The car was waiting when I came down the stairs of the hotel. It looked like an old car with its grey painting and scratch marks on the hood. The driver looked no more than twenty and was exceptionally pale and lean. He looked at me like a tiger was marking its prey from a group of gracing buffaloes. I stared back but I figured my sunglasses could have prevented him from seeing my eyes.
The man I met the previous day opened the door and beckoned me in. He wore the same dress and had the same newspaper in his hands. I wondered how many days does it take for him to read one newspaper.
‘I’m still doing the crosswords. Haven’t finished it yet.’ He said, as if reading my thoughts. I shuddered but succeeded in converting it into a nod accompanied by a smile. He continued, ‘Meet Marco. Our driver for the day. He will drive us to the foot of the hills and we’ll get picked up from there by a friend of mine. I’m sure I told you this yesterday.’
‘Yes. You did. Thanks for arranging this.’ I said.
‘Some extra earning for the old age.’ He said grumpily. The car had started moving. It passed the town soon and started taking hairpin roads that went all the way up to a mountain. The scene was breathtakingly beautiful whenever the fog cleared enough for me to see it. I took out the camera and started fiddling with it.
‘No cameras allowed up there.’ He said.
‘Wait… that was never said before. What am I supposed to…’ I started complaining.
‘You could leave it in the car, Sir. I’m sure Marco will take good care of it till you return.’
‘This is insane. How can I be sure that he won’t drive away with it?’ I was on the verge of an explosion.
‘He won’t. He will stay on the foot of the hill for us to return. How do you think we’ll go back?’ He tried reasoning with me.
‘If I don’t get this back, I will report both you to the police.’ I said.
‘Fair enough! You could keep my id card till you get your camera back.’ He took his id card out from his coat pocket. ‘That is the only valuable thing I have on me other than this watch I am wearing. But, the watch has got only sentimental value and I am sure you wouldn’t want an old man to part with it.’ He said slowly.
I took the ID card from his hand and slipped it inside my pocket. The whole thing was making me uncomfortable. I have never parted with my camera whenever I have gone out with the intention of using it. I could see Marco the driver analyzing the drama unfolding on the backside of his car, through the rearview mirror. If I were him, I would have kept my eyes on the road considering the fact that I couldn’t see more than a couple of meters ahead. A poster on the left side of the windshield said ‘We Will Miss You.’
‘We’re here.’ He woke me up from the trance. ‘Take your bag. We’re getting out.’
The car stopped to the side of the road. There was a gravel road going up the mountain from there. I stepped out. He got out after me and crossed the road and sat on top of an ancient looking milestone.
(To be Continued)