“You do realize how dangerous it is to travel alone in a taxi?”
“Oh come on! Lots of girls travel alone.”
“Yes, and lots of girls become daily news in your paper too.”
On my way to the Dateline that day, I remembered all those times dad warned me against travelling alone in taxis. And boy was I scared. There was something strange about the taxi guy. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I could sense there was something.
Call it a woman’s sixth sense, but I was sure I should get off instead of continue travelling all the way to Blue Area.
But I didn’t.
Why? First, getting a taxi isn’t easy these days, especially on CNG load shedding days. You not only have to wait for hours before a taxi comes along to end your misery, you also have to spend another half hour arguing and haggling with him over the fare.
I also thought he would make a scene if I told him to stop the car and let me off. The usual fear of society’s judging habit got the better of my own judgment.
Besides, I told myself, we are on the highway, and there is lots of police here. I can always call out for help.
This guy didn’t haggle. He agreed to what I offered him. That was the first warning sign.
Throughout the journey, he kept looking in the rear-view mirror and I caught him staring at me multiple times. Although that is not unusual, it was still creepy.
Then he started talking.
“Do you work in Blue Area?” he asked.
I thought about what to say and whether to say anything or just stay silent. Then I thought I would give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he wasn’t as bad as I thought he was. Maybe he was just a harmless old man.
“Yes,” I said.
We were at least 30 minutes away from my office and on the Islamabad Expressway. What could he possibly do?
“I work there too,” he said. “I also run my own company of cosmetics.”
Aah, I thought. He’s going to try and sell me cosmetics from his shop. Pretty harmless, and here I was getting all worried.
“We make special products for all kinds of skin problems and for the khoobsurti of the skin,” he went on. “If you like, I can give you some samples to try.”
“No, thank you. I don’t use unknown skin products,” I told him curtly, trying to end the conversation.
“Oh but Bibi Jee, these are tried and tested products,” he went on. “You know in winter, our special product for the feet sells the most.” He opened the dashboard of his taxi and took out a small bottle.
Oh man! I don’t want your sample, I thought. In retrospect, I should have said it out loud, stopped the taxi, spat in his face and handed him over to the police right then.
But, I didn’t.
His next step horrified me. Without stopping the taxi, holding the steering wheel with one hand, he turned around and said, “Here, let me put it on your feet and you can see it really works.”
I stared at his hand, holding the bottle and stretched out towards my feet, and was mute with fear. For a minute, I felt paralyzed. After a pause, while we passed a couple of police officers standing by the roadside and I considered jumping out of the car, he said in a hoarse whisper, “Let me apply it.”
That was it.
I shouted at him to stop the car and he instantly stopped it. Perhaps, because he could see four policemen standing a little distance ahead.
I quickly got off and before I had even shut the door, he sped off and there was nothing I could do.
I haven’t told my dad, yet.