It is past midnight and I am in a cab coming back from a date. I slide to the left and lay my head, heavy with concern, against the rolled-up window. Instinctively, I keep my door unlocked. The car freshener in this confined, air-conditioned space makes me feel like I’m trying to breathe while cement clogs my nostrils. I ask the driver to roll down all the windows.
Yellow lampposts illuminate the road which is lined with trees that throw ornate shadows as we drive through this moonless night. I know I can’t relax. Not yet. I sit up straight on the back seat and take out my phone. I look at the driver’s details on the app and share my status with four different people in four different nooks of the country.
My phone pings immediately. “Itni raat ko, kahaan?” (Where are you so late at night?) It is from my interrogative sister, who lives on the other side of the city.
I should have taken the last metro home but I wanted to avoid the ten-minute auto ride home from the station. I dread the stares that look me up and down as they allot me a position on the promiscuity scale. It is going to be a long night, this one.
I click a picture of the approaching Indira Chowk signboard to send to my fearful sister. Reopening the cab service’s app, I take a screenshot of the driver’s mobile number to forward to her. I reassure her that I have the women’s helpline on speed dial.
I once read somewhere that it’s wiser sit behind the driver, and not the passenger seat beside him because it’s easier to fend off an attack that way.
I open Google Maps on my phone to make sure the driver is taking me through the correct route. I strike up an obscure conversation in an effort to make him humanise me. By the end of the ride, he has told me all about his aspirations, children and hometown. Now he’s more than just a first name to me. He doesn’t feel so dangerous to me anymore. Suddenly I realise I’m not as paranoid as I was.
Yet, I know that any girl in my position would have felt the same discomfort. I should have taken the last metro home. I’m not anxious or complaining. I just want to be able to take the last metro without having to worry about that ten-minute auto ride home.
Maria Uzma Ansari is a student at Jamia Millia Islamia.
Featured image credit: Adnan Abidi/Reuters