Stop and Go

January 2020

The horns blared constantly, each seeming to fill the silence left by the others like forest of frogs during mating season, so there was never a pause between them. Sara sat in the back of the auto rickshaw, a thin scarf wrapped around the lower half of her face in a seemingly futile attempt to keep her lungs free of smog. She checked the route again on her phone, an estimated two and a half hours remaining to reach the north end of Bombay. She sighed, frustrated by how late she was going to be. Not that Alice would be particularly bothered: things always took more time than expected here. 

With a deep breath, observing the rise and fall of her stomach, she realized her impatience came from her unchecked excitement about seeing Alice again. For all she’d told herself about not falling for anyone during her travels, that she needed more time to “figure herself out” before getting close to anyone again, here she was: smitten by a kindhearted Londoner with a cute accent.

The driver kept glancing at her and smiling in a way that made her a little uncomfortable, but if anything he just seemed excited that a foreigner was in his cab. As they drove through traffic at a slow jogging pace, she realized she could easily jump out of the vehicle if he decided to turn anywhere that felt unsafe. She’d considered taking the railway to save time as most Bombay locals did, but the (very high) likelihood of getting groped in the crowded car was enough to make her choose a cab, no matter how long it took.

She glanced down at her map again, at the time remaining, as though somehow checking again would make the time pass faster. When they stopped at a stoplight, she glanced out the cab at the traffic around her. Standing behind a polished navy blue SUV, man pulling a handcart full of vegetables had stopped like any other car on the road. Sara smiled at this, amused by the oddity of the moment.

As her gaze wandered around the city street, she noticed other scenes unfolding. A family of five all sitting on the same motorbike, none wearing helmets. A group of men stood around a sidewalk chai stand, sipping from small cups and chatting. Sara shook her head in disbelief as she realized how much she’d been ignoring, overlooking, in her single-minded focus on getting from one place to another. How much she could enjoy if she stopped thinking about the future for a minute. She put her phone in her pocket, readjusted her scarf, and rested her elbows on her knees as she leaned forward the watch the city move.