There was no obvious reason why I wanted to go out like that – without bothering to change my dress, without halting a moment to see if I was leaving everything all right behind me, without telling anyone. No looking for the child, no locking the door, nothing.

The auto came, and I just left grabbing the tiny purse. I glanced at my kurta, it was faded and old. It would have bothered me once, but did not today.

I muttered something to the driver. He was an old man with tired eyes, the face I have seen before in the stories I wrote. He had the same towel thrown across his shoulders, and he wiped sweat from his face with it and covered his mouth with it when he coughed. Just as I had written.

My mobile beeped and I noticed that the battery was running low. I wondered how much longer it would beep, how long it had been beeping. Not much longer, I thought. The beep connected the real world with the unreal.

I swayed when the auto turned to the left and went down the slope. The slope from twenty years ago. The old buildings and discoloured walls. But I did not look up from my phone. 

When I did, I said good-naturedly, “Oh, this is not where I wanted to go.” Good-naturedly was important because I did not want to upset him. But his reply was grumpy, a snort of complaint that I did not tell him when he made the turn off the road.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I wasn’t looking.” I smiled and spoke in a friendly way, hoping to ease his annoyance. He paid no heed. He was doing a job, he would have to go home and take rest after it was done. A long rest.

He turned the auto around. I glimpsed his face, tired and drawn and haggard, all words that mean pretty much the same but appearing different on the lines of his face. With perhaps a touch of boredom on it as well. It was not as though he loved driving an auto or it had been his ambition in life.

We climbed back up the slope and went on our way. It was not raining at the moment but it had been. Both sides of the road were submerged. We were on a path across the river. There could be no road for all I cared. The mobile continued to beep. Something like a boat appeared in the distance on the water. This monsoon was severe than usual. How could monsoon be severe? Summer is severe, not monsoon. Harsh, perhaps. But the water was real, or as real as in a meaningless dream.

A little ahead, I panicked and wanted to get out of the auto. I wondered what I was doing. I was a mess. I think I bent double and clutched my stomach and retched. There was no one anywhere so I did not try to hold it in. Nothing came out but retching sounds.

I straightened. The confusion had not cleared, but the water was gone. A bus came towards where I was standing. When it came very close, I realised that it had been approaching in reverse. I waited, unmoving, uncaring, wondering if it would reverse far enough to throw me down. It stopped a little away from me and a girl stepped out. She was wearing very colourful clothes as though she had been at a performance. Dance or something. Too colourful though not fluorescent, but loud and full of flowery designs. She swirled and twisted as though she was still dancing.

The auto driver sat there smoking, paying no attention to anything. He was within himself, lost long ago and never revived. He had drowned and survived, he had lived and died, his outside was now inside. As I looked at him, I saw the water of the monsoon behind him.

“Let’s go home,” I said.