I hail a cab and get in, thankful that I did not have to wait long in the sweltering heat. I instruct the driver where to take me, arrange the bags I am carrying, and settle in comfortably. An old Hindi song is playing on the radio. I breathe in the faint traces of pine scent in the car; my body temperature slowly coming down to a comfortable level. I feel grateful to the person who invented the air conditioner.
I turn to look at the driver: a quiet guy with spectacles and graying hair; he should be around fifty. He reminds me so much of Abbu. I wonder if Abbu has finally listened to us and quit smoking. I worry about his chronic cough. We argue because he would never have an x-ray taken: that will just give me another thing to worry about, he would say.
The driver turns up the volume to listen to the news:
“An Air India Jaipur-Mumbai flight flew well past its destination with both its pilots fatigued and fast asleep in the cockpit. When the pilots were finally woken up by anxious Mumbai air traffic controllers, the plane was about half way to Goa.”
“Is that possible, pilots falling asleep on duty?” I utter to myself, rather loudly.
“It can happen,” the driver suddenly speaks, obviously hearing me talk to myself, “the planes are usually on auto-pilot, so cases like these are highly probable.”
“Happens to me too,” he adds, “people get tired, have a stressful day, or get distracted by personal problems.”
I look up to see his face on the rear-view mirror. I can only see his eyes; they were looking at the street ahead.
He continues to speak, after a brief pause, “I too have a lot of things on my mind, mostly family problems. You might look at me and think that I am a fifty-year-old man. All my hair have turned gray.”
I do not tell him that I think he’s right.
“But I am only thirty five. My children are still very young.”
“Just a couple of days ago, I dropped a passenger off at the airport, and a new passenger got in right after. After driving a few blocks, I turned and drove back towards the airport. The surprised passenger asked me why I was taking him to the airport again. All this time, I thought he was that same passenger whom I was supposed to take to the airport.”
He turns down the volume of the radio. “I am worried about my little girl. She fell ill a few days back – diarrhea and vomiting. I feel sorry for not being able to be there for her.”
“How old is she?” I ask him, unable to withhold my curiosity.
“Six years old.” He takes out a small photo album and hands it to me; it contains photos of a beautiful little girl and an equally adorable little boy. “Your kids are beautiful, MashaAllah,” I tell him.
“The boy is very naughty. The kids are living with my in-laws, and this little boy of mine has broken every single piece of furniture in that house,” he tells me, with a smile.
“You must miss them terribly,” I say, while shuffling through the photos.
“I do, that’s why I keep their photos with me all the time. I am saving to purchase a bus. I can earn more that way, and be my own boss. I will rent a small apartment and bring my wife and kids here to live with me. My poor wife has to look after the kids all by herself; they all need me. And if I am able to save more, I wish to send my parents to Hajj.”
“Your intentions are good, may Allah help you,” I sincerely pray for him.
“Thank you, sister. May I ask if you live with your family here?” he asks.
“Then you shouldn’t take for granted such an enormous blessing.”
I ask him to stop the car; I have reached my destination. I pay him, grab my bags, and open the door. As I walk towards the apartment building where my sisters and Mom are staying, I thank God for the blessing of keeping me close to my family: all I have to do is just take a cab and be with them in a few minutes, Alhumdulillah.