It was 8 am. Our gaze was firmly stuck on the far end of the deserted lane, waiting for the cab to arrive outside our relatives’ apartment where we have been residing for the lockdown.
After prolonged anticipation, it came as a surprise when the app confirmed the ride from Dwarka to Gurgaon without a pass. We still had our doubts about whether the driver would agree to take us but luckily for us, he did.
Along the way, the wrapped and enclosed driver’s seat had my attention glued to it. But I had to tear my eyes away, and also stop assessing the changes the outside world beyond the car window had borne over the past few months, to compose my sister.
Her anxiety was evident with the multiple phone calls she made to her flatmate, who had already packed up her belongings. She muttered to me, “We have to look for a decent place. It seems even the hostel in Delhi University you stay at might ask you to vacate soon enough. Maybe we can stay together in a flat. But I don’t know why everything has to pour on us, all together like this.”
When we reached the apartment, tension already plagued the air. One thing that seemed apparent was that both my sister and her flatmate did not want to indulge in a face-off with the landlady.
They knew that the moment she would catch hold of them, she wouldn’t stop ranting and raving for a minute over their not vacating the flat during the lockdown.
Just weeks before the lockdown, my sister and her flatmate had given the landlady notice, saying that they would no longer be renting from her because of a robbery that had taken place. But when the lockdown was announced suddenly, making it impossible to pack up, they had asked the landlady to deduct the rent for the month of April from the security deposit that she had yet to hand over.
On the day we managed to make it to the flat, my sister and I huddled over the packing process and the hefty cartons we now had to deal with. Luckily, at the last minute, one of our dad’s friends came by and helped us move some of the cartons to a friend’s place and the rest to his home.
When we were moving the cartons downstairs, the landlady turned up and stood at the doorway and began screaming and shouting.
She yelled about my sister’s flatmate who, according to her, had argued in an ill-mannered way with her on the phone. She even threatened to get her raped by nearby villagers, her exact words being, “Usse pata nahi main kaun hoon, noch ke khaa jaayenge saare, ek baal nahi bachega shareer pe.”
Still screaming, she said if my sister’s flatmate continued “to behave like this on the phone”, she might need to get her to fear the “police danda” – referring to her husband who is in the police.
Meanwhile, my sister was continuously convincing her roommate to pay the rent for this month as she had already paid for the month of March. Eventually, my sister paid the whole amount and we left the place for good.
To head back to Dwarka, we booked a cab again. Like it had in the morning, the ride got confirmed. But this time, after we were seated and the trunk was full of luggage, the driver refused to drive us to the drop location, citing company norms.
Still astounded by our luck this morning with the first no-fuss driver, we changed the drop location to my sister’s friend’s place.
After that, we had to listen to the taunting jibes made by our relatives over the phone – who accused us of having planned a night out with our friends. The taunts, it was clear, came not out of care or concern, but were wholly rooted in the suspicion that we chose to do this so that we could have a fun night.
The next day, we booked a cab to the Kapashera border. Our relative had already made it clear that he would come to pick us up at the border. The cab left us a kilometre before the border. Dragging our suitcases in the gushing loo, we walked towards the border.
But we were not alone.
Many families walked alongside us, with pouches, bags and kids on their backs. The leaves that had fallen off the trees and the parched wind had us constantly wiping our faces. My mouth was so dry, I could smell the unpleasant breath escaping from it.
We sat on a footpath on the other side of the border and waited for the car. After sitting for 20 minutes of looking at a bhelpuri wallah sitting next to us, aimlessly staring at the wide road in front of us, I saw the car approach us.
For a while in the car, I was in a bit of a trance. The landscape transitioned to well-laid-out apartments, but I was still thinking about the bhelpuri wallah.
Why was he sitting there? Was he still sitting there? Had someone bought his bhelpuri yet?
Shaily Mishra is a third year student pursuing BA (Hons) Journalism from Kalindi College, DU.
Featured image credit: Darshan Gajara/Unsplash