This story was originally presented as part of a 6-Minute Memoir event on the theme of “Turning Point,” held last February on Zoom. Described as “speed storytelling for a cause,” the live events feature a dozen presenters sharing personal experiences in six minutes or less, with all proceeds going to charity.
I have a bad feeling from the moment our regular driver sends a replacement to take us home from tutoring. (Once you reach Grade 10 in India, after-school tutoring becomes practically mandatory.) I like the regular driver — he reminds me of my grandpa — so I cautiously trust his judgment.
India is infamous for crimes against women. Living in Delhi, known as the “Rape Capital of India,” has taught me to be extremely vigilant about my environment. My mom’s obsession with watching true-crime TV series late into the night doesn’t help my paranoia either.
On the way home, the temporary driver suddenly pulls the rickshaw off the road, where it lurches forward one final time and dies. My heart thunders against my rib cage and my throat gets tight. “What happened?” I croak, my mouth suddenly dry.
The driver turns around, holding his phone. “Obviously there is some problem; it won’t go any further right now. I am calling someone else to drop you all off.”
I look at the others: three boys who go to the same tutor. They do not seem at all bothered by what’s happening. There is loud traffic all around us. The driver snaps his phone shut. “Someone will be here in 30 minutes.”
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This announcement is met by a chorus of groans. “Alright, screw this,” mumbles one of the boys, who begins typing into his phone. His father picks him up 15 minutes later. The rest of us aren’t as privileged.
With each passing minute, my brain cooks up more and more horrifying ways I could die tonight. All because of something as stupid as tutoring. What good do As in math, science and English do if I’m scared to even go to the corner store alone? If I’m scared every time my younger sister is late coming back from a friend’s house? If I’m scared when my mom has to stay late at work?
A dingy old Toyota pulls up next to the rickshaw. There are two men in the front. My heart climbs into my throat. But I see no other option. The two remaining boys and I get into the car. I look at the men in the front, trying to study details about them, just in case. “Okay, calm down, Palaash,” I tell myself. “You’re just over-imagining things.” I sit as close as possible to the door, one hand firmly on the handle.
The car starts to move. It takes me 10 seconds before I realize that I will be dropped off last. My head spins at the possibility of being alone with these two strange men, the probability of which grows every second. The rational, brave part of my brain screams: “Tell. Them. To. Drop. You. Off. This. Second. Do it!” The scared part orders me to stay frozen.
We reach the first house. One of the boys gets out of the car. “You can do this, you can do this, you can do this,” I chant to myself. I lick my lips, take a deep breath and ask to be dropped off at the turn before the next boy’s house. “I’ll just walk from there,” I say.
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My voice is strong, and by some miracle I do not stutter. But the only acknowledgment of my words comes as laughter from the front seat. They know I am scared, and they are amused. This infuriates me.
I refuse to let them think they are fully in control of the situation.
“Drop me off at the next turn.” I can tell the volume of my voice surprises them. I am firm, and I am no longer asking. “I texted my mom; she’s already waiting there for me,” I lie. I don’t even have a phone.
My heart pounds as we approach the turn. I am fully prepared to jump out if they do not stop. Overreaction or not, I will take looking stupid over dying any day.
They slow at the turn. I don’t wait. I get out as fast as I can and slam the door. I do not look back. I barely feel the startling embrace of the icy wind as I run the rest of the way home.
Soon enough, I can feel the adrenaline wear off, and I have to stop to catch my breath. So that really happened. What had happened? My life hadn’t been threatened, and I wasn’t in immediate danger. Should I have been that panicked?
I don’t know. I don’t know why the men laughed or what it meant or what their intentions were. I don’t know. I just trusted my instincts. I knew of too many instances in which other women unfortunately didn’t or couldn’t trust theirs.
Palaash Pavdighada is a graduate of McMaster University and is currently studying at Mohawk College in Hamilton.
This story first appeared in Broadview’s January/February 2022 issue with the title “Trusting myself.”
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Thank you for the article. As a male, I never allow myself to be alone in private places like elevators or offices with a female stranger.
Joan Bakker says:
Dear Palaash, I am a grandmother and I'm grateful you trusted in yourself and your instincts. Hold the memory of your bravery with you for whenever you need it. You don't need to explain yourself to anyone, ever. If others laugh at you, so be it. Continue to write, continue to tell the story. Be well.