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The boy in his jeans and a casual blue shirt walked in to the bus stop. His bus would come any moment. The lamp-post was convenient to lean on. He was surprised no one occupied it already. Around him were few people waiting. Two ladies with two bags full of what looked like cheap clothing bought at a festival discount, a family of five which included three raucous children, an old policeman who had just finished his duty at the next traffic signal and two other men who were just inconspicuous. Also on the adjacent service road was a stall selling egg omelets and cheap dinner. A drunk man lay shattered against the compound wall behind the stall. Two dogs were salivating next to it. The small businesses adjoining the stall were now shutting down. It was late.
The boy leaned on the light pole and waited for his bus. Every two minutes a caravan of buses would trotter in. Every time they blocked the traffic going across. Each bus would have a conductor shouting out the destination. Nobody ever seemed to want to go anywhere. Some were local, city buses, on their last shifts. The one good shift, as the operators would say, “only time we have to call for passengers to board.” These were long days of traffic in the city. lampThey had gotten used to saying, “the traffic was never so bad”. It was amazing how they kept saying it for years. The idea didn’t sink in that it was going to be so forever.
The other buses were going outstation. It was the start to their days. After minutes of nobody taking any of the buses, the policeman came by to the two women.
“Why didn’t you take the bus that just went?”
The women looked at each other. They had seen the bus but the conductor had called out “Salem” for some reason.
“It does go to Madurai, from Salem,” said the wise old policeman. He made a face of contrived anger. More to absolve himself of the blame for not informing them beforehand. They had after all asked him to point out the Madurai bus… before it left the bus stop.
The two inconspicuous men joined the discussion.
“That was the last Madurai bus,” said one.
“Why don’t you women go back home and take the early morning buses?” suggested the policeman.
The women looked at each other, and shyly informed that their house was in Austin Town. Each of the five people there knew it was easier to reach Madurai than Austin Town at that time. The local buses would have stopped by then and taking an auto didn’t seem an option for the women.
So more of looking at each other later, the boy went up to the women.
“Why don’t you take a bus to Salem? You’ll get plenty of buses from there to Madurai.”
It was a good point. It made sense to the visible majority. Another batch of buses had just arrived. One of them was for Kanchipuram. Again, nobody took it. The next one was for Salem. One of the women got on and the other bade goodbye.
“Now where are you going,” the policeman asked the other woman.
“I am going to Vellore.”
“You could have taken the bus to Kanchipuram.”
“I wanted to find her a bus first,” she said. The policeman shrugged his shoulders and walked away towards his house which was supposedly, “just one furlong away”.
The omelet stall, meanwhile, was shutting down. The last remains of the day’s stock was fed to the drunk and the dogs. A well-dressed, software engineer kind of a man was having his final bite at the omelet.
A while later the buses started flowing again. Yet this time, only two came in. None were to Vellore. None seemed to go to anywhere anyone wanted to go. The dogs were now into making sure they got a proper dinner from the stall’s left-over. The drunk too was making that sure for himself. They were demure dogs who resorted only to barking. And every time they barked, the drunk would bark. He was winning it thus far.
The three children from the big family of five took particular interest in this case. They would go close to the dogs and the drunk and shout out some gibberish and run back. “Kachchu, kachchu (bite, bite),” the boys advised the dogs. They wouldn’t go that far but their barking increased. It was the kind of bark which was more a complain than one let out in anger. That never scared anyone. If anything, the watchman from a nearby building came in with his stick and they scampered.
Above this din, the software engineer-kind had been trying to speak to someone on the mobile.
“What? Not to Marathahalli? Where are you then now? Where should I come? What? Sarjapur road? What bus? Sarjapur? What bus? Ok. Ok.”
He came up to the boy who had gone back to leaning against the pole. “Do you know which bus goes to Sarjapur from here?”
“I’ll tell you when it comes,” said the boy.
The software engineer-kind went back to his phone. Only this time, “Ya. Omelet. At a roadside stall. It was late. I had to attend a meetin… no I didn’t drink. What did you eat? Hmm…” and then he just listened.
Another set of buses came in. This time the family of five took it, and so did the two inconspicuous men. The dogs and the drunk were now much happier. There was also a bus to Vellore and the woman took it. Only the boy and the man listening on his phone remained. And of course the drunk. But he didn’t count now, not until the next morning.
A few minutes later another bus rolled by.
“One second ya,” the man said to his phone and asked the boy, “Sarjapur.” The boy shook his head. There was no sign of any other bus for he next five minutes. Only the Vellore woman came back. She almost slipped herself under the shadow of the night until the boy saw her.
“What happened?”
“Nothing. I’ll take another bus,” she said.
He understood what the problem was. She had taken one of the sleeper buses which happened to be expensive.
Next came two buses. The first one was for Vellore. The woman went up to the conductor and asked something. He replied. She turned back. “Ok. 200. Ok?” shouted the conductor. She didn’t answer. By then the boy had seen something and he called out to the woman. “There’s the cheap bus. There’s the cheap bus.”
The woman was embarrassed. And the way she ran, it was either that she was too embarrassed or she was a good runner. She jumped into the bus and didn’t look anywhere back towards the bus stop.
Only the boy and the man on the phone were left. The man had now become so sure of the boy that he didn’t come asking about the buses. He knew he’d be let known.
After about fifteen minutes, one empty bus stopped in front of the lamp post. It had no display boards on it. The boy asked the driver, “Sarjapura?” The driver nodded.
The boy turned to the guy on the mobile who had gone a bit too far talking on his phone. “Hello! Hello! Dude! Your bus.”
He luckily heard him, ran up to the tree nearby, picked up a hefty box and rushed towards the bus. His mobile still stuck to his right ear. His right shoulder still stuck to his mobile and he held the box in both his hands. With one sweeping move, he pushed himself and the box inside, during which time he involuntarily said, “thank you.”
The bus moved, and as an afterthought the man asked from inside, “where are you going?”
The boy was taken by surprise. He almost began saying something by which time he realised the bus was too far on the move for him to be heard.