I was returning home from work on a Friday late-night – so late that Saturday was just fifteen minutes away. I dragged myself to the parking lot. I was tired and drowsy – the early stages of cold made me feel even worse; heavy head and watery eyes. Working late on a Friday plus physical discomfort pushed me to my irritable mode.
As soon as I entered the driveway from the basement parking; I saw a man flag my car. Confused I stopped and opened the window.
“Pondicherry?” he asked.
With no ability to think I replied; “Yes” and stared at him.
He was a man in his late twenties or early thirties. He had his company ID card around his neck and was in formal clothing. Formals on a Friday – “must be one of ‘those’ companies”; I thought.
I continued; “Yes, but I am not going to Pondicherry”.
“Oh OK, I saw the car registration number and thought you might go there”
I smiled at him as he continued; “OK thanks”
I knew that there was many private auto rickshaws and late night buses available at that time for him to commute, still I asked; “How are you planning to go?”.
I could have just driven away, but I decided to ask him. I did not feel threatened, may be because I was still inside the office campus or because he looked like any other person I interact with daily.
“I will take a share auto to reach the bus stop”; he replied.
“May be I can drop you, I am going on that way”
He hesitated for a moment and said; “It’s OK I can manage”.
I sensed he was shy - it was funny I thought he was shy, because he was not shy to stop me and ask lift for 150 kilometers!
“It’s OK get in”; I said and opened the passenger’s seat door for him. He sat in the car as I accelerated.
Me being me, kept quiet for the first few seconds. As we exited the gate I asked him where he worked and we started conversing. Since we were from the same city, we shared where we live and studied et cetera. Surprisingly we never shared our names.
Our discussion extended as I suggested which route he should take to get a bus at this time. I told him to get down in a junction where he had more chances to get bus than the one he first decided; which was on my route home. I also offered to drop him at the new place, which he agreed to. I went out of my way and dropped him at the junction.
It was a Saturday night. I had no particular plans made. I spent the day with my friends and I needed some time for myself that night. I excused myself from the gleeful chaos and headed home. En-route I decided to visit marina beach – one of my favorite spot in Chennai. I used to spend late nights at the marina by myself when I wanted to be alone. The vast beach gave me privacy even as the strange eyes pried on me.
I parked my car and strolled for a while. I was in my serene mood. The salty breeze and the unique marina smell took me back in time. Since it rained that evening there was not much crowd in the beach. Even otherwise the police patrol would clear up the beach bums in another thirty minutes. I walked back to the parking and leaned on my car bonnet. I took out my mobile and started reading the unread group chat messages.
I sensed somebody walk towards me and turned my head from my mobile. I saw two aged men, in their mid-sixties and shaved head, walk towards me. One man was stocky, he wore a crumbled dirty white shirt and a yellow veshti. The other one was skinny and wore a crumbled and dirty white shirt and veshti.
The stocky man held his mobile in his hand and spoke in an accented Tamil as he walked towards me; “Thambi (brother), we have come on a tour…”
I thought; “No, not one of those lost tourists who ask for money to return home”.
He continued; “…we got down here to meet someone; but the person did not turn up and our bus is on the other end of the stretch. We don’t have balance in our mobile to call our relatives to come and fetch us from here…”
“It is just the other end, you can walk”; I said coldly.
“It is almost three kilometers thambi and it is dark…I want to make only one call…”; he said in a pleading tone.
I hesitated for a moment said; “I don’t know who you are, how do you expect me to give my mobile to you to make a call?”
“Thambi, can’t you judge us by seeing? Do we look like some thugs?”; he shot back.
The skinny man mumbled to stocky guy; “We both are shabby and have our heads shaved…”
The stocky man grinned at me. I had already decided not to help them.
I said; “No, I can’t, I don’t know who you are” and tried to move away.
“Thambi, only one call, we are from Erode. We are on a pilgrimage. We reached Chennai this evening from Tirupati and he is Manikkam and I am Pitchai.” the stocky man said.
Suddenly I correlated his yellow veshti, shaved head and the faded namam on his forehead. But still I didn’t want to help them, or may be because I did not want to prove myself wrong.
They stood there in front of me cursing their luck. Few minutes passed by. I looked at them and I don’t know why, I asked them “Give me the number”.
They both smiled and gave me the number as I dialed. I gave my mobile to the stocky man and was alert at the same time in case if he runs off. He ordered the other person on the line to come and pick them up immediately and said he was calling from someone else’s mobile since he ran out of balance on his mobile. He disconnected the call and gave the mobile back to me.
They stood there and cursed their luck again as I went back to my messages. I received a call from the number I dialed for them earlier. I gave my phone to the stocky man. He repeated what he said earlier, disconnected the call and gave back the mobile. I noticed the genuine plight in their communication to the other man.
By now I started to feel bad. The only reason I refused to believe them was their appearance. They moved away from where I stood and sat on the platform directly opposite to me. I wondered why they never thanked me. By now I was curious about them and their alleged bus on the other end of the stretch. I started to look for the bus as well. I also kept an eye on the two as I fiddled with my phone.
Thirty minutes passed as I saw no sign of bus and the men got up and walked towards an auto rickshaw. I watched them talk to the driver animatedly. They walked away from the auto – the driver must have refused to take them. They stood there for a while before they walked towards the direction of the bus.
I wondered why I refused to help them. I reasoned myself saying that I helped them by giving my mobile to make a call and I shouldn’t feel sorry for them. My consensus told me to I should help them get to their bus.
I stood there and stared at them as they disappeared in the darkness…
I offered to drop the two men where their bus was. They were shocked when I offered them, but they gladly accepted my offer and thanked me profusely. And I went back home happy!