The Boy had trust issues long before he had set out on his Journey; several times in his life, he’d find himself trusting too much [at the tender age of 10, the Boy prepared lemonade while Alex Fan, the neighborhood card collector and eventual delinquent quietly pocketed a holographic Clefable card from the Boy’s collection], or too little [although the weatherman claimed the tornado was traveling in the opposite direction of his home, the five year old Boy packed his most prized possessions – six stuffed animals, a K’nex set, the Goosebumps series, and a videocassette of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” – into plastic grocery bags]. Enforced by years of endless warnings about the dangers of Spring Break, alcohol, strangers, and middle eastern conflict from Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer on shows such as 20/20 and Dateline, his parents told him over and over and over again:
“DON’T TRUST ANYONE.”
The Boy, as with most children his age, completely disregarded listening to this piece of advice and continued to frolic in the neighborhood cul-de-sac and read books about young adults who traveled through time, space, and dimensions with the help of witches, aliens, trolls, and the homeless.
By the time he had set out on his Journey, the Boy had yet to build a mental prototype of a person he could or could not trust. Stories such as Roald Dahl's "The Landlady" had prevented him from building such prototypes, resulting in the inability to appropriately trust someone upon first meeting them [hadn't he heard somewhere that one 'accurately' judges a person in first five seconds?]. Regardless of such stories, the Boy had began a Journey, only to find himself caught between reality and [for the most part] irrational fiction, a predicament he found entertainingly iconic and prevalent in his life.
Take, for example, his fleeting encounter with Tapan.
The Boy had just left the five star hotel in Richmond Circle of Bangalore, a good 10 or so kilometers from HSR Layout, his current homestay. The night had been a long one: the speakers at International Spinal Surgeon's Convention had questionable public speaking skills, lesser questionable English speaking skills, and even lesser questionable neuro spinal surgery skills. After listening to one doctor's lifetime achievements after another, the Boy began to feel more confused and conflicted than ever before. Was this his inspirational moment when he decided to become a doctor and do honest and noble work? Or was this his warning of what fifty, sixty years of endless commitment to profession did to the mind, body, and personal relationships?
As he stood at the bus station, he couldn't help but notice that no buses had arrived, or were arriving. He prodded the Young Man next to him, and asked when the next bus would come.
"Buses closed. 10:30. Open at 5 am." The Boy looked at his watch. A quarter to eleven and the only reasonably-priced way to get back home was closed for another seven and a half hours. He grimaced, waved for an auto to come, and asked how much from here to HSR Layout.
"300 rupees." The Boy raised an eyebrow, then a palm to the driver's face, and walked away. That was more than three times the actual cost. Although it was late at night and his options for transportation were diminishing, he was still on a budget. The driver waved the boy back, and asked how much the Boy had. Well aware this was a trick, the Boy patted his pockets and said that he only had 100 rupees.
"I'll bring you to Silk Board," the driver said, choosing a popular bus/auto stop about three kilometers away from HSR Layout, "for 200." Maybe he should start walking home. He saw the same Young Man from before speak with the driver, shaking his head. The Boy heard the Young Man say "Silk Board" and general disagreement continued. As the auto drove away, The Boy prodded the Young Man again, asking if he was going to Silk Board. The Young Man said yes, and before he processed what he was saying, The Boy asked if they could split an auto there.
"Sure," the Young Man said without hesitation, "What difference does it make to me?"
In a matter of minutes, they had found an auto who was willing to drive them both for a total of 60 rupees. The Boy's eyes shifted back and forth between the road passing by and the Young Man sitting cross-legged next to him, one arm perched around the Boy's shoulder. The Boy could hear his mother, half a world away, screaming at him not to get into the auto.
This is what the Devil looks like, the Boy thought, before he strikes a deal with his customer.
"You're from?" The Young Man asked. The Boy explained he was from America, here to volunteer on a scholarship. The Young Man looked impressed.
"I thought you were from Northern India. You know, with the fair skin." Flattery. Such was the bait of the Devil. The Young Man continued, "You live where?" The boy said HSR Layout, and restrained himself from saying more. The need to keep conversation alive was battling with the need to give away too much information. The Young Man said he lived near Silk Board, and he worked in Richmond Circle.
Until 10:30 at night? The Boy wondered.
"You speak Hindi?" The Boy answered no, only a little Kannada, just enough to convince some autos to drive him for cheaper prices during the day. Apparently not. "You should learn," the Young Man said, "More useful." The Boy nodded in agreement, and searched for something else to say.
"You should be careful next time," the Young Man said, "This is a dangerous place for foreigners after the buses close." The Boy's heart stopped. "Especially where you're going. Just because you look like you're from Northern India and you speak a little Kannada doesn't mean robbers won't target you. Robbers here don't have any discrimination between foreigners and natives." The Boy patted his pockets discreetly, and felt some relief when he found his wallet, keys, and mobile phone still there.
"You never know who will get into an auto with you." The Young Man said. The Boy froze for a moment, then turned his hands into fists. If the chloroform rag was going to be pulled out, the Boy would go down fighting.
The auto stopped and both travelers stepped out. After paying the fee, the Young Man sprinted down the road. "COME." He said, and the Boy followed.
He's probably going to lure you into his house, the Boy thought, and imagined what it would be like to be tied down to a chair or chained to a wall. What are you doing?
The Young Man stopped, and held an arm out. "Here." The Boy looked in the direction of the hand, and was surprised to see a familiar bus - the very last one for the night - just about to depart. "You take this to HSR Layout. You know the way?" The Boy was floored. Why didn't the Young Man offer a drink at his place? Or a ride in his car? Where was the offer to provide safer transportation at this hour?
"My name is Tapan." The Young Man said, offering his hand to the Boy. The boy shook it, and offered his name in return. He thanked Tapan just as the bus driver returned to the steering wheel. He wanted to say more, maybe a 'good luck' or 'be safe,' something to indicate that trusting the Young Man had been a blessing, but before he could, the bus doors snapped shut.
Tapan had already run away.