And with that hope, I walked.
Awkwardly, as I do when my jeans tuck themselves under the sole of my floaters.
Aimlessly, like that helpless old tramp who doesn't beg, but makes you feel all guilty about being rich and having people around you.
Somewhere along the way I stopped and lit another cigarette. A young couple in the vicinity were involved in animated conversation but the moment they noticed me, they looked at each other and shared a moment of silence. As I exhaled the smoke from the corner of my mouth, I looked in their direction and smiled. They pretended to not notice and immediately started talking again. Maybe its the messy hair, I thought to myself as I walked on.
The corridors of Connaught Place were relatively empty for a Saturday, and the chill of a Delhi December evening made me re-think my decision of leaving the jacket in the car.
Another 25 odd metres on a little boy came up to me and demanded that I give him 10 rupees in exchange for the two big, red, heart-shaped balloons he was carrying. He had a running nose, and was wearing nothing but a torn T-shirt. He looked surprisingly content, in a silly, homeless sort of way. I pointed in the direction of the couple I had just crossed. I assured the boy they would buy the balloons if he insisted enough. He gave me a big grin and ran towards them.
I continued walking, one hand warmly tucked into the pocket, and the other wishing it wasn't holding the cigarette. As I passed United Coffee House the thought of hot, hot coffee and scrambled eggs on toast threw my salivary glands into a frenzy. I urged myself to focus and started walking faster.
The decision was silly, because Blues was 2 minutes away and I still had 30 minutes to kill before she would be free from her office dinner.
I skipped the turn left and walked straight ahead, hoping that by the time I went around the block, it would be 10:30 pm.
Half way there I stubbed my cigarette and took out the packet of Classic Milds from my pocket to light the next one. It was empty!
Now leaving my jacket in the car so that I could enjoy the chill is one kind of stupid. But leaving your wallet in that jacket, only to be stranded 2 kms away from your car without cigarettes and money is a stupid of an entirely different kind.
In that moment of stupidity, I looked around, out of helplessness I think. There was an ATM nearby and I spotted a potential saviour. He was dressed in a sky blue shirt and navy blue pants. He looked approachable and without even giving it a second thought I called out to him and asked, "Bhaiya Ji, beedi peete ho?"
He flashed a wide grin and exaggageratingly shook his head from left to right and said "Nahi ji!"
I smiled and said, "Achha, koi baat nahi."
I think the disappointment on my face was way to obvious because he then said,"Bhaiyya sigrit-vaala agle block mein mil jaayega aapko."
To which I sheepishly replied, "Yaar paise nahi hai varna mein khareed leta."
Embarrased, I started walking ahead, but stopped as an immediate afterthought to add, "Vo kya hai na ki wallet gaadi mein reh gaya."
I don't know why I felt the need to justify myself. I guess I didn't want to feel poor and cheap in front of a security guard.
As I turned away, he called out to me, "Saaheb, ruko!" He was still smiling when I yelled, "Kya hua?"
He came right up to me and after catching his breath, he took out a two rupee coin and held out his hand.
Now I really didn't know what to do. At this point, the voices in my head took control of me.
Voice in my head: That's 10 beedis or one Chhoti Gold Flake! Go for it!
The other voice: Are you really going to deprive this poor old guard two full rupees?
Voice in my head: Of course you are. It's not like he has an andhi behen and apahij maa for God's sake!
The other voice: Fine! But you must return it! Youmustyoumustyoumust!
Guard: Arre lo na bhaiyya. Aage paan vaala hai, beedi mil jaayegi.
Me (in a hindi movie sort of way, all misty eyed): Par tumhare 2 rupaye mein kaise le sakta hoon?
Guard (getting irritated): Rakho. Hume vaapas ATM jaana hai. Duty chhod kar aaye hein!
I took the coin from his palm.
Me (trying to sound all mother-tongue-ish): Shukriya. Yeh ehsaan raha aapka mujh par. Mein aapko thodi der mein aake lauta doonga.
On hearing that, he cracked up into an obnoxious, deliberate laughter and in his own not-so-subtle-way let me know 2 bucks wasn't a big deal. Not for him, not for anyone in this country.
I smiled another I-won't-forget-this-gesture smile and made my way to the paan-vaala. 10 beedis it was to be. I lit the first 501 Pataka and took a long drag. The smell of the beedi smoke catapulted me into memories from the one year I spent at the school hostel (my school campus is on the outskirts of CP and therefore the connection).
---Two 13-year-olds jumping out of the hostel window at 11:00 pm to go eat Anda-Bread, drink Pepsi at the dhaba in Shankar Market. Making conversation with auto-drivers and construction workers, smoking beedis with them, playing pakdan-pakdai, then streetlight cricket, bullying them into letting us batting forever, reaching the hostel at 2:30 am, finding no way to get back into the hostel because the guard has locked the window from inside. With nowhere to go, landing up at ISBT, spending the night trying to sleep in the corridors with the homeless, shivering in the cold, seeking refuge in a blanket given to them by a bus conductor, finishing all their money on tea and buiscuts, taking a lift and reaching the school campus at 6 am, just in time for basketball practice!---
My thoughts evaporated when I cited Blues, I called P and told her I'd reached. By the time she came out, I had lit another beedi. When she came out, she gave me a big hug and kiss. The bouncer and the captain from the club stared away at me, wondering why on earth someone who looked and dressed the way I did was smoking a beedi. I whispered into P's ear that I wanted to offer the bouncer a beedi just for kicks. She broke into a hysterical laughter, put her arm around mine and said, "Chal, I'm the one who's drunk, not you! And just why are you smoking that stuff baby?"
"Long story", I replied.
As we stepped into the parking lot just outside, P asked me where the car was to which I flashed my best smile and replied, "I hope you're in the mood for a long, romantic walk."
She jumped in delight almost losing her balance in drunken frenzy, and in an attempt to salvage lost pride, broke out into a dance, singing Aaj Ki Raat from the movie DON. I gave her a hug and we started walking.
Somewhere along the way she asked me why I had parked the car at the other end of CP. Was it really an attempt to be all romantic and huggy in the chill?
I blushed and asked her if she had 2 bucks to spare, and if she was in the mood to help me change the car tyre.
She looked at me in the eye, a little confused with the randomness of the answer but smiled anyway and said, "Of course sweety, you know how I LOVE to change car tyres at CP in the middle of the night."
"Just the answer I was hoping for!", I exclaimed and kissed her on the forehead as we walked on.