The Driver – A short story (Based on a true story)
He worked at a corporate firm which had a turnover of many millions. The big business firm as it was, had working staff of around 4000 employees. The staff included everyone from the board of directors, high-profile managers, their assistants, technical staff, high-salaried MBA and computer professionals to caretakers, watchmen and drivers. The company base was in Pune, India and its offices and businesses were all over India and overseas too – the US, UK and Australia. Murali was a driver there. He was known to be loving and an honest individual among the office staff. His boss, the employee-manager was happy with his work. He was given the duty of ferrying the HR managers of the firm in and out. His work was flawless and he was so prompt about it. He would hardly go on leave unlike the other drivers there. His job was everything to him. Murali came to Pune some eight years ago in search of work and worked in the same firm on daily wages for the first six years. Two years ago the firm changed his status from daily wage laborer to the permanent staff. He worked hard for six years with a single aim in mind that he should become a permanent staff there. The job earned him respect back in his village. His marriage took place when he was still working on daily wages. As time went by he became father of two sons. He was a doting husband and a kind-hearted father. A frugal talker and had a sensitive heart to name some of his many qualities.
Neha was a dynamic, young, talented girl who had newly joined the firm as an HR executive. She studied in Pune and was so lucky to get a job in the city she loved. She was tender-looking, petite, beautiful girl in her late twenties. She hailed from 'Konkan', a coastal area lying in the west of Maharashtra state. The Konkan is famous for its sweet and juicy mangoes. Neha was just like that supple, sweet, juicy mango; fair, fully bloomed youth. Anyone would wish to have her companionship. As a matter of fact some young males of the firm were trying their luck. In her office she had to coordinate with her fellow colleagues, among them were some married men and some not. Over the tea breaks, lunch breaks… they were talking of her, her loveliness, her fashions, clothes…etc. Some even expressed their secret desires to sleep with her…. those were the married guys who wanted her in their beds. She came from a middle class background and had a good moral bearing in her character. Her middle class status affirms her moral and modest upbringing. One day in the absence of her appointed driver, Murali was given the task to drop her at her place. That was the first time Murali got to see the much talked about new comer in the firm. Neha went with Murali for the whole of that week since her driver extended his medical leave. She instantly liked the services of Murali, his soft spoken-ness, his gentlemanly behavior towards her. She kind of got fond of his company. Her appointed driver returned to the job the following week and resumed his duties. For two days she was brought to the office and dropped back home by him. She felt nothing for the first two days of the week. Later on as the days passed by she began to miss something which she was unable to figure out. One night she thought a lot about it and went to bed. The same night she dreamed of all that which passed on between her and Murali….. she saw his stout, tall, well-built image flashing upon her mind's eye, the way he opened the car door for her, the way he escorted her to the apartment gate late in the evenings on some days, the little jokes she shared with him at traffic signals, his asking her about taking dinner parcels from the best restaurants on the way, it all came to her as if scenes from those mushy romantic films. She got out of bed, washed her face and stood there in front of the mirror. Maybe it was her first love. It was so quick and abrupt. She had no problem convincing herself that she had fallen for him.
It was Monday, she went to the office as usual. Her restless eyes started running all over the premises searching for the face she was dying to see. Murali was nowhere in sight. She worked all day long and left feeling dejected. Next day, the cycle repeated with no desired result. On the third day, in the evening, she came out when she finished her tasks at the table. She went straight to the room where all the drivers would usually rest. The room beside the company canteen. Her presence alerted a few sitting in the room. Her driver was waiting for her at the gate. She asked him to wait there. One fellow walked up to her and inquired, "Madam, Kuch chahiye kya aapko?" (Do you need anything, madam?). She replied, "I am looking for Murali, I have some business with him". He told her Murali went to Mumbai to drop off some foreign guests and would return only by midnight. She left a message for Murali with him. The next day she started for her office, she felt her heart weighed heavy inside, it seemed like her expectations crowded the tiny space of it. She put on the best dress of her choice, wore a nice perfume, a diamond ring which she bought on her first pay, and a glossy lipstick which struck a contrast to her satin-smooth face. She was waiting for him in her office like a monsoon bird does for the first rains of the season. It was 11:30 and yet there was no trace of him. By 11:50 a knock came on the door, "Ma'am, mein aandar aa sakta hoon" (May I come in Madam?). She got up from her chair and gave him a long, deep stare. She forgot to ask him to come in. Her eyes turned moist and a drop trickled down along and landed on a plain paper on the table. "Ma'am", again he said awkwardly, "Sab theek hain na, ma'am?" (Is everything alright, ma'am?) She, for a minute, forgot everything around her. She was like a person who was suddenly awakened from a deep slumber. She got hold of the situation and called Murali in. She asked him to sit while she went to the wash room beside. She steadied herself up, cleaned her face and came out. "How are you, Murali, she asked? His reply was - "Mein theek hoon, ma'am". (I am fine, ma'am.) He told her you didn't seem to be alright. She said, she was fine, but from inside a voice said, 'I am not ok because of you'. She very suddenly spoke, Murali, look, hereafter I want you to ferry me to the office. He instantly said, "Yes!" without asking her "Why?", but told her he needed permission of the transports manager. Neha said she would take care of that part. The same day afternoon she approached the manager and got his permission to have Murali as her driver to commute her every day. She was so elated. She took Murali's cell number from the manager and immediately after returning to the office, texted to inform him of this. She felt so content that afternoon. An otherwise insignificant thing held greater importance for her for she was fallen in love. She wasn't tired of her work these days. Her reward was to have Murali's company at least twice a day that was an hour each in the mornings and evenings. For her it was like a huge, priceless incentive the company could ever offer. For ten days things went by the routine. Murali was unaware of what Neha was thinking about him, however he had sensed something unusual in her behavior. She wanted to confess her love to him but she wasn't quite sure how she was going to do it. She knew he was a married man and cared a lot for his family. She was unable to decide. Her conscience was holding her back from doing so, but on the other hand the force of her power packed emotions was too strong. Emotions overcame her reason. She gave in one day to her desire for him. She asked him to pull up a vehicle by a coffee shop. She took him inside and ordered two cups of filtered south Indian coffee. Murali was still unaware of her intentions. After sipping her coffee for about fifteen minutes, she cleared her throat and spoke boldly, "Murali, mein tum se pyaar karne lagi hoon". (Murali, I have started loving you) Bolt from the blue situation for Murali…. he fell silent for a few minutes…. and uttered, madam… madam… unable to speak any further he dropped his head down. He went through a confused trauma of emotions racing up to his brain. She pressed his hand which turned sweaty by now and said, "Don't embarrass yourself like this, I said what I feel about you". Let's go, she said and they took off. How he drove off the next thirty minutes he couldn't know. He dropped her and saw her waving him good night with a lot of love in her eyes.
Murali couldn't sleep that night. He was super restless. His wife noticed it and asked him why he wasn't sleeping. He dismissed her query with some silly reason. He was thinking all night long about what made Neha love him. There were many handsome men on the campus, he thought, with big positions and all the worldly riches…. then why me? A simple driver…. a third grade company worker she chose over everyone, and that too a married one. His questions bothered him till he went to take her the next day. He was welcomed by her with a broad smile on her face. She felt relieved after her proposal but made Murali anxious then on. He wanted to talk about the whole thing but he couldn't yet muster strength to do so. He was waiting for her to speak. Eventually, it came from her. She said, "It seems you didn't sleep well last night. Your eyes are swollen". She further added, "I know how you must have felt, but I couldn't help it. It was weighing me down". He interrupted her and asked, "Ma'am, I am a simple man, just a driver. You are a well-educated, beautiful girl. You could get anyone you wish for …. "mujh mein kya dekha aapne " . (What did you see in me?) She paused for a while and replied - "your simplicity, honesty, care and affection which I don't find in anybody there, you don't know what you are, Murali". She further commented, you are a bundle of those rarest qualities which every woman loves to see in her man. This is your loveliness which makes me love you and I am not going to stop that. And you are not that bad looking , she laughed and fell silent. As they approached the company building, she warned him lovingly, "Don't call me Madam when we are together. Call me Neha". I love you she said again and got off the car. Her 'I love yous' took away his peace of mind. His feet went cold by the closeness she showed, so to warm himself up he went to the canteen for a cup of tea. He was sipping tea not knowing how it tasted. His mind was preoccupied with her thoughts. He was a gentleman at heart. He asked himself, "Was this the right thing to do?" As obvious, "No!" came the answer from his scrupulous inner self. He was wary of the repercussions of this affair if at all it progressed. He feared for his job, for his marriage and so many other things. He feared for her the most, not that it would affect her job but it would surely affect her character as she was a young unmarried girl. The village culture Murali brought with him was very much there intact in him. That’s why he could think on those lines. Living in a sort of metro like Pune, he wasn't aware of the metro culture which changed its colour frequently. The culture which was rife with scandals and affairs. Its love affairs and break ups were like seasoned flowers which bloomed for a period of time and died out. People, the so called educated lot in the metro cared for nothing, it looked on live-in relations, one night stands, wild-rev parties as normal. But it was unacceptable for a naïve soul like Murali. The metro-ness of the fast moving place like Pune hadn't affected him so far. That was the draw for Neha. Murali's close friend perceived his unease. He even talked to Murali about it but Murali was determined not to let anyone have a whiff of what's going between him and Neha. His uneasiness continued till he got to know that the company was transferring Neha to its Bangalore office. She told him that despicable news. She was terribly upset that evening while going home. She was crying on the back seat, Murali could see that in the vanity mirror. He rose to the occasion and pulled the car up at the 'Barista café' where she took him in the past. She knew and she followed him to the café. "Aaj coffee mein pilaoonga Madam", (coffee is on me today, Madam), Murali said. She retorted, "Neha, not Madam!". He conformed saying "ok Neha ji". She spoke mildly now, "If you don't call me Neha without adding the suffix ji, I am not going to drink any coffee." He agreed. They drank coffee and they drove to her flat. On the way he consoled her and she was happy about it. That he talked to her for long was a welcome change in his behavior, thought Neha. The evening seemed soothing unlike the day for her.
Neha continued talking, thinking and dreaming of Murali. Murali was still not sure of how he should handle Neha's attachment to him. As the days passed on Neha felt deep love for him. She started sending him whats app messages many times in a day. She made Murali install the messaging app. Murali saved her number under a false name of 'Kishan', in order to hide it away from his wife and other driver friends. Murali was in control of himself. He was constantly aware of his unusual affair with his boss, Neha. He didn't break her heart, but rather cared for her more and more because he began to feel love towards her. Anyone in his place would have taken advantage of her because she was so irresistible. But Murali's upbringing taught him patience and caution, too. After work Murali would go around the city with Neha, sometimes. He spent time with her in coffee shops, accompanied her to the malls for shopping. It was the first Valentine's day for Neha to gift someone she loved with a present. She gifted her valentine with an expensive wrist watch and a T-shirt. As usual Murali was driving Neha for a drop off. Then, suddenly, she asked him to stop by the familiar coffee shop and made him bring coffee for her. Before Murali came back she took out the gift box and held it in her hand. Murali returned and found the box on his seat. He was staring at it and thinking of how the box got there. Neha cleared his confusion. She in her soft voice said, Murali, this is for you from me, a valentine's gift". She fell silent and was trying to read Murali's face. She anticipated that Murali would like and appreciate it. Murali gave her the feeling that he liked it but after he dropped Neha off started thinking of what is he going to do with this gift? He stopped the car, opened the big box and found a shirt and a watch in a small box. He learned the gift was expensive. He drove the car back to the company building and took off for home on his bike. He was thinking all the way of the gift and what he is going to tell his wife about its source. He made up a story and said to his wife that somebody gave this gift to his boss and the boss gave it to him.
The next day was a Valentine's day and Murali, wearing the gifted shirt and watch, came to pick Neha up. Neha saw Murali and felt so happy that he wore her gifts on Valentine's day. Murali wished her A Happy Valentine's Day and took her to office. Murali, said Neha, you look like a big executive officer in this dress. You look very dapper. Murali with a smile thanked her. Murali made Neha happy so much that she skipped her lunch in the afternoon and called Murali in her office and kept on talking to him for an hour. Both happened to skip lunch that afternoon. Neha was head over heel in her love for him. But he still was moving with caution. He started feeling guilty about his involvement in her. He knew his fling with her wouldn't work out and would bring sorrows only for both. He made up his mind and decided to distance himself from her. He sought a week's leave from the manager citing medical reasons and kept his mobile off for the whole week. Neha was intensely worried about Murali and tried his numbers many a time. She even asked his friends about him, but their answers didn’t pacify her. She thought of going to Murali's home, but stopped herself from doing that to avoid any suspicion whatsoever. She waited patiently for him. Meanwhile the manager had arranged another company driver for Neha. Murali knew about it. He wanted exactly that to happen as he wanted to drift away from her. However, he couldn’t detach himself fully, for he too, despite of his cautious self, started loving her. He would look at her profile pictures many times a day, sigh, grew thoughtful, trying to smoke off his tension. At last he returned to work and approached the manager. He requested the manager to give him the company bus-job to ferry the office employees. Murali thought it would be safe for him and Neha that he keep away from her. The manager agreed to his demand but he got the whiff of their affair. He asked Murali, What is happening between you both? The manager told Murali, she came three consecutive days asking when you were going to return to work. He said, Murali, I saw restlessness in her eyes every time I said that you would join your duties soon. Murali got little scared that the manager sensed his affair. The manager advised him to stay away from her as it was in the good interest of both. He gave Murali the bus duty to ferry the office employees.
The next day, Neha understood that it must be on Murali's behest the transports manager had removed Murali from her service. That day during the lunch break she went to the canteen where all the company laborers, drivers and second grade employees go for lunch and tea. She approached Murali and asked him to meet her in her office. Murali agreed, and went to meet her. She was sitting in her chair, with her head down, and the locks of her hair fallen all over her beautiful face. "Neha", came the voice, she took some time to look at him, clearing her dangling hair from her face. When finally their eyes met, he saw she was crying and her eyes were bulging with tears. She just asked, "Why?" Murali retorted, "Look Neha, I am a married man. What are you going to get from me? I can't be yours. I can't abandon my family and come after you. Then why this futility?" Neha answered, "I knew you are a happily married man and I don’t want to break your marriage, Murali. It’s just that you are entirely different from all these men here. You made me feel like a woman and special with your manners. I didn’t know when I started loving you. I know this thing between you and me is short-lived. It's like a rogue ship tossing over and over in the sea by the waves and aimlessly moving on. I know this affair would not have a happy ending, but still, I like your companionship. I like to be cared for by you. I like you and I love you with my heart and soul". As you know the company wants me to join the Bangalore office. I am not going to be here for long, Murali. So as long as I am here be with me. Last week when you were not around, every day I stepped on the campus my eyes desperately started looking for you. I waited for you the whole week. I was longing to see you, meet you." Murali abruptly stopped her, and said, "Neha, I respect your feelings, but forgive me. I can't be what you want me to be. "Mujhe maaf kar dena, mijhe maaf kar dena" (Forgive me, please), before he left the office, he remarked, you should get married. Neha was heart-broken. Murali was her first love. She couldn't tolerate his indifference and his toughen- toned advice.
A week later, Neha went to join Bangalore office. She herself requested and expedited the transfer by approaching the Manager-in-chief. She knew she couldn’t bear Murali's ignorance. The transports manager broke the news to Murali that Neha left for Bangalore. Murali somehow tried to digest the news before the manager but drank heavily that evening after work. He put her a message from the bar. The message read," I am sorry". Neha saw his message but didn’t reply him.
For days Neha was feeling the hurt. She tried hard to bring herself to reality. Murali, too, couldn't forget her completely. He would wear the watch gifted by her and keep looking at it remembering her. He would look at her profile picture again and again. It was difficult too, for him to forget her that easily. In his emotional outburst he deleted her number from his cell phone one day. Two years passed by and suddenly one day a message popped up on his mobile screen. It was a wedding invitation from Neha. Finally she decided to walk the aisle. She wrote a message to him, please come to my marriage so that I can see you one last time. Murali didn't reply. With a sigh, he deleted the message and blocked the number. It was 5 p.m. in the evening. He took out the employees on a bus for a drop off.