An Unknown Friend – Short Stories, India
The roads were wet from the rains that lashed the city the whole of the previous night. It was still drizzling early morning when Priya, with an umbrella to protect her from getting wet, walked onto the morning roads to get a rickshaw to take her to the station from where her train leaves at 6:55 a.m.
She had a 45 minute travel to her office in the other part of the city. As the climate was cool and damp due to the continuous downpour there was hardly anyone on the roads at that early hour. Just the she saw a cycle rickshaw coming that way and waved her hand to stop it. It stopped and she got in.
The rickshawallah was young, nearly about her as she observed, and she reached the station ten minutes before the train’s departure, earlier than usual. At the station entrance, while she was searching for change to give the rickshawallah, he engaged himself in buying some flowers to keep on the cycle. From the flowers he bought, he offered Priya rose. She smiled, took it, said thanks, gave him the fare and hurried to catch the train.
‘She reached her office ten minutes before eight and hit the computers. She was just 22 and was working as assistant editor for a monthly magazine in the city. Her passion for writing and reporting things had led her to do her bachelors in journalism and immediately after completion of her degree she had been offered this job, which she accepted.
Along with the job she was also pursuing her masters. A diligent and hardworking girl with a pretty face and short stature, she was liked by everyone in the office and had gained praises for her work.
She caught her evening train at 4:30 and reached her evening class at 5:30. After the two hour class she either walked home or took a rickshaw. And today as it happened she got the same cycle rickshaw that she had traveled in the morning. The rickshawallah chatted lightly as he pedaled on, “Where do you work in the city?”
“For Times Magazine. Office is in the eastern part of the city.” “Oh! So you are a press worker!” She smiled a little smile. After sometime he asked, “You didn’t like the flower I gave you, did you? I can’t see it on your hair.”
Priya mumbled some excuses saying she left it in the flower vase in the office and that she liked roses while she had actually lost it somewhere on her train journey. He dropped her at her house. “Goodbye.” “Goodnight”
The next morning it happened so that Priya got the same rickshaw. During the course of the journey he told his name to be Ahmed and that he had come recently to the city in search of job. He also told her that his family were originally Pakistanis but had settled in India after the partition. By then they reached the station. As he did yesterday today too he bought her a flower. She put in her hair to show that she liked it. He smiled. She too smiled, said goodbye and left to get her train.
After a tiresome day and a long lecture at the evening school, she was happy to wave down the first rickshaw that came by. “Oh! Its you again” It was Ahmed’s rickshaw again. “So, how was your day?” he asked her. She related her day’s events, telling him about the incidents that she went to cover and the people she met. As they reached her house, he asked her “Should I come tomorrow morning?” She smiled. “Ok, I’ll be here tomorrow morning at 6:30. Be ready. Bye. Goodnight.” “Thanks. Goodnight.”
As said he came to pick her up the next morning and also brought her back in the evening. During their trips they got to know each other better. Sometimes he gave her free trips. Sometimes she gave him loans of small amount when he asked for helps and gave him occasional treats of “vada-paav” and bhel.
This became a routine and often Ahmed would cancel other customers asking for ride so that he could be on time to pick up Priya. Their acquaintance soon turned to friendship. In the morning they used to have a cup of tea at the station before parting ways for their day and in the evenings they had snacks at the wayside eateries.
Occasionally on weekends when both were free, they used to roam in the city or go to the beach. For the new-comer Ahmed, Priya was a friend, guide and philosopher to him in the new and vast city while for Priya, Ahmed was a kind of friend and brother to her in this place, far from her home.
She looked forward to see him waiting for her at the gate of the station and he took pleasure in buying her flowers every morning. It went on for more than 6 months.
One day as usual when she came back after her day, she couldn’t find Ahmed or his rickshaw at the station. She waited for him at the station nearly half an hour thinking he must have been caught up with other customers. When he didn’t turn up even after half an hour, she took another rickshaw home.
She wondered what must have happened to Ahmed. I’ll see him tomorrow morning and thinking this she went to bed. But next morning when he didn’t come, Priya panicked. But she didn’t have any number or address to contact him. So as usual she went to office. Since she had waited for Ahmed to come, she was late in reaching the office. There she came to know that the police had killed a terrorist in an encounter in the suburbs of the city. The chief asked her to cover the news.
Priya along with the magazine photographer went to cover this news. They reached there within 20 minutes. Priya went to interview the police officers while the photographer went to click pictures of the corpse. The officers there presented their evidence and related how they had zeroed on in the terrorist who along with some others were planning for a bomb blast in the city. They said that they were on the look out for the others in the gang.
It was only after the interview when Priya went to join her colleague that she lost a few heart beats. Her face went white with shock and she wanted to throw up. The body that lay before her was that of Ahmed. She got a jolt and couldn’t believe that Ahmed could be a terrorist. She couldn’t move for sometime.
When she left the place her grief and shock was beyond words and tears. She didn’t speak a word to anyone when she reached the office, but went straight to her desk and typed the article which she had been assigned. She took a half day and went home early. The chief agreed as she looked really pale.
As her train arrived at her destination, she got down, hoping to see Ahmed standing there with his rickshaw, smiling, waiting for her to join him. She sobbed and only a dry gasp left her when she couldn’t find his face. She walked home. As she reached her doorstep, she found a bunch of red roses on the threshold. She wept, tears flowing down her cheek for the first time that day, as she bent down to pick up those flowers, left by some unknown friend.
Contributing Writer: Gitanjali Maria I’m a undergraduate student from Kerala interested in writing stories, essays and poems. [email protected]
Disclaimer: The content provided here purely represents the thoughts, ideas and creativity of the contributing writer.