Friday, April 21, 2006

The long ride home

Have you ever wondered where people go once they get off the bus?
After breathing the same sweaty air as you, watching the same passersby from your shared window. After being rocked and swayed in tandem with you. Their elbow at your waist, a chin resting on your shoulder, their hand grabbing yours for support when nothing more solid is within reach. Where do they go when their feet hit solid ground? Where do they call home?

The young girl who strains her neck to catch the eye of someone lost in the crowd at the back. Stepping on toes and calling out a name at each stop, to make certain he doesn’t leave without her. When she finally pushes her way through, he’s waiting for her at the front entrance, taking her hand in his. Pushing the hair away from her face, smiling because she felt lost without him. Guiding her to the footpath with his arm around her shoulders. Would they make passionate love when they closed the door behind them?

The well-dressed woman who buys strands of jasmine from the lady sitting next to her. Watching her twirl thread deftly around the heavy blossoms, reaching into her lap for loose buds. An aromatic garland of white snaking its way into the stained jute bag at her feet. Would she weave the flowers into her braid when she reached home? Would they be kept in the refrigerator and worn just before stepping out for work the next morning? Was it to garland a photograph of a loved one who had passed on?

The college girl sending frantic text messages throughout the journey. Checking her phone every few seconds to make sure she hadn’t missed a reply. Talking animatedly to a friend over the roars and sputters of the engine with her hand cupping her mouth. Asking for advice on how to let him down easy. Dismissing advice on why she should give him another chance. Will she call him? Will he call her? Will the two of them let their fingers and lives entwine once her stop arrives?

The conductor who raises both arms as he pushes through the throng of passengers. Yelling at the men to get out of the ladies’ seats. Waiting for me to fish for change and slapping his forehead when I shrugged and offered him a hundred-rupee note. Who let me have a ticket even though I paid one rupee less. Who leaned out of the door and shouted at slow cyclists. Who smiled when I gave him the fifty paisa coin I dug out of my bag. Where would he have his dinner? Where would he smoke the day’s last cigarette?

The bespectacled man pressing up against the woman standing in front of him, ignoring her frown. Inching forward every time she tried moving away without losing her own place, her feet firm, her grip making her knuckles white. Looking the other way when she’d turn to face him, suddenly interested in the peeling paper advertisements stuck to the walls above the windows. Putting his hand on top of hers, entertained by the clicking of her tongue and watching deep creases form between her brows. Her sindoor smudged, but clearly visible. Would he go home to a wife and children of his own?

The driver with the blotchy Krishna tattoo on his forearm.
The old lady with a bag of vegetables.
The man with liquor on his breath.
The labourers balancing babies and bandlis in their arms.

Where do they go when I go home?