The Left Turn

A cold, dark, foggy winter night.

A young woman huddled in heavy woollens, sitting alone in a bus, an office shuttle, looks around, fearfully, wide eyed, but trying hard to give an appearance of calm. She could hardly see anything outside of her window just the ghostly figures created by the fog moving in a white shroud and changing shapes.

The driver finds it extremely difficult to drive through the narrow by lanes of East Delhi in the dense fog. The conductor the only other person is motionless, stares blankly ahead and in kind of a stupor.

The young woman peers out in the darkness to figure out where exactly they are, she feels that she should have reached her stop by now. She looks at her watch and it is way past midnight.  Too late to be out alone … And the driver keeps moving very slowly trying to find that left turn where ….

An hour earlier, the graveyard shift had ended, and the young woman along with her colleagues had boarded the shuttle, chattering away, merrily. Nobody noticed the fog or the cold. A hilarious moment during the shift kept everybody engaged, while few of them kept enacting and re-enacting the event. The fog did not seem so dense in the populous West Delhi area. But as the shuttle moved along dropping passengers one after the other and crossed the Yamuna bridge, it began to engulf everything like an ephemeral white cloak, swirling around silently but deftly so that one could not see the end of ones outstretched hands.

When the last colleague of hers, deboarded, he had asked whether she will be okay, and she had nonchalantly said of course she would be. But now, she was not sure. Only if she could have asked for the shuttle to take a detour to drop her first … only if …

She murmured a few prayers she knew and hoped that the driver and the conductor are good people. Lots of horror stories filled her mind and she again cursing herself for putting herself in this situation.

The driver gives up, he also believes that the left turn should have come by now, he might have missed it and he was not sure where he was. The shuttle seemed to have hit a bumpy road or was it still the road or has it rolled into a field, or will it roll into a ditch!!??

 Bottomless fear filled up the young woman’s mind, she gripped the seat, all the time keeping a calm façade, and hoping that the only two individuals present do not notice her fear.

Not a soul seemed to be around, no police vans, and not even the stray dogs barked, only the rumbling shuttle and its three inhabitants, each locked within themselves in their own thoughts.

The driver yelled at the conductor to get off and look around and see where they were. The conductor grimaced and refused and was slapped tightly by the driver.

The young woman was now in a panic …. as it is her family did not like her working so late … and now this situation … never again will she put herself in this situation, but only if she gets out of this unscathed … and she began trembling and hoped the two do not notice.

With the slap or two on his face, the conductor got off and directed the driver back to the road. It had indeed got off the road and on to a field with a ditch close by. While he walked in front of the shuttle, as if swimming his way through the dense fog, making way for the shuttle as it slowly inched forward.

At this moment, the young woman’s heartbeat seemed louder than the engine …

After what seemed like an eternity, with the conductor guiding the way, the shuttle finally reached the left turn. It was hardly recognizable. It is true that at night, everything looks strange and different and unfamiliar.

The conductor kept guiding the driver through the sharp left turn and enter into the colony and as the shuttle lumbered slowly towards the stop.

Finally, the shuttle stopped, and the driver beckoned to the young woman to get off. Is it really her stop? She was not sure. Every object, the living trees and the inanimate houses and vehicles, seemed to have bowed their head in defeat to the dark, dense white shroud. The eerie silence seemed to be broken by her heartbeat and the low growl of the engine and both seemed to deafen her. In spite of the cold, her ears heated up.

The young woman peered out of the window to be sure it is her stop and that she is not getting into a trap. She was not sure … and by now both the driver and the conductor seemed to glare at her to get off … and hastily she did.

She twisted her ankle while getting off, stumbled but quickly found her balance. It did seem like her stop, as she looked at the familiar silhouette of a house nearby, and it felt like she should turn right and walk one block to reach her apartment. Should she walk alone?

A dog whimpered somewhere, at last a sign of another soul!

The young women still hesitated and in a meek voice asked the conductor to walk with her till the apartment. At this moment, she was not sure whether that would be a good idea but with the deathly fog and no other living being in sight, she was helpless. The conductor grumpily agreed.

The young women took the right turn and started walking towards her apartment. The only sound to be heard now were the footsteps, the rapid heartbeats and the, now receding into the distance, the sound of the engine …

***

A story of a young woman returning home on a foggy wintry night in a world when cell phones were not so common and was still in 2g.

Years have passed, and the young woman has grown through the ranks in her career. She doesn’t have to work on graveyard shifts anymore but she does have to travel late nights and now she drives herself. She is sometimes late returning home due to a late-night flight or maybe leave home very early in the morning to catch one.

She has Safety Apps on her phone, Navigation maps, a car which is centrally locked and has Safety Button, and phone numbers of near and dear ones who can be instantly notified.

But does she feel safe …. Will somebody be able to reach her on time when she needs help? That worry lingers on …

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