A Highway Incident
was New Year’s Eve. I took out my motor bike in the middle of the
night and started off for the old fortress, a place of many mysteries
searching for an inspiration to end the horrible writer’s block
that I had run into. It must have been the after effect of the action
adventure movie that I had been watching that evening that I chose
to indulge myself in this daredevilry instead of quietly snuggling
in my bed under a blanket. But one hour into the bumpy ride, that
effect had started wearing off. The fortress lay a good thirty kilometers
further off, the night was chilly and the road had started deteriorating
a nondescript way side eatery and my remaining resolve took
a southward dip. I parked my vehicle, kicked what I imagined
as the embodiment of my foolishness in the form of a broken
brick with full strength and decided that this was the last
of such madness. The eatery was sparsely populated. A few
truck drivers lumbering on the rope beds under the open sky
indulged in drinking and abusing each other. A family of six
had made an unscheduled stop there. They distanced themselves
as much as possible from the truckers. I stationed myself
inside the thatched space.
My order for a cup
of tea was taken by a hotel boy who looked like falling into sleep
at any given moment. Nobody took any particular interest in anybody
other than their immediate companies and I was not feeling overly
sociable. So, when the tea arrived, in the form of a foaming brown
tasteless liquid, I decided to finish the horrid brew as soon as
possible and return to the warmth of my abode. I checked my watch,
12:00 AM. The New Year had come. A few fire crackers burst at a
distance and their noise echoed off from the distant hills. There
were cries of Happy New Year from the side where the family sat.
I waved at them and wished back. The truckers were too drunk for
the moment to have any effect on them, so they went unwished.
I must have been into my third or fourth sip, when the Royal Enfield
announced its arrival in the joint with a guttural roar of its engine.
Such bikes are commonly found in the town in rent shops and are
a favorite with the floating tourists wandering off towards the
old fortress. This particular one was on the way to the fortress.
The rider almost barged into the hotel and noisily deposited his
heavy frame in the corner. He was wearing a black leather jacket
and a white pirate bandana. There was something else hanging from
his neck. In the semi darkness I could not figure out what exactly
was that but it looked like a binocular or a camera. His abrupt
arrival created a momentary flutter inside the eatery but soon everybody
returned to their previous states. My tea was almost finished by
now and I had no particular reasons to prolong my stay there. I
made my payment, swung the backpack onto my shoulder and started
towards the exit.
“Excuse me…” a voice interrupted.
I looked around and saw none but the new arrival sitting in the
corner. I pointed at myself and gave an interrogative nod. He gave
an affirmative one back.
“Yes sir, how may I help you??”
“Do you have a computer??”
“Yes, I do.”
“If you don’t mind…I need to use one.”
I am not your exceedingly
helpful kind. And at that moment I wasn’t in a charitable mood either.
But somehow this man had a kind of urgency in his voice which made
me sit down in the chair next to him and take my laptop out from
“So you carry your computer around..”
“Yeah, I imagine myself as a writer….and you never know when an
idea may strike you.”
“You were looking for your idea in this place??”
“No..not exactly…I was headed towards the old fortress, but no longer…”
“Why not??” he asked, in an animated voice.
“Well, it’s too late and I am not feeling up to it. Here you go.
The computer is all yours.”
“I would have loved to go there.” he muttered to himself and retrieved
the object that was previously hanging from his neck from the ground.
It was a camera. A powerful digital camera.
“Nice camera” I said. “Thanks…excellent for night and motion photography.
Seven shots per second.” He said with some amount of self satisfaction.
In the next few minutes
the camera was connected to my computer through a data chord. A
few clicks here and a few there later my new friend announced that
it was all set up. “It would take just a few minutes. My memory
card is almost full. I will transfer the images to your hard disk
and copy them to my pen drive. Hope I am not inconveniencing you.”
“Oh no, not at all. Why don’t we have a cup of tea or something
in the meanwhile?” He looked up from the computer screen, smiled
and said no. I shrugged my shoulders and called for the hotel boy.
He seemed to have dozed off somewhere for no one answered my call.
My photographer friend was now intensely working on the computer.
From time to time he looked up and said something about the slowness
of the memory card but I did not make much from it. The night was
getting chillier and at some point of time I snoozed off. When I
got up, it was almost early morning. It took me a few minutes to
get myself oriented to the surroundings. First thing I noticed was
that the man I was talking to had vanished altogether. My laptop
was there and so was my backpack. But there was no sign of either
the man or his camera. Presuming that he must have left after finishing
his work, I packed the computer in the backpack and moved out. The
eatery was vacant. Not unusual at this time of the morning I thought.
I kicked my bike back to life and started towards the town. Five
minutes on the road and I could see a small crowd. I stopped and
got into the gathering. A little jostling and body pushing later
I was in the center of it. There lay the Royal Enfield. Badly mangled,
obviously hit by a much heavier vehicle. A few yards further lay
the blood soaked body of the rider. Even in that state I could identify
the black leather jacket and the pirate bandana. The shattered remains
of the camera were all over the place. My hand automatically moved
towards my mouth. I stood there for what seemed like an eternity.
Eventually someone gave me a jolt and I came back to my senses.
“How did this happen??” I asked.
“Head on collision with a truck. Driver fled away.” someone answered.
I did not feel like asking any more questions. Somehow I managed
to ride back to my home.
I opened my laptop the next day. There it was on the screen. A series
of photographs. The lights of a speeding truck. From a distance,
in the first. The next, the lights were nearer, and nearer and nearer
and nearer until the last one, which was completely dark. The bottom
right corner of the image read 11:58:39 31 DEC 08.