Due to budget cuts, the typical five scene format has been reduced to four. Apologies. -BF
1. I'd lost a bet several weeks before, and though Jared left the country before I fulfilled it, I wound up having to a couple weeks ago when the craziest autowallah in our neighborhood was the only driver around one night. His vehicle was nearly full of boxes of god knows what. Dead bodies maybe. Regardless, there was no room for two in the carriage.
Aliyah squeezed in the back next to the boxed corpses. Crazy patted the edge of the driver's seat next to him.
"Do it," Aliyah said.
I got in and put my arm around the automaniac, half my body hanging out of the auto, the other half clinging to the vehicle's interior for dear life as Crazy flew over potholes and sped around sharp curves.
It was actually pretty fun. That is, until the nutty driver started talking to himself/me/no one.
"Whiskey, dinner, Pepsi, whiskey, whiskey," he said in that faraway gravelly voice.
"How you doing up there?" Aliyah said.
"Um," I said in a too-high voice.
2. The woman wore a colorful sari and had teeth browner than her skin. She held a baby in one arm and a fan of magazines in the other. I know the magazines were for sale. I'm not sure about the baby.
"Siiiiiiiir," she said in that hollow, strung out plea that Delhi beggars here are made to memorize without understanding. "Siiiiir."
She tugged on my jeans. I didn't even look at her. She went over to Aliyah's side.
"Siiiiir," the awful beggar said, tugging at Aliyah's pants ("Madam," "Ma'am" and "Miss" are typically not in the panhandling vocabulary here). "Siiiiir."
I said something moderately funny and Aliyah laughed. The light turned green and just as we pulled away, the beggar freed one hand by dropping her magazines and slapped Aliyah in the face.
We were silent, breathless.
"She just slapped me!" Aliyah said.
"Sorry sir," I said.
3. Every day it's the same thing. I leave the house in the early afternoon to go do some writing at the sheesha and coffee cafe, Mocha, in Defence Colony Market. It's a slow and lazy part of the day for the autowallahs. There are typically at least five and as many as fifteen waiting at the stand around the corner from our house.
Sometimes one of them spots me as soon as I shut the front gate at our house -- pretty impressive from 30 yards away (and through a corner hedge and fence). The spotter never plays it cool. He immediately starts running toward me, waving.
"Sir!" he says. "Sir!"
The others immediately perk up on tiptoes like a gang of meerkats. Their eyes open wide and their noses point in my direction as they stand still for a split second before running toward me.
Soon they're all crowding around me, bandying harmonies of "Sir"s back and forth among them. Some will gently grab at my elbow to lead me to their rickshaw.
I feel like the prettiest girl at the prom. And whoever's lucky enough to get picked on any given day, well, I imagine he does too.
4. The autowallah pointed me to the backseat of his vehicle. An old man was already sitting there. I shook my head no.
"You share," the autowallah said. "Thirty rupees."
Thirty rupees was a pretty good price.
"Me first," I demanded.
"OK," said the autowallah.
We drove for about ten minutes and I chatted uncomfortably with the old man about where I was from and if I was married.
We arrived at my destination and I got out and handed the autowallah a 100-rupee note. That's a bit more than US$2.
The autowallah shook his head. "No change," he said, shrugging his shoulders unapologetically.
"How can you not have change?" I said angrily, even though it's pretty common for autowallahs to fail to produce change for even the smallest bills.
"Fine," I grumbled, digging through the coins in my wallet and producing a jingly amalgamation of 27 rupees. I shoved them toward the autowallah.
"Thirty," he said, after taking a long time to count them.
"You don't have change!" I yelled. "So you either get 27 or nothing."
The autowallah considered this for a minute, then reached into his front pocket and removed a two-inch thick wad of bills. He could have made change of several 1,000-rupee notes, not to mention my measly 100.
Then I said some things in a loud voice that would make my mother cringe. And she doesn't cringe easily.