BILLA PAYEE!

Its normalcy now, having to end my office shift at 1 am and heading home via various means and modes of transportation, living at the outskirts of Karachi does have its ups and downs but it’s a choice that now needs serious consideration after 27 years.

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Born and raised in a small housing colony established and populated by Pakistan Steel Mills employees, long travels are something that I have grown quite accustomed to over the years.

So, cut to the chase, tonight, like just now, January the 7th 2020 I was offered a ride by a young gentleman driving a white cultus, he was smartly dressed in a blue cardigan and jeans and looked from a upper middle-class family. He revealed that he drove the car for a cab hailing service.

I was waiting for the past hour at a mid-way point leading to my house; my house is 43 kilometers away from my current place of employment. So, I was standing 20 kms away from my place of employment and 23 kms away from my residence.

The place where I stood is notorious for a lot of things. Two of them are street crime and prostitution, what can you say, eh… gotta’ manage the budget and deal with the lemons life throws your way. Anyways, the main reason for standing at the particular place is because it’s the most crowded place I know of that comes along the journey and secondly, it’s the main bus stop, rickshaw stop and taxi stand of the area, rather its one of the biggest bus stops in Karachi.

2am, chubby old me standing in the middle of nowhere waiting for a rickshaw or a qingqui to go by so that I may keep the cost of travels down and get home safely.

The cab hailing services I mentioned above who ‘Billa Payee’ allegedly drove for do not take people to where I live due to varying reasons and none of them are security related, my area is one of the most secure place in Karachi and that’s saying something.

Billa payee sees me waiting; no car in site, no rickshaws, shops closed, no crowd, nothing. There was no activity in what is usually one of the busiest places in Karachi so he became a sort of a saving grace and also my last resort. I took the risk and got in the car, trusting my better judgment or lack thereof.

Now I am seated, Billa payee (payee; brother in Punjabi) starts to get chatty, asks me what I do and where I’m from and starts to reveal a few details about his personal life and what he does, all very normal.

Billa Payee was dropping me off a few blocks away from where I was standing, I had thought to myself that the place I was currently could turn into a great risk for me if I remain standing here for more time, I decided to hitch a ride a few blocks down towards a local eatery (dhaaba) that remains open 24/7, the plan was to wait there rather than the dimly-lit bus stop which was getting murkier by the second.

By this time Billa Payee had built a certain level of ease with me, he then offered me to drive me to my house as it was too late in the night and finding a ride home could be a great ordeal for me, he was right. So, I asked him how much money would he take if he dropped me off, he asked for a fair amount which made sense and I was happy that he did not exceed my personal travel budget that I designate every day for my rides back home.

But, before he could take me home there was a caveat to the deal, Billa Payee had two of his friends waiting on him who wanted to accompany him on a friendly “long-drive”, Billa Payee apprised me of the situation and I said yes to his offer of taking along his two friends till we reached my residence.

Why did I agree to the obviously dubious offer? I accepted because I had no options and because I started trusting the guy somehow, also because I am very stupid, emphasis on the ‘very’.

He took a U-turn and took the car inside the arteries of small illegal housing societies built alongside the national highway, now I started getting suspicious but I remained calm and did not complain, kept talking to him as if I had all my mental faculties in check and was unfazed by the alien terrain we were venturing in.

A few bad roads, puddles, dark alleyways, nooks and corners later two sturdy gentleman came out from one of the alleys and shook hands with Billa Payee and me. They sat in the back seat.

Billa Payee revved up the engine, he told his friends that I was a personal guest of his, one of the guys in the backseat cocked his gun and held it behind the head of Billa Payee, In that moment to my amazement I was fairly composed, it was as if I had told myself that if my stupidity has now lead me into this trap then I deserved the entrapment.

Billa Payee exploded into a shriek of laughter, his attention now directed towards me, he said: “this friend of mine works for Sindh Police (like that was supposed to calm the situation down), I thought to myself that if he literally is from the Sindh Police then I may be in bigger danger than I would’ve been among criminals.

Billa Payee started to slowly take the car back on the highway and on to the destination we had agreed upon, my home.

Now I was worried, was I leading criminals with firearms to my house?

Now, surprisingly since the situation started unraveling, this thought had me worried. I was very composed up till now but them possibly burgling my house was a horrifying thought.

Now I started weighing my options, what was I supposed to do, I went with the flow, I kept my cool and let the thing play out, I know life is not a movie but bad choices tend to lead to a more interesting one.

Slowly and steadily the car got moving and we had 23 kilometers to cover. I tried to blend in; they shared jokes, stories and anecdotes. Billa Payee mentioned the fact that his friends were probably high on marijuana and he had missed his chance.

They lit up cigarettes and offered me one, I being someone who has abstained for more than 10 years now, declined the offer even though it could’ve turned into something very unpleasant for me but I had decided that I would behave as if that I never saw the gun and the entire journey I was living in, never happened. I was my normal self which is usually consistent of two states, either I am pensive or I am trying to be present in a moment.

I willed myself into being present but imagined that the scenario had a happy ending, I expected a good outcome, I prayed and hoped for it with all my being actually.

There were a lot of inappropriate joke, a lot of talk about sex and women and the three friends were having a laugh riot exchanging stories among each other, the loudest laughter out of all four of us in the car came from me on each story, most of them sucked but I had no choice, I was putting up a strong face and “blending in”.

Those who know me can vouch that when I do laugh upon finding something funny then I do not hold back, I literally do, laugh out loud. I kept on laughing, they kept on telling stories and my house kept creeping closer.

30 minutes into the car ride we were now 10 minutes away from my residence, it was 3am now. The entire area was pitch-black and there was no sign of life or civilization on the road. I kept guiding them to where I live and they kept driving.

I made them drop me off 3 blocks away from my house at a dilapidated one instead, the idea was to make them sympathize with me and see me as a guy who was just struggling to put food on the table.

They dropped me off, I had agreed with Billa Payee that I would pay him 300rs, I pulled out my wallet as the thought of them dragging me to the nearby ATM and forcing me to make a transaction of whatever I can ran through my head.

They dropped me off and sped away. My instinct says that they intended to rob me but my composure under pressure and lukewarm wit played to my benefit. Also, Billa Payee had already told them and kept reminding them along the way that I was a guest who happened to be “a reporter” who can also communicate with them in their native tongue of Punjabi.

I walked to my house, closed the door behind me thanked my lord and decided to commemorate what just transpired, hope you found the story amusing.

 

The writer tweets @Muhammad Ali Azlan

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