A guy on a bike, driving unsteadily. Head tilted, pressing on his shoulder, phone and life dangling between them.
8:33 pm: A family of three on a motorbike. Man sitting in the front, kid in the middle and woman at the back. The woman sat in an “un-lady like way”, straddling the bike. Ladies, at least in India, were supposed to sit on a two-wheeler with both legs dangling in one direction, facing the side. Dangerous, but lady-like. Or so we are all taught.
8:35 pm: The driver is driving faster than what I am comfortable with. A little harsh on the brake, and sharp on turns.
8:36 pm: Man, in a big car, honking at everyone and at no one in particular. The horn says, “Warning! Get out of my way! I’m honking so I’m absolved of any moral responsibility of hitting you, even if it is my mistake.” Honk. Honk.
8:37 pm: Family of three on the bike makes another appearance, now closer than before. The kid in the middle, around twelve years old, has a bandage around his head, covering his eyes. All three are wearing masks, but only the man is wearing a helmet.
8:40 pm: Driving over a flyover and the buildings are so close. I’m pretty sure if I put my hand out of the window, I could touch them.
8:42 pm: A little bit of a quiet stretch, lined by luscious green trees around the metro station. Combination of moonlight and LED streetlights cast a magical silvery glow on the abandoned entrance of metro. An old man on the side walk- dressed in rags, dishevelled, long and silvery hair, blending with the nightscape. Honk. I look away.
8:45 pm: Traffic police standing at the corner of a busy turn, stopping cars for challan and slowing the traffic. Genius.
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8:47 pm: A guy, dressed in all black, whizzing past cars on a scooty. Manoeuvring past all the cars like Pac-Man trying to avoid the ghosts.
8:48 pm: Heavy traffic. Bus stop across the road has people scattered all around, waiting for the bus. Mask-covered faces – N95, cotton, surgical and makeshift. Multiple people have their noses out their masks, some have it down to their chins. Sigh.
8:50 pm: Another flyover, metro tracks are really close to the highest point of this flyover. If, for any reason, a metro breaks down near this flyover and someone really tries, they could actually make the jump to the flyover. And probably be crushed by the oncoming traffic.
8:53 pm: Traffic thins and the road looks golden under the streetlights. I look up at the sky. Even though it is a clear night, no stars are visible. As if for some consolation, a metro passes by and punctures of yellow light shine through, creating a beautiful contrast against the dark backdrop. Mesmerising and reminiscent of Delhi streets in the movies. Honk. I look away.
8:55 pm: The last four digits of the number plate of a car driving in front of my cab reads 5418. I do quick math, they add up to 9. Score! Some other car’s last four digits are 6231, they add up to 3.
Better luck next time! This is a game I play, for as long as I can remember, whenever I am on road. The aim is fairly simple- keep adding the last four digits of the number plate, till they are a single digit number; if the number is 9, it’s a ‘score!’, and if it is any other number, then you try until you find another one that add ups to 9.
8:57 pm: Text from Dad, “Where?”
Me: “Almost home.”
Dad: “Ok.” For some reason, my father only sends single word texts. Efficient and machine like.
8:59 pm: We are approaching a junction, with options to either go straight or turn right. We are supposed to go straight. As we get closer, I can see a truck coming from the right. The driver doesn’t seem to notice it – or if he does, he does not seem to care since he isn’t slowing down. We miss the truck by the skin of our teeth. The driver is completely unbothered. I’m in the back seat, silently having a crisis.
9:01 pm: I remind the driver of the cut up ahead, and how he is supposed to take a U- turn to drop me off at my location so that I don’t have to cross the road and possibly get hit by a car while doing so.
9:02 pm: As we approach the cut, I hold my breath hoping he doesn’t turn on the empty and dark street behind my house instead of making a U-turn. He doesn’t, and I can breathe again.
9:04 pm: “Thank you,” I say, while the cab comes to a stop at my location. The driver reminds me to give him five-star rating as I’m getting off. And I just nod, because I probably will.
Muskaan Aggarwal is a final year architecture student, trying to navigate through the world with an open mind and some empathy.