I waited impatiently on my bike at the signal, waiting for it to turn green. It had been a long day for me. I had woken up early, prepared breakfast for my daughter and helped her get ready. Then I had dropped my little angel to school and had rushed back home. I prepared lunch for my wife and had then sped to the hospital to meet her. Having spent time with her, feeding her lunch, rejoicing in the few words she could muster the strength to utter, I had left the hospital. I had to pick up my darling daughter from school.
The signal finally turned green, and I gunned the accelerator. No sooner had I cleared the signal than my eyes fell upon a ragged man standing at the edge of the road, signaling for a lift. I slowed down and brought my bike to a halt a few steps away from the man. He was well dressed in a fashionable denim jacket. However, in contrast to his colorful attire, his body looked thin and his face looked pale. The beard was sharply trimmed, but his eyes were dull and sunken. He looked sick. I looked at him and called out –
“Where do you need a lift to?”
He barely whispered back.
“Where are you going?”
It was a weird response.
“I’m going to St. Carmel’s School. There is a hospital nearby. Do you want me to drop you en route?”
He smiled at me.
“Sure, that would be great.”
I restarted my bike as he climbed on behind me. His reply did not sit right with me. He had smiled, but his voice had no hint of joy in it. I credited that to the fact that he was feeling under the weather. As soon as he settled behind me, I accelerated on to the road. I could feel his breath on my neck. It made me uneasy. I decided to start a conversation to ease my mood. However, before I could say anything, I heard a whisper.
“Thanks a lot for giving me a lift. I was waiting for quite a while.”
“No problem! I think people should help each other out.”
I waited for him to say something. All I got in response was some more cavernous breathing. I chose to ignore him for the time being. It was just another ten minutes. After a minute of trying to ignore him, I heard him whispering to me.
“Hmmm! So, why are you going to St. Carmel’s School?”
“I have to pick up my daughter from school.”
“Oh, nice! How old is she?”
“Aliya is ten years old. What about you, do you have any children?”
“I have no family. It is just me. It has always been just me.”
I felt sorry for him, but I could not detect any sorrow in his voice. He may have grown apathetic towards his condition over the years. So, I thought it best to avoid conversing about this matter. However, he did not seem to think so. He continued to interview me.
“What about your wife? What does she do?”
“Well, my wife is not in the best of health. She has been unwell and has been receiving treatment. The doctors are positive she will make it.”
“Nice. It is always so important to have people around you, no?”
“People who support you, depend on you. People who are affected by what happens to you.”
It seemed like he was talking to himself. I did not interrupt. He continued his monologue.
“You need people around you to share your sorrows with. Am I not right, mister..?”
“Sunil. And you are right. You do need people to around you to share your pains and sorrows with.”
The pale man chuckled.
“I am glad you agree with me. I see the hospital is here. You can drop me off right here.”
I brought the bike to a halt next to the pavement.
“Good luck. I hope you feel better soon.”
As he got down from the bike, I felt a slight prick on the back of my arm. I assumed it was the man’s nails. He got off and waved at me. The joyless smile made its reappearance.
“Yes, I feel much better now. I feel as if I’ve passed on my pain to you. It is a good feeling.”
I waved back at him and rode away towards St. Carmel’s.
The next morning I woke up and as per my daily ritual, visited the washroom for a face wash. I felt an intense itching feeling at the back of my arm, where I had felt the prick. I checked the mirror. I was shocked to see blood at the spot where I had scratched. I decided to get it checked while visiting my wife. I turned on the morning news. The sullen faced anchor was reading soberly off the teleprompter.
“Viewers who travel by two-wheelers, are advised not to offer rides to any hitchhikers they may come across. The police have received multiple complaints regarding pin-prick AIDS attacks initiated by a pale hitchhiker. Any suspicious activity should be reported at the nearest police station.”
I slumped back into my sofa. The pale man had meant what he had said.
He had passed on his pain to me.