He braked, even though she hadn't hailed the rick. So she walked up, less than desultory, and asked, "Kurla?"
The rain doesn't let up here. It's a benediction, a blind, a dogged, overconfident presence, a mug of black coffee, a pinch of opium. The lights, they never fully die either. The daylight fades slowly, languorously. The streetlights never sleep. It's a seamless handing over of wakefulness, a faceless but purposeful series of movements - like a heart beating quietly, rhythmically. The light follows its own rhythm, as does the rain, the drops beating a little tattoo on awnings, windowsills and umbrellas.
"Yes", he replied. She got in, remembered that she had missed a crucial question, realised that it might be too late already, but decided to ask it anyway.
"Meter se chaloge?"
The city recorded its highest June rainfall in a decade last Monday. Nothing moved. Anything that did quoted astronomical prices in exchange. Some might even say it was the city's way to equilibrium. Life otherwise comes packaged in a split bun here, with chutney and fried, salted green chillies if you feel like it, all for ten bucks. Life calls out to you from under brightly-painted facades and from makeshift stalls, where it sizzles on a hot tawa in a cloud of smoke. The smoke is aromatic and smells of cumin and mustard and bay leaves and curry leaves and garlic. The smoke mingles with the rain, and they beat a tattoo together on your umbrella. Plop, plop, plop-plop-plop, plop.
"Bilkul". And then she looked up in surprise. Two syllables, and no hauteur, no hurt pride, no resignation, no businesslike briskness. Just an answer to a question. A simple, confident answer to a regular, hurried, part-suspicious question.
It is mostly the shoes which bear the brunt of the weather. The colour is the first to fade, relenting slowly, unwillingly, bravely to the assault by muddy water. Shoes that have served long and well, and deserve the dignity of the shelf - shoes whose long history of faithfulness keeps them from acquiring said dignity. Nobody ever stops to think this, but the shoes and the rain are intimately related. The shoes make the rain manageable, even fun. Splash. Plop-plop. Splash.
It is nearly ten. Kurla is still lit up like a Christmas tree. Smoky smells of frying green chillies and splitting mustard hang from doorways and in shop windows. Shiny garments embellished with sequins are still hung up, like tinsel on the Christmas tree. Bikes, cars, bicycles, pushcarts. A fluorescence that has settled comfortably into nooks and crannies. A day being wrapped up, like this morning's newspaper. Another night slipping effortlessly into the split bun. Chutney, anyone?
Curiosity tumbles out even as the currency is being counted for the 28-buck ride. This is a terrible hassle, this counting currency in fickle light. Everything should be pigeonholed into Smartcards and coupons - like train rides are. Train rides on the Central Line, or the Western, near the doors - are they points of entry? Exit? - with the breeze and the rain blowing past madly. Breeze chasing rain, rain chasing breeze - hard to tell which. They chase each other into her hair, over her eyelids, into the crook of her elbow and the nape of her neck. Buildings blur themselves obediently. Foliage follows. And the train rushes over the tracks. Rhythmically, purposefully. Clackety-clack. A four-stage crescendo, followed by a subdued double thud. Tek-tek-tek-tack. Four-minute nirvana in faded shoes that have learned the curves of the soles of her feet, with the rain and the breeze and the blur and the dependable, consistent rhythm of 400 tonnes of steel on weather-beaten iron.
So she glared Curiosity back into its place, asking him at the same time as she handed him a 50-rupee note, "Do you live here? Why did you agree to bring me here at this time of day - don't you have to return the rick to the owner of the fleet?"
The rain and the breeze play games elsewhere too. Marine Lines, for instance, where, during high tide, the waves build themselves a trampoline. She saw that today. For all its madness, the rain is the meeker cousin of the sea. Brash and brazen, the sea built itself up and came boldly forward with a swagger- stay if you dare, or run! - and crashed on the breakers, drenching her from head to toe. Taken - every which way - by surprise, she took a while to breathe again, and when she did, she tasted salt on her lips. Raw, unbroken salt. Between the rain and the sea, she melted, dissolved and came together again. Washed, scrubbed clean, with salt on her lips and her skin. Touched by the elements in the bold, intimate, no-permission-needed-none-asked manner of a lover.
"Ladies first", he said. "I live in BKC", and he handed her twenty bucks in change. "I was done for the day and going home, but then I saw you waiting for the bus. You were alone, and it is almost ten. Here, you forgot two rupees."