I sit myself down on the leather seats of a cab. It is past midnight. I am coming back from a date. I lean towards the left, shifting all of my body weight to one side, inclining my body to lay my head heavy with concerns, on the rolled-up window glass. I look down and unlock the door. The air in enclosed spaces always gives me neurosis and inhaling car freshener in a confined space that has air conditioning was equivalent to breathing air while cement clogs my nostrils. I ask the person in the driver’s seat to roll down all the windows.
The yellow lampposts were grounded into the divider. The roads were lined with trees that created ornate shadows on the cab as it moved through miserly illuminated lanes on a moonless night, but I knew I couldn’t relax just yet. I sit up on the backseat. I take out my phone to open the online cab booking application and take a look at the river’s details. I shared my ride status with four different people in four different parts of the country. I immediately receive a notification as expected, on my phone.
“Itni raat ko, kahan?” (Where are you coming from so late?) It was the interrogative sister, who lived on the other side of the city.
I should have taken the last metro, but I didn’t want to worry about the ten-minute auto ride home from the metro station. Or the stares I would encounter on the way that measured me up and down before they could allot me a placement on the promiscuity scale.
It was going to be a long night. I click a picture of the approaching Indira Chowk signboard to send it to a fearful sister. Reopening the application of the cab service, I swirl my finger above the contact tab, under the driver’s name and take a screenshot of his mobile number to WhatsApp it to her. I reassure her that I have the women’s helpline on speed dial.
I had read somewhere that it was wiser to take the seat behind the driver and not the seat beside him because it was easier to fend off an attack that way. These cab services track you by satellite, yet I knew that every time I was hailing a cab, I might have been risking my safety.
I push some more buttons before opening Google Maps, to make sure the driver takes me the right way. And then to familiarise myself with the cabbie, I strike an obscure conversation with him. By the end of the ride, he has told me about his aspirations, kids and his hometown. Now, I know more than just his first name. He doesn’t feel so bad or so much of a stranger to me anymore.
I’m not paranoid. Any girl hailing a cab past midnight is bound to get uncomfortable. I should have taken the last metro home. It wouldn’t have caused anybody to worry about me. I’m not anxious or complaining. I just want to be able to take the last metro without having to worry about the ten-minute auto ride home.