As I wait for the bus to Chennai, I cannot help but notice the noisy family bidding adieu to their relatives. I hate travelling by bus, especially if I had to compromise my sleep while doing it. ESPECIALLY if there were people like this family on board.
If looks could kill, I would have qualified as a mass-murderer. Killing more than 4 people, at one place, at one time without any political motivation was the definition of “mass murder” according to the 1st episode of Grey’s Anatomy, season 7 that I had watched a couple of hours ago. I count five. Yup, I definitely would have qualified.
Why were some people so inconsiderate? Didn’t they realize that others had jobs to do in the morning? That others needed their beauty sleep? That after a hard day’s work, all they wanted was some peace and quiet?
I silently curse them, and hope they would not be in the same bus as I am.
Of course that is not to be. As I settle into seat no. 10, beside the window on my right, I realize the full horror of my situation. The entire family is all around me. Seats 5, 6, 9, 13 and 14. FUCK.
Thankfully, they quiet down after they boarded the bus. They start whispering, in something quite different from Bengali and my own mother-tongue, Assamese, while at the same time being almost understandable. Must be Oriya, I think as I drift off into a fretful sleep.
As the bus pulls away, I wake up to quiet sobbing. The girl. The frigging 8 year old girl from that same family, who was sitting behind me. Whose mother beside her was trying to console her. “Dont cry! We will meet them all again next year no?” was what I could understand of it. Damn it! Not now!
In another life almost 20 years ago, I had been like that. Crying because summer vacation was over, and we were leaving our grandparents house. For some reason, I had felt I would never see them again. Although I had seen them many times since, that fear never really changed.
It had been many years however, since the last time I had had that same feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I am jolted out of my flashback by the sudden joyous squeals emanating from the seat behind me. Surprised, I peep behind, over my seat. Only to see everybody looking out the window. I follow their line of sight, and see the entire bye-bye paltan outside the window. 6 people, from 6 to 60 years old, stuffed inside an old but well maintained, dark brown Maruti 800. Driving alongside the Volvo, waving enthusiastically at the windows in-front and behind me.
Amazing how some people have all the time in the world, I think as I close my eyes again.
“Dont cry! Dont cry didi!” What the heck! Again? Wondering who was crying now, I listen more closely. Nobody on the bus. Puzzling. So then? Looking out of the window, the mystery was solved. Half of the junta in the car had tears rolling down their faces. The “Dont cry”s were being spoken by the little girl behind me, as a plea to her relatives in the car. “Tell Mani di to not cry! Tell Ruma di not to cry!” she spoke through the glass, almost in a chant.
“Listen, you stupid girl“, I wanted to tell her. “There is no point trying to speak to them through the thick glass! They cant hear you! Since the light inside the Volvo is out, as it should be in a bus full of people trying to sleep, they cant even see your pretty little face. So even if they were expert lip-readers, which they are not judging by their ignorant, homely, contented faces, they still wouldn’t be able to understand what you were saying. So why don’t put your head down, and get some sleep, and more importantly, let others sleep?!”
I wanted to. Really. But another memory from another life stopped me. From a time when I had literally shouted the entire bus down, because my father had gone to get a bottle of water, and the bus had moved 5 meters from its original position. I remember thinking that wherever he was, if I shouted loudly enough, he could hear me.
I open my eyes, unable to sleep now. Restless, I look out of the window again. It has been almost 15 minutes since the bus started, but the car is still there. The people, still waving. Still enthusiastically. Still with tears on their faces. And the girl behind me still loudly whisper-pleading with God to not make Mani di and Ruma di cry.
We are almost out of the city limits now. I wonder how long these people are going to drive alongside the bus. It is late. I can see the drowsy eyes of the little boy in the car. It is a school night. They must be turning back soon.
Sure enough, I see an upsurge in the waving. They signal the bus people that they are going to turn back now. Everybody in the car tries to get a last glimpse of the family in the bus, so that each is plastered across the tiny windows of the Maruti. The middle-aged fellow driving the car leans over across the passenger seat, just to be able to wave a final time.
He never saw the truck.