“Miss! Miss!” he calls after me as he crosses the street and jumps over a pothole to join me on the road. He runs a bit to keep up with my pace. “Please, miss.” Something in his voice- was it desperation?- causes me to pause.
“Yes?” I inquire, the impatience of an unwanted connection thickly accenting my voice.
“Why does no one want to talk to me?”
The question lingers for a moment in frozen time. His eyes implore an answer beyond what I have to give. He continues, “all of these people, they come to India, but they no want to talk to Indians. I drive the tuk tuk. And I want to talk to people, to learn culture, to hear about your place and tell you mine.”
As he talks, the street children I already declined crowd my feet. Their eyes seek mine as they motion with their hands and touch their mouths. “Give me money; feed me,” they silently cry.
I shift my weight and move my bag closer to my body, uncomfortable with the demands that surround. Or maybe it is my dismissal of them that causes discomfort? I turn my attention back to the man. Awaiting my response, he stares at me with eyes boring a longing even greater than the begging children who now engulf us both.
“Ummmm.” I stall, searching for a reply. He takes this as an invitation to elaborate, “I went to Thailand last year. And the people? Very friendly. All people. But here, no one wants friendly. They ride in my tuk tuk and they don’t talk.”
“Yes.” I affirm him, aware that even now, I don’t want to talk. “I, I think people can find India overwhelming.” I say weakly, asking myself if I dare share that his approach to offering a tuk tuk ride just before he chased me down is precisely what I mean by overwhelming.
I don’t elaborate, though. Instead, the insufficiency of my response hangs in the air between us.
Switching gears- still seeking the connection foreigners neglect to provide- he asks, “which hotel you stay?” I explain that I am not at a hotel, as I am living in Jaipur. I wonder to myself if this makes it all better or worse.
Finally conceding to my body language and clear lack of reciprocity, he concludes. “Well, you are hurrying to your home now. Maybe another time we will take chai. Me? I am Shiwa. You have Rajasthan number? Here is mine so we can have the chai.”
I extend my hand for the scrap of paper he is scribbling his number on and nod. My head is spinning with excuses of safety and colleagues waiting at home, my face flushed with the truth that I have nowhere to be. I turn on my heels and walk back down the road.
When I round the corner, I step out and raise my hand in search of a tuk tuk.