Loki worked from sun-up to sun-down on the two acre land he had managed to wrestle from his brothers after their father’s death. He had been saving for two years to buy a new motorbike but the rain gods had proven fickle and middle-men who bought his crops stingy and thieving. He was stuck with the rusty bike his father-in-law had given him on the eve of his wedding. His reverie was interrupted by a huge black car coming to a screeching halt trying to avoid a dog on the street. A bulky guy got out of the driver’s seat, checked his car tires, found them satisfactory and drove off leaving the mutilated body of the dog in the middle of the national highway. Sometimes goats and chickens owned by the villagers were victims of the high speed roads. Loki never understood the arrogance of city folks- trampling livestock with their cars and bikes, not in the least bothered about how it affected the livelihood of poor villagers.
Loki considered the recently built national highway a curse. It cut across the middle of the village making even crossing the road a hazard. Once the villagers had got together and paid a private contractor to build a speed bump at both the ends of the village. That helped until a few officials from highway development authority leveled the road again warning the village council against building such barriers. The council denied everything, claimed innocence and feigned outrage at the accusation.
In the initial days after the road was built, villagers accepted any small compensation given to them by errant drivers for harming their livestock. But all this changed when Loki’s friend’s cow got mowed down by an SUV. Yogesh demanded an exorbitant amount and the entire village had gathered to argue with the driver and his wife. The villagers finally managed to extract more than their pound of flesh. Loki knew that the old cow had stopped producing milk a year ago. Yogesh could now buy a new jersey cow with what the driver ended up paying. The village council of course took a cut. The men had a good laugh about the entire incident that evening under the banyan tree. One of them called it the “road tax”.
From that day, Loki stopped scolding his children when they let the chickens and goats out near the highway. He did not have to wait for too long for what he had secretly been hoping for but would not admit even to his wife. A couple in a two wheeler had crashed into a post trying to avoid his goat. Somehow the goat had managed to limp away without much injury. Loki’s first thought was that the couple were grievously injured. He did not want to rush onto the highway to demand payment for his goat only to find the couple dying or in need of help.
Meanwhile a few cyclists had stopped to check on the fallen couple. Why men ride cycles this far instead of using motorbikes, he had no idea. Masochists most likely, he concluded. The cyclists had managed to help the couple with water. Loki saw that the rider, though bleeding was now standing and about to climb on his motorbike and drive away. Fat chance he thought.
Loki managed to stop the couple from speeding away to a hospital and straight away demanded payment for his injured goat. The couple looked speechless and the cyclist decided to speak up for them “Let them first go to the hospital man, the guy is bleeding”. All Loki knew was that if he let the couple go now, he would never see them again; “No, now”, he insisted. He claimed that his livelihood had been ruined due to the loss of his goat. As if on cue, a lot of folks from the village were suddenly with him taking the same line. A few other cyclists and folks from a car had stopped as well and took the side of the couple. The villagers accused the cyclists of rowdyism while the cyclists insisted on taking the couple to a hospital. The cyclists also claimed that the goat was not injured at all. Words were bandied back and forth.
Suddenly before Loki knew, the cyclist who had initially assisted the couple was coming at him angrily. Loki knew that there was no way the villagers would let a city-bred funnily clad cyclist beat him in their own place. One or two of his friends helped as they beat up the angry young man. Soon the rest of the villagers and cyclists managed to break up the brawl. Seeing bloodshed had the desired effect on the injured couple, they offered to pay up, just as Loki knew that they would. In parting, the beaten up cyclist calmly spoke up “One day I hope a car runs you over and there is nobody to help”. Loki pretended to not hear the cyclist. Neither did he care. His dream of a new motorbike had just got a little bit closer...