The old couple was crossing the road, slowly, carefully, taking one step at a time. The woman, her back bent, her eyes failing in the brightness of the day, her body responding too slowly to her will, looked to her right. A huge lorry hurtling towards you on the highway is one of the most terrifying sights. She froze, grabbed her husband’s hand tight and stared.
“Walk on, walk on,” said her husband, pulling her forward. A few scooters and autos sped past them through either side.
The lorry driver groaned and hit the brakes. The vehicle came to a stop a few feet away from the still gaping old woman. She looked up at the driver and in her eyes he saw plain terror. “Why can’t you just stay at home?” muttered the thirty-ish driver under his breath.
She saw his lips move and she knew what he thought.
The husband dragged her forward and they slowly crossed to the other side.
The driver let out a sigh and released the brakes. His own old age was too far away and remote, but he did wonder if he would be bent and slow and frightened as the old woman.
Where was she going, anyway? If she can’t walk, she should have stayed at home. Probably going to the doctor or to get some medicine. Who knows what was in store for him some day? He forgot about them soon.
But the old couple weren’t going to see the doctor or to get some blood test done or to buy medicines. Not today. Today, they were going to the restaurant across the road, owned by Tamilians, to eat masala dosa. No one can make masala dosa like the Tamilians, she always said. For that matter, no one can make lemon rice or curd rice like the Tamilians, she added, but I am not particularly fond of those. I am a fan of their masala dosa.
I will bring you a parcel, her husband had said.
You always do that, she replied, but today I want to go there. It’s been a long time since I went out. I want to see the road and the people. I want to sit there, drink the hot tea, hear the chatter and smell the smells – even a nauseating mixture of sweat and cooking oil and many other things. I don’t want to sit at home and be safe. And dosa wrapped in a parcel does not taste half as good as dosa freshly served. Her mind was still eager for adventure though her body wasn’t.
They sat in the hotel for a long time. She ate hot masala dosa and vada, and had tea. Life around her moved swiftly, with people occupying and vacating seats, someone yelling across the hall, waiters rushing back and forth, plates clanging in the kitchen. Before retirement, her life was like that too. Speed defined her days. She had been the one rushing back and forth, yelling at someone, and clanging plates in the kitchen. But now she had the luxury of stopping and enjoying the sights, being a part of it, even when she was not a part of it.
The world may have turned its back on her, but she had not turned her back on it. The world may try to confine her to her house and scare her into obeying the ‘rules’ but she would break free, in small ways, whenever she could, if only for a few stolen moments of happiness.
When they came out, she held her husband’s hand as they came down the steps one at a time. An auto driver stepped forward. Can I drop you home? he asked.
I will walk, she said to him with a smile. Now she had the time to stop and acknowledge the gentleness in his voice. He wasn’t looking for fare, he was genuinely interested to help. She was in no hurry. She did not have to say ‘No’ and run any more. Life was slow and precious, and every moment counted.
She looked up at her husband for approval. Can we walk?
He nodded. The auto driver held her hand and helped her cross the road. When he saw a vehicle approach from the distance he raised his hand to stop it. The car and the scooters stopped as the couple crossed the road, slowly, carefully, on their way back home.