“SlapJack strikes again!” Vipin hurries to squat next to Ranjit. The two read the news about the recently active ‘SlapJack’ of New Delhi – a white guy slapping pedestrians who cross roads without adhering to traffic norms and rules. He holds a Jack of Clubs in his slapping hand, which is often imprinted on the victims’ cheeks, inducting them into the Club of Jack.
The article transcribes various theories about the man: from being a B-grade vigilante to an overseas hippie. Cognoscenti and laity have more theories. He is all the rage among youngsters, who have even more theories.
“Now that’s a drive-by I would love to do!” says Vipin.
“Having him as your pillion rider and watching him slap heedless pedestrians?”
“Hell yeah! It’s their fault for sashaying through traffic with no regard for the safety of others. I wonder though, if his sudden movements would sway the bike more than when you adjust your bum.”
Ranjit pushes him in a friendly manner. “I thought you hate driving in traffic.”
“Who doesn’t? But yeah, that’s a strict no for me. Too bad you get to do so every day.”
“Not something I’m proud of,” says Ranjit, picking up his keys and helmet.
Business that day was quiet, and so Ranjit gets to leave before sunset. He still complains though, for the scorching sun, sultry air, and murderous traffic never fail to make him rail against the circumstances. Even his helmet sticks to his head as he manoeuvres his motorbike dexterously, slithering through narrow gaps between larger vehicles. He’s only able to breathe properly when traffic relaxes.
As he throttles, he notices a girl with white cotton sleeves on arms, handkerchief around the mouth; typical road travelling apparel during summers. Their eyes meet the next instant, and an arm with an erect thumb rises.
The motorbike stops.
“Where are you headed?” asks the heat-annoyed driver.
Another arm with an erect thumb rises. Another rider mounts the motorbike.
It’s only a couple minutes later that Ranjit realizes the voice he heard earlier was masculine. Then he notices that the white sleeve on the arms behind him is actually white skin. Then he recalls the article he read. His brain is abuzz with connecting these dots, but the process is impeded by the sound of screeching tyres. He narrowly prevents his vehicle from connecting with the adjoining car.
He glares at the driver and accelerates, but his path is strewn with a group of youngsters, chatting and walking, paying no attention to traffic.
Tyres screech again. Ranjit accelerates again. But this time, the air is graced with two more sounds. The first is a string of profanities that spouts from Ranjit’s baby-face. The second is a loud bang, like a firecracker. More screeching tyres and profanities are heard behind him, and Ranjit knows why. The dots have been joined for him. He takes a deep breath to let it sink.
When he drops his co-rider, he shakes his hand.
“Big fan,” he struggles to say through stretched lips.
“Oh, wow. Thanks!”
Ranjit takes in the image of the man who’s as big as him, barring the extra fat. His eyes rest on a card protruding from his shirt pocket. The exalted stranger notices it, produces it, scribbles on it, and hands it to him. The grin doesn’t leave Ranjit’s face until he reaches home.
He notices Vipin returning from football training and almost runs him over in the parking lot.
“What the hell is wrong with you?!” he roars, eyes bulging.
“The bike doesn’t sway an inch when he moves. He’s like an artist!”
Vipin reads what’s written on the card he’s handed.
‘Club of Jack – 17
Friends of Jack – 1’
His eyes grow larger, Ranjit’s smile grows wider.
The image is a character created by Geoffrey Rodrigue.