She was definitely a face you wouldn’t miss. She was wearing a navy-blue and pink salwar, hair tied into a neat braid, a little puffed up on the forehead. She could have been a college girl. Her big, bespectacled eyes were lined with kohl. She was holding two bags of chocolates, chips and other snacks on both her arms and selling them to everyone.
Post a slightly heavy and late dinner, husband, brother and I were having a casual chat on the Worli Seaface. We had an early flight next day. So, instead of being betrayed by a slumber and missing our flight, we decided we’d roam around instead. It was about 1:30 AM and the promenade was quite pleasantly crowded. There were kids playing around. I was facing the sea, and my brother and husband were seated on the mosaic platform that lined the periphery of the promenade. I didn’t notice her until I saw the two men I came with, look behind me.
She walked up and said, “Chocolate loge didi?”
The walk on the promenade was to lay off the dinner we had. Chocolates would add more. So I said no, thank you.
“Please didi, ek chocolate le lo. Ghar leke jana!”
I was not in the mood and neither were my comrades. But something about her stopped us from ignoring or asking her to please go ahead. We sort of dilly-dallied, wondering what a girl like her would be doing so late without company. Alright, it is Mumbai, but it is India alright. Parents don’t let pretty little Indian girls out so late. She, of course, took the conversation gap as her cue and offered me a Cadbury Fruit-n-Nut out of her transparent bag. I couldn’t say no, so I took it. I asked how much it was while looking for the price on the wrapper. She said, “100”, at the same moment when I said, “65.”
“Huh?” I said, my eyebrows frowning in a question.
“Actually, policewale ko dena hai (I have to give a cut to the police)!” she explained.
I was kind of taken aback, not just by her but also the way she shoved the policewale ko dena hai on our side. As if to stop a moment and judge the situation for what it was. We didn’t dwell on it too long, though we were close to asking her about it. The dinner drinks had left us a bit tipsy and the sea air was only adding to it. So we gave it a miss and bought the chocolate. She thanked me and went away.
Our three pairs of eyes unconsciously followed her. She was talking to the middle-aged couple on the bench on our left. Maybe she was telling them about the police’s cut too. Maybe that was making her sale a little sympathetic, I don’t quite know. But she went around selling the late-night snacks. When she was out of hearing range, we looked at each other trying to figure out what it meant – her coming to us.
“She came from that side all of a sudden!” my brother said pointing to my left. “It didn’t seem like she walked all the way from the end of the pavement. I think that is her scooter,” he said, pointing to what appeared like a silver or perhaps white Scooty, carefully parked near the promenade. It didn’t look like a hand-me-down from a sick dad, jaded and chipped off on the edges. “That looks nice!” I noted. “How did she afford it out of selling these?”
“Maybe that’s someone else’s,” said my brother.
“Why did she mention the policeman?” I wondered aloud. “Was it intentional? Did she mean for us to ask why? Oh, did she perhaps capture my reaction in her hidden camera as a part of a social experiment? Could I be on YouTube appearing nonchalant about my country’s corruption?” My imagination was firing away.
“I won’t go so far. But I was thinking about the same comment,” said my husband.
“Things keep happening in this city. You won’t always understand why,” said the brother.
She looked just the kind of girl you’d meet at a Café Coffee Day with or without a boyfriend, talking about college and the latest Ranvir Singh movie. She had thin, well-drawn eyeliner but she didn’t look too made-up if you know what I mean. She could have been studying or hanging around with friends or sleeping safely in her own bed. Oh right, it was a weekend! Maybe she was a young student, trying to make a few odd bucks on the side for her pocket money. But it still didn’t make much sense. Why would she do that at 2AM?
She went off too far and we were getting late. We decided to move on and catch a few unavoidable winks before the wake-up alarm went off on my phone. Before getting inside the car, I took a glance to see where she was. She had disappeared into the crowd. Her scooter was still there, so she must have been around, I guessed. I stepped inside the car, putting the Fruit-n-Nut she gave me inside my purse.
Good, I bought it, I thought. I’d be hungry on the way to the airport.