Amazing how three little pieces of plastic with a string of random numbers can really affect your life. Plastic makes life-vests, helmets, and debit cards, three things you wouldn’t want to be without in certain respective situations.
It was well after midnight in a city that shuts down at half past eleven. I reached a whopping 100 Km per hours on the Outer Ring Road, a snails pace if I compare it to the 140 miles per hour I might hit on my 1200cc bike at home, but the thrill was there, and I had one of those moments where I appreciated my freedom. Feeling totally “bindass.” Little did I realize then how much of that freedom was made made possible by the pieces of plastic in my pocket.
The interaction with the gas pumper was a bit awkward as I didn’t understand if he needed me to get off the bike while he filled it. He could tell I hadn’t done this much. Little did I know then, it would be the first of two awkward interactions I’d have with the man that same night. Nor did I know then that neither he nor I knew the word for “wallet” in each other’s language; that he would watch the peculiar foreigner show up at the station at 4 in the morning looking curiously at the garbage piled around the truck-stop after making incomprehensible gestures around his pocket.
Leaving the station, the first time, I had a strange premonition about a fictitious situation in which I had lost my wallet and was explaining to friends that I had fifteen hundred rupees in it, but the real loss was that all my debit cards were in it. At the time, it was just a strange fantasy, not a self-fulfilling prophecy. Should I be impressed with my ability to predict the future or pissed at my careless ability to create it?
The kid on the dark corner with his thumb out seemed harmless enough. He was probably on his way home from a night of drinking. Why not give him a ride? I had a full tank, I didn’t have anywhere to go anyway, and I had no idea where I was. He was big. The bike was unstable under his weight. I was happy with the interaction as I dropped him off at his destination, with a better understanding of my own whereabouts. It didn’t occur to me that then may have been the moment that my pants became more comfortable, as my pockets became emptier, that I would eventually be suspicious about the friendly hitch-hiker who could have so easily pulled my life-line out of my pocket.
Hours driving aimlessly around an empty city covered in trash. Lost. But done so with intention, so as to finally learn the city streets. Bangalore is a total ghost town in the wee hours of the morning, inhabited only by cops, sweepers, truckers, and packs of auto drivers grouped around chai-wallahs. And dogs that would lay lazily about in the day, but in the night chase you, snapping at your wheels. Of the group, I hope it was a sweeper who found my wallet, a person who’s life could really feel the difference of an extra 1500 rupees. A person who would have no idea what to do with a bunch of plastic with numbers or a piece of paper saying Social Security with more numbers.
Trucks, that creep through traffic in the day, scream through the streets unleashed at night. They come from nowhere, showing up right on your tail with blinding lights and deafening horns, swerving. Moving out of the way at the same time they decide to pass could get you killed. The safest thing to do is speed up, make some distance. At night though, the speed bumps and potholes come up on you even quicker than the trucks. Speed bumps hit at full speed can send a bike in the air, easily jarring things out of your pockets. Only the second time did I drive slowly through the bumpiest parts of the city, looking carefully at every hunk of trash in the road, hoping to see the familiar shape of my wallet.
Finally heading home on the familiar Airport Road, the first time that night, I saw a behl poori cart in the shadows. Curious to try something that had the novelty of being the only thing open at 3 in the morning, but stopped by the voice in my head of a doctor that said “Don’t eat street food after dark.” I wonder now if I had stopped then, would I have had money?
I don’t know what the head of security was doing at the gates to the apartment complex in the middle of the night. I guess he has lousy work hours, like the people from the 24 hour line for visa and MasterCard. The lines on which I would talk to no less than 10 people with southern accents at the end of a sleepless night until 8 in the morning. It didn’t matter that I am the only white guy in the entire building, and three out of five security guards knew who I was, the head of security didn’t want to let me into my own home. It was late. I was tired. I yelled at the man, explaining the the flaw of his logic. He let me in.
Does bad karma come from losing your cool at a man who is doing you an injustice? It was only minutes after yelling at the security guard that I realized my pockets were one lump shy of “key, money, phone.” Shit. Right back out to the security guard, who I just yelled at, to see if my wallet had dropped at the gate. If it had, would he give to a guy that made him look like an idiot in front of his subordinates? Maybe, but it didn’t happen, former nor latter. Back to speeding down Outer Ring Road, only this time not feeling so free.