“This country has gone to the dogs!” muttered the mechanic as he bent over my shiny bike.
I stood behind him and said nothing, boiling in the unseasonably hot weather that seemed to force every drop of water out of my body as sweat. I glanced at my watch and realized I was getting late for work, and the traffic would have built up to an impenetrable mass of steel and smoke by now. Bangalore on a summer morning is not for the weak-hearted.
“You’re lucky they didn’t rip this whole thing off. It’s a custom-made part and very expensive,” he said and continued to tinker with the bike, crouched so low that he was almost squatting. I asked him to hurry up and told him that I was getting late for work.
1 Year Earlier:
He knew he didn’t do anything wrong. He hadn’t meant to steal the diamond. He’d just found it lying on the floor next to the dead body, shining prettily in a pool of congealed blood. He’d picked it up, wiped it on his shirt and had tried his best to avoid looking at the corpse, which was stinking up the place a bit. Just as he had thanked his luck on finding a diamond as big as a gold ball, he heard the distinct sirens of an approaching police vehicle. He’d panicked and run in the wrong direction, almost directly in front of the two bright headlights that screeched to a halt. Two constables had jumped out, armed with their lathis and had yelled something at him. He hadn’t paused to think. He had just run.
He thought back on his stupidity as he ran down the deserted roads of Rajajinagar, past the Navrang theater. He could hear the running feet of the constables pursuing him, yelling at him to stop. They had probably just wanted to question him. He should have just stayed there and answered their questions. Who am I kidding, he thought bitterly. They would have just framed him for the murder, confiscated the stone from him and thrown him in jail to rot for the rest of his life. The cops in this city were notorious for their stupidity and laziness. I did the right thing, he thought, as he ran.
He picked up speed and decided to dodge the pursuers in the countless narrow alleyways that peppered Raj Kumar Road on either side. His heart sank as he heard the sound of the siren at a distance behind him. The police jeep had joined the pursuit! He looked around and saw a half-open shutter of what looked like a motorbike service center. He didn’t think – he ducked in and the darkness of the warehouse enveloped him. He could hear his heart racing madly as he stood still in the corner, in complete darkness, and worried that the cops would hear it too. He didn’t move a muscle and stood there for a long time after the running constables and the police jeep had passed the warehouse. He dared not move and go out again. He felt around him and his fingers found a blanket hanging from a wall peg. He snatched it off and draped it around him. He could feel the bulk of the diamond pressing up against his thigh through his trouser pocket. He clutched it tightly and made a decision that he would regret for almost a year.
Midnight found him walking alone, dejected, shoulder slumped, clutching a half-empty bottle of the local whiskey. His whole life had been a series of missed chances and unlucky coincidences that had almost ruined him once. He still shuddered a bit when he thought back to that fateful day a year ago when he had almost been caught for a murder that someone else had committed. Every now and then, his hand went to his thigh where the golf-ball sized diamond had poked him – in his darkest dreams, he dreamed that he had the diamond in his hands and enjoying the wealth that it brought him. Not a day went by in which he kicked himself for hiding the stone in one of the parked motorbikes. The only thing he remembered was that it was an Avenger motorbike. He had hid the stone in a crevice of the engine and stepped out of the warehouse to make sure the coast was clear. He didn’t want to be caught with the stone in his possession in case a constable or two were canvassing the area. He had walked around slowly, ready to drop to the ground and pretend to be drunk and homeless at the first sight of a cop.
No one had been around. After about fifteen minutes of walking around, he had decided to chance it and had headed back to the warehouse to collect his precious diamond. He had stood in front of the warehouse, shaking in anger, cold, fear and the deepest despair, staring at the shutter that was now firmly closed and locked. In his panic, he had walked all around the building trying to find a way in, but in vain.
The next morning, he had been present at the warehouse door when it opened, and had been chased away by the security guard. He barely had enough time to notice that the precious motorbike that held his diamond was a black Avenger 220 CC bike with the registration number 9669, before he had lost it in the seemingly endless traffic of bikes and people that came in and out of the warehouse. He had taken up an all-day vigil across the street from the warehouse, waiting for the precious bike to be wheeled out, and he had decided that he would take his chances in broad daylight and try to remove the diamond from its crevice. All his hopes had been dashed by a fat man who rode off on the bike. He had seen the fat man riding the bulky motorbike through an endless stream of tears in his eyes.
He stumbled and fell to the ground as he remembered that fateful day and let out a wail of despair. He cursed God and everything that he felt like cursing and crawled on all fours in the middle of the empty tree-lined street, with only his shadows and the harsh orange street lights for company. He crawled to the sidewalk and sat down heavily, taking a swig from his bottle. As he lifted his head to drink, he saw the goddamn bike parked across from him. It was that bike! It was a black Avenger 220 CC bike, numbers ending 9669. He looked at it, his hand paused mid air and the whiskey pouring on his legs and onto the street, which he didn’t notice. He stared at the bike for a good, long minute and looked around to see if there were anyone else on the road. He dropped the bottle and scrambled hastily on all fours across the street to the cursed bike, grunting with anticipation and pain. He crawled up to the bike and his hands trembled as he touched it. Tears welled up in his eyes, his lips quivered as he cried, this time in joy. He seized the strange-looking engine part with both hands and ripped it apart. He looked longingly at the little golf-ball sized diamond that fell out of the crevice and sat in his palms. The engine part that he had ripped apart dangled from a few cables and wires, dripping petrol, oil and other fluids on the ground, and saw the man run away, whooping with joy and laughing hysterically.
“But why would anyone do that?” I asked, as I paid twenty rupees to the mechanic.
“Carburetors fetch anywhere between four hundred and five hundred rupees, sir,” he said. You’re lucky they didn’t steal it. They were probably interrupted by someone.”
“I guess so. Thanks,” I said, climbed on to my bike, and rode to work. The thought of someone trying to steal my bike’s carburetor angered me. The thought of negotiating the traffic in the heat of the summer put me in a bad mood. I just knew the day was going to be a long, bad one.