I had just bought a new car, a Fiat – one of the only two brands then available in India – and it had a sky-blue color that the company was marketing that year for the first time. My boss, a French speaking Englishman, loved the fact that I spoke French and adored French authors like Camus and Malraux. That winter, as the Christmas season approached, he rewarded me a Friday afternoon with an expensive ticket. It was to a piano concert by a visiting Argentinian maestro at a local theater. I was delighted.
I have to confess that, when I entered and seated myself in the car, I had a faint sensation of discomfort, the mildest, minutest reaction to something amiss. But, what could be wrong with my entering my own, brand-new car? I brushed the feeling aside and proceeded to start the car.
Strangely and inexplicably, the feeling did not quite leave me as I kept driving. In fact, the feeling grew a little stronger as I drove. I was now driving through a dark area, while the city lights twinkled at some distance. The sense of unease grew. Something was not quite right. I did not know what, but my guts quivered with a sense of foreboding.
Yet, my disquiet simply would not leave. I almost had the uncanny feeling that I was sensing the soft, nearly imperceptible breathing of another person. I was now quite upset. While I kept telling myself that my mind was imagining some absurd phantom presence, my body cringed at the persistent sensation of another presence.
Then, as I continued to race through the dark, intent to reach a better-lit area as soon as I could, I could no longer ignore some muted sounds on the back seat, as if a person was turning on the seat. Shivering, still driving, I decelerated and tried to look back.
I saw a large man on the back seat, his head and shoulders still draped by the black blanket he had covered himself with while sleeping on the seat. Rattled beyond measure, I wanted to ask what he was doing in my car. But the man pre-empted me. Shaking in terror, he tremulously asked, “What are you doing in my car?” Before I could reply, he followed up with, “For God’s sake, where are you taking me?” Clearly my unease was nothing compared to his.
The man said he was a professional driver and his employer had gone to see a film with his wife in an adjacent theater. The employer did not want his new sky-blue car to remain unattended and had suggested that the driver sleep in the car while he and his wife enjoyed a relatively long film. The driver had been sleeping peacefully, until he woke up to find the car moving. He feared that he was being kidnapped as the car was being stolen.
We both returned to the spot where the car had originally been. Fortunately, the driver’s employer had not yet returned, and my car stood pristine a few hundred yards away. My key opened my car door as smoothly as it had opened the other car’s.