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A Highway Incident

It 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 already.

There appeared 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 the backpack.

“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.

Contributing Story Teller   Sanjit Misra [email protected]

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