It was very late at night. Demonetisation had started taking toll on my family and myself. Every day, I had been making a few trips extra for those who pay me in cash. There are a couple of things in life you cannot do without cash.
My mother was recovering from severe cold and fever and the doctors did not understand the plight of an Uber driver. My life is a vicious cycle of payment wallets, customer ratings, number of rides, soaring fuel price, and now, bumping into effects of demonetisation at every turn of the road.
The clock ticked 10:55 PM. I had done 14 trips for the day against my usual 10 trips and had made a total of Rs. 1,800 of which 500 in cash. This cash would be enough for the next couple of days. Just as I was about to switch off the Partner app, Uber assigned me a ride nearby.
Mount Road, Chennai at 11.00 PM is usually empty. I put my foot down the accelerator and reached my pickup location, the Taj.
“Hello Madam, Naan unga Uber partner pesuren. Enga varanum?” (Hello Madam, I’m your Uber Partner speaking. Where should I come to pick you up?)
A girl responded.
“Taj la Blend. Wait for 5 minutes, Anna” (Blend Bar inside Taj. Wait for 5 minutes, brother) and the girl started to blurt something which I ignored.
I didn’t know what “Blend” is but I guessed it is a place within Taj. I waited in the parking for 10 more minutes.
Finally I saw someone waving goodbyes to a gang of people and trundled towards my car.
“Anna, door open pannunga na” (Brother, open the door please)
The girl was too drunk to even find where the door handle is. I came out to open the door for her. She is too hammered to even walk properly. She finally got inside the car and I was pretty sure she will pass out soon. I cursed myself for having to deal with someone who is drunk enough to forget real world. I got back to my driver seat.
“Madam ride start pannata?” (Madam, can I start the ride?).
The customary question I ask to every rider.
I was very happy that it was a cash ride.
I swiped right to start the trip right away.
“mmmm”, she managed to let out a faint yes.
I noticed her name from the Partner app.
The destination was somewhere near Sholinganallur. I was loath to travel all the way to a far off location while my mind and heart ached to go back home. I had turned on the navigation and accelerated my car through the near empty roads of Chennai.
A few minutes into the ride I heard what I knew would happen.
I stopped the car and parked it in a service lane. The stench of alcohol and of putrefied condiments she had consumed was unbearable. Probably because I wasn’t used to it. I figured there was little cleaning to be done. I thought to myself she drank way too much.
“Anna thanni iruka?” (Brother do you have some water?) I went to my seat to get her water. She gargled, spat twice and washed her face with the remaining water. She looked better than before. She seemed better.
I revved the engine and started cruising at 60 km/h at Gandhi Mandapam road.
“Anna I’m sorry”
I put up a facade of being calm although I was very much angry.
“Paravailla Madam. Epdinalum car wash ku kudukanum” (It’s okay Madam. Anyway, I have to give for Car wash) I gave her a dumb reason, like any customer-caring driver would do for the sake of better ratings.
She asked me how long I’ve been driving and wondered how empty are roads at 11:30 PM. I gave her blunt answers. Although her level of intoxication was slowly reducing, she kept mumbling something and I decided to ignore.
She remained silent for another 10 minutes. Her destination was nearing.
“Ithu than na first time kudikrathu” (This is the first time I drink)
She started again. She still seemed high. I thought I could give her my tad bit of advice.
“Aanalum ivlo kudika koodathu. Konjam ah start pananum” (You should start in small quantities if you are drinking the first time)
“But friends only…… *(she was blabbering something).. *My last day with them…. Naan USA la padika poren nu poi soliten elarkitayum” (I lied to my friends that I am going to USA for higher studies)
I usually do not get into personal discussion with customer but this one got me a bit curious. So I enquired.
“Ithuku ethuku madam poi solanum? Unmaya sollalamae?” (You could have very well told the truth. Right Madam?)
The car sped past Perungudi toll gate. There wasn’t any reply from her for another 10 minutes or so. Suddenly, I heard a mild sound like someone weeping. I wasn’t sure. Adjusting my center rear view mirror, I saw her eyes fixed at me with few drops on her cheeks.
We reached Sholinganallur junction and map showed her destination is just few streets away.
“Anna, death pathi epovachu nenaipeengala?” (Brother, do you think about death?)
Turning my head back to see her and with a puzzled look I said “epovachu” (sometimes).
That’s when she told me that.
“Enaku cancer. Brain la. Chemo pandra level la thaandiruchu” ( I have cancer in brain. It had gone past beyond levels to consider Chemo)
My heart started beating fast. I did not know what to say. I stopped in front of her house. She was searching for her purse to pay the bill.
“Romba naal iruka maaten anna. Seekram poiduven. Inaiku than office ku last day. Friends farewell party kuduthanga. Avangaluku theriyathu enaku cancer-nu. abroad poren nu poi solliruken.” ( I won’t be alive for long. I will die soon. Today is my last day at office and my friends gave me farewell party. They don’t know I have cancer. I lied to them I am going abroad. )
I sat there in the cab speechless. She continued,
“Avangaluku theriyathu sorgam than abroad-nu” (They don’t know that the ‘abroad’ is ‘heaven’)
She paid a generous 2000 bucks for the ride. I didn’t have the mind to say yes or no. She kept the money in the seat and left the car. I took a reverse to head towards Old-Mahabalipuram Road.
I turned off my phone and was cruising my way back home. Tears had started rolling down my cheeks.
*P.S: **“Based on true events” by a redditor and the actual Uber partner, *westport76. Images used are for representational purpose. Please ignore 😜.
Hope you like my attempt to narrate the story. Thanks for reading.
Originally published in Medium.