Evening dawned. Lacy veils sailed across the Sun and the whole world blushed a delicate pink. In all this drama, another epic of a different kind played itself out like clockwork. A grey office building, quiet and seemingly abandoned sprang to life like a nocturnal animal rousing itself from slumber. People milled out like bees from a troubled hive. A hoard of buses stampeded into the campus and stood staring at the crowd rushing about to find their seats. They awaited the arrival of their occupants impatiently, growling. Vehicles whizzed in and out of a poor gate that stood by and wondered what the hurry is all about.
This was a daily scene to my eyes. I watched as the watchmen blew their whistles; I watched as people watched other people run about from the high bus windows. I watched as my bus got fuller and fuller with every hurried step I took.
As I jumped up the last step that propelled me into the bus which was picking up speed, I knew it was already late. My seat by the window on the right side, with just the right amount of wind, and the right distance from the exit was taken. I always thought that the phrase “Shakespearean tragedy” was meant for something that involved a lot of funny sounding words and a sad thing that really wasn’t all that sad. But somehow, minus the funny sounding words, here was one. To my further dismay, and a small (very small) percentage of relief, I found a seat on the left side of the bus, at the very end, next to a permanently yawning window.
I sat by my new discovery, quite tired. A whirlwind of thoughts blew as a tycoon in my mind. The most prominent one being that this was the wrong side of the bus. As the road flew past, with all the buildings I knew, on the other side, I grew even further vexed. I closed my eyes in that next second, cursing inertia that pulled and pushed at me, in all the wrong directions.
Cue 1: The honk of the bus horn by an irritated bus driver at the first traffic signal.
I heard it from afar. As if from in the dreams I had almost slipped into. Or perhaps it was just the distance from the engine that made it seem so. (That was so wrong!)
Opening my eyes, I saw the familiar haze of smog that escapes a traffic jam. Trapped within it however, the many vehicles around me floated in the miasma. Quite as helpless as plankton caught in a current. From my vantage point, I saw what was left of the sun shining out onto the traffic, smiling. Maybe it was amusing for him to feel superior enough to never have to face a traffic jam himself! A glint of reflected light caught my attention. It was coming off a handheld mirror in the auto next to me. A girl, or a woman maybe, was touching up her make-up. She wore a pair of blue shorts, a pale yellow shirt on top and a lot of beads. The tips of her hair were curly but that’s about all I could see of her head. Trendy blue nail paint on fingers and toes and rockster slippers completed her outfit. No matter how hard I craned my neck to complete my vision of her, I was left stranded without the advantage of an adjustable seat like the one I normally occupied in office. All I saw of her face was a blue-smudged eye liner and a glistening tear sliding down her ear phones..
And I closed my eyes once more.
Cue 2 : The jerk of brakes at my favourite traffic signal.
I had been tracing the route in my mind. We had arrived at the fabled café of yore. The one I always saw from the other side of the bus. Strange, it had always seemed so far away and never quite as high-resolution as now. Twilight had arrived and soft red lights were hanging over tables in the café. I found it deserted. Even the television inside seemed to be on mute. Only one table was occupied. An old man by the counter was eyeing the table. But blissfully unaware of this and everything else, the couple there sat immersed in each other’s shining eyes. A steaming coffee lay in between them, untouched, holding it’s breath. The tissues, the spoons and even the useless forks and knives were gallantly playing out their parts as excuses for hands to meet. The silly little napkin spread out its wings at the first opportunity, to play cupid. Both of them fell for it. In the dive to save the napkin, they banged their heads against each other. And suddenly, the café was echoing with laughter, and the old man was smiling reminiscently at the coffee machine.
A vein seemed to have taken to throbbing by my temple by then. I retreated once more into my tycoon of thoughts, closing my eyes on my way in.
Cue 3: Water from god-knows-where struck my face, quite rudely jerking me back from my slumber.
I remember thinking that this was really the most horrid side of the bus. It was already dark by now, and the bus was following another vehicles bumper at a snail’s crawl. I saw a house right beside me. So close, I could have stepped in if the window allowed it. It was a small house with no space even for electric lights. Shrouded in darkness, a family sat by the footstep that lead in. The mother and her daughter sat pre-occupied. The former being busy with her motherly duties of worrying after her daughter’s beauty, was combing through her hair diligently. The father and son had their hands busy at a pottery wheel, moulding and shaping a beautiful pot out of thin air. Wherefrom they had the light to see how their work was turning out was beyond me. I squinted and squinted to catch a closer sight of their handiwork. All I could see was a warm little light, a flame: fed and protected all night, I’m sure. And I watched it burning away in front of a shrine: a small glass frame, a tiny photo of God, a couple of flowers in a small dark house by the side of the road: all from the wrong side of the bus.
Cue 4: My stop.
I stood up, stretched and observed the general etiquette of waiting impatiently by the side of the engine as the bus drew to a halt at my stop. I got down to almost step on the broom an old lady was using to sweep up the debris left behind by the wind. She looked at me with her wise wrinkles and sighed away. The bus ride having ended, my feeling of unfamiliarity with the world ceased. My head was oddly clear and silent. And as I stood there waiting to cross the road, watching the old lady gather troops of leaves, looking at an old gentleman sitting by himself at bus stop, a newspaper in hand, I realised something that not everyone might easily understand. The whole world rushes about busy with its own sense of being busy, quite unaware of things around it. Sometimes, a meaningless array of unconnected images, incomplete and yet, potent in their own right, can inspire an infinite calm of understanding and familiarity.
A few drops of rain began to splash down upon the road. The old lady hobbled up to the bus shelter. The man unfolded his newspaper and shelved it into halves. Handing one half to his broom wielding neighbour, he sat back down on his seat settling to watch the world again. I smiled as I glimpsed my seat on the wrong side of the retreating bus. With my new found eyes- the gift of a bus ride that was supposed to be all wrong- I walked off into the rain.