‘Bikaner Junction’ is a collection of 4 short stories. Lucky is one of them.
Lucky was a swift young man. He had to be. With the weight of his family’s future on his head, to act quick and be mindful were embedded in his every action, knowing his name had always been his curse. Raised in a lower caste family in a Rajasthani village, he would have to work everyday to relieve the invisible resentment of his mother’s arranged marriage.
His mother’s father was a poor man, milked for every cattle he had to marry off his daughter, fulfilling the only role he believed she was born to do. Lucky’s own father was a wicked man, in humor and in his work ethic. He spent his mornings drinking bhang, a cannabis paste, before making his way out to pickpocket tourists at the nearby hotel. His mother would spend her days chained to her household duties of cooking, cleaning, and watching overdramatized Indian serials. Never did they ask Lucky anything except for how much cash was in his pocket.
Lucky, on the other hand, had a conscience, he worked daily to fulfil his responsibility to his family, although dreamed of becoming someone of status. A job with a desk, maybe a nameplate, and an automated chai machine in the communal kitchen. A role he had slim chances of obtaining, but the stability of his vision kept him on his feet all day at the city liquid shop across the railway station.
Every morning he would watch city dwellers come and go, sketching their suit and tie appearance in a beautiful black notebook he found in a backpack his father had snatched a few weeks ago. Sometimes he would get the opportunity to sketch backpackers as they exited the station. They often looked lost and confused as they stepped out into the parking lot, bombarded by rickshaw drivers anxious to make an extra buck off of naïve westerners.
“I have a job for you.”
Lucky jumped at the sound of his boss’s voice. He was darkening the details of his current sketch, daydreaming about the luxurious life of those with pale skin.
“Yes sir. What is it?”
“You are quick on your feet. I need you to go to this address, pick up a bag of Laxmi ornaments for the shop, and bring it back here by 8pm.”
Mr. Gour, a slender, Hindu man, who didn’t quite fit the profile of a liquor shop owner, handed Lucky a roughed up piece of paper with a scribbled address outside of the city borders.
“How do I get there?”
“You’ll figure it out. Be back here by 8pm. I’ll double your salary for the day.”
Lucky put his pencil down. An opportunity to travel and receive double his 500 rupee salary was reason enough to do anything, even with missing details.
“Consider it done.”
Mr. Gour clapped his hand on Lucky’s right shoulder and turned back to where he came – which was usually in the back office smoking bedis and watching Honey Singh videos.
Lucky took a moment to figure out how he would get to the village of Deshnok and back within six hours. Not only was Deshnok further from Bikaner than his own village, which was a three-hour return trip by bus, he had only visited once and it was a confusing little village to navigate.
Lucky shoved his notebook into his backpack and ran towards the railway station.
“Which train will get me to Deshnok? And fast?”
“You young boys always seem to miss the exact train you are looking for,” replied the station manager, nudging towards the platform. Lucky jumped without a second thought and ran towards the moving train, grabbing onto a bar of the last passing window, hoisting himself into the carriage.
Lucky let himself breathe, feeling the pump of adrenaline race through his veins after landing on his feet. With his mind set on making a speedy delivery, he hadn’t noticed the older woman he had passed as he slid through the window, his backpack smashing against her large chest.
“Excuse you!” yelled the woman.
“Sorry ma’am, the train was going almost 60 kilometers per hour.” His voice cracked against his nerves.
“How could he have not missed those?” teased a fat uncle sitting on the floor, munching away at his lunch. The other men in the carriage snickered.
“Yeah, keep eating and they’ll be the last ones you’ll ever see.” She snapped.
Lucky tried to hide his smile, always humored by the characters aboard second class.
“Do you mind if I sit here? I’m going to Deshnok. I promise not to intrude again.”
“As long as you have a ticket,” replied the Ticket Taker as he walked through the open door of the carriage. A wicked smile spread across his face as if he just came from spending the morning with Lucky’s drugged-out father.
Lucky sighed. He hadn’t grabbed the waiting ticket at the station while in such a rush.
“Sir, my apologies. I was about to miss the train so I jumped through the window…”
“…and assaulted me!” Interrupted the woman.
“Yeah, yeah. But it’s the most you’ve gotten in years,” marked the uncle again.
“That’s not an insult to me, idiot!”
Now the whole carriage had erupted in laughter.
Once it calmed down, the Ticket Taker rubbed his paunch and returned to his regular dialogue.
“Without a ticket, I cannot let you ride.”
“I’ve got 20 rupees. Please, sir…” Lucky begged.
As the train pulled into the next station, the Ticket Taker grabbed Lucky by the left ear and dragged him onto the platform. Seeing that he had boarded the last carriage, the Ticket Taker stood in the doorway waving him an evil goodbye as the train pulled out again towards Deshnok.
Lucky closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“Now what?” he said aloud.
He was closer than he was before, but still 50 minutes from his destination. The next train wouldn’t be for another hour. He walked out towards the empty village road and prayed for the sight of a savior.
Suddenly in the silence of the abandoned village, he could hear the electronic sub of a horrible Rajasthani wedding song playing in the distance. An auto-rickshaw. As it came speeding down the road at its fastest rate of 40 kilometers per hour, Lucky waved to signal the driver to stop.
The auto began to slow down as it approached, the obnoxious music growing louder and clearer. Puffs of black smoke escaped the exhaust as the 3-wheeler came to a halt.
“Where are you going?” the man yelled over the music. The auto vibrated with every kick of the bass, as did Lucky’s knees at the thought of having to sit in this party-on-wheels for the next hour.
“Deshnok!” he yelled over the music.
“Where?” yelled the driver.
“Deshnok! Deshnok! Deshnok!”
The driver cut the music on the third repetition.
“Relax, brother. Come. Sit.”
Lucky took another mindful breath before hopping into the auto.
“Thank you. Do you…” and just like that, the music was back on. They were moving forward, although the driver was now loudly singing aloud as he sipped a beer resting between his thighs.
Lucky let the warm wind from all sides of the open auto cool his dewy skin. The heat of spring in Rajasthan was in full flame at 35 degrees. What we wouldn’t do for a cold beer tucked between his thighs.
A bump in the road lifted Lucky right off the seat, forcing him to snap out of his meditative state, and launch back into the deafening sound of electronic music cracking through cheap speakers.
“Sorry, brother. You know how it is, the big guys don’t invest in village roads.”
Lucky smiled to please the man with no desire to engage in conversation, although much more aware of the road ahead of them as the drunk off-roaded the 3-wheeler.
“Where are you from?” the driver yelled over the music, looking sternly into the mirror at Lucky behind him.
“Oh, yeah? My mother’s family is from Gajner. What’s your good name?”
“Lucky. Lucky Singh.”
The driver immediately cut the music and hardened his look towards Lucky.
“Lucky Singh, huh? You know your father owes our family for that stupid television of yours.”
Lucky was uncomfortable, as expected. This wasn’t the first time a stranger confronted him about one of his father’s debts.
“My apologies, brother. If you give me until tomorrow, I can pay off that debt. I’m actually on my way to Deshnok to help my boss with a favor. He’s promised me double pay. I’m sure I can cover the cost for you.”
The man scoffed, taking another swig of his beer before driving right into a pothole in the middle of the road. In dramatic fashion, the auto did an entire flip forward, shooting both the driver and Lucky out onto the concrete to bleed in the harsh sunlight.
Lucky groaned as he laid on the pavement, struggling to open his eyes. His arm was twisted behind him and his backpack had been flung out of sight. As he came to, he looked up to see the driver a few feet ahead. The beer bottle had broken into pieces, many wedged into the driver’s chest and stomach. The man gasped for air, his back flat against the concrete.
Struggling to take in his surroundings, Lucky hoisted himself up, his arm clearly broken as he wailed through the pain of lifting his weight off the ground.
“Brother! Are you breathing?” Lucky struggled to speak. As he took his first step forward, he realized he had injured his left leg as well. As he limped closer to the body, he noticed the driver had stopped breathing.
Lucky took a deep breath for him. He was used to witnessing drunken accidents in the village.
He limped over to the auto, which sat perfectly back on its 3-wheels, to see if it housed any first-aid supplies.
First, he examined the trunk: a mix of speaker wires. He lifted the cushion off the back seat: cloth rags, three beer bottles, and a framed picture of Laxmi. He tried his luck once more by lifting the driver’s seat cushion: a backpack. Lucky pulled out the bag while keeping watch for another car, only to be met with tumbleweeds and cattle. He placed the cushion back on the seat so he could rest while examining the bag. Inside he found tweezers, six framed pictures of Laxmi, and a brown paper bag. He unrolled the top of the paper bag to find rupees. A lot of rupees. He pulled out the stack and took in the sight of what looked like many, many lakhs. He had never seen so much cash before. He grazed his thumb across the fan of 2000 rupee bills, watching as each swayed with the motion of his finger. He pictured himself in the plot of one of those American heist films that were always on cable.
Lucky looked back at the man on the road. He was definitely dead, or almost there.
“What do I do? What is the right thing to do?” He said aloud to the Gods above him.
Lucky shut his eyes and imagined a beautiful woman dancing before him, her face as fair as Laxmi, leading him back towards the railway station.
This was it. It was finally his moment of luck. Without a second thought, he blinked his eyes open, put the backpack on, held his hands in prayer above his head, and began to walk back towards the station on the abandoned road.
Not once did he look back at the driver. Not once did he check his surroundings. He limped forward in the Rajasthani heat, ready to board whatever train came his way, taking him to his new life with a desk and a nameplate.
Jazzmine is a social entrepreneur, storyteller, and facilitator. She is the founder of Hara World, an experiential education platform for young changemakers, and Hara House, India’s first zero-waste hospitality space. She leverages the power of story to empower young leaders, marginalized groups, and ethical brands to challenge the status quo and work towards a sustainable, inclusive, and inspiring future. She has been recognized globally for her work in development. In 2019, Jazzmine was nominated for multiple awards for her Hara World initiatives and was named 1 of 35 social entrepreneurs to watch by Causeartist. She has spoken on her passions and journey across the globe, including at BoldTalks Dubai, Tourism Shala in India, and with many high schools, higher education institutions and community platforms across the globe. She is currently undergoing a fully funded fellowship with Watson Institute and the Western Union Foundation. In her spare time, she supports high school graduates with their personal and professional development and continues to work on her first novel, Generation Uprising.