The bus smelled of sweaty palms and exasperated breath. Were they 60 in number? Possibly. Devansh whispered in the ears of the conductor when he held him by his shoulders and guided him to the seat near the door.
The conductor’s smile filled his nose – the stench of the pan masala and the bad breath.
“Why don’ you gargle before your next stop?” Devansh said as he held his nose with the tip of his index finger and thumb.
“Why should I waste my water?” he chided. “My wife is used to this also.”
“chee chee,” he said as he sat in his seat.
These idiots will never learn. He gave him the extra bottle of water when walked towards him again. He could sense his wrapped foul mood.
“What happened? Don’t hide now.” he asked
“Those rowdy fellows. They never give the ticket and threaten me. Idiots. Rogues.”
“Calm down Shamu. We were never able to do anything till date.”
“If it were in my city in Tamil Nadu. I would have got them beaten.”
“Oh stop it.” He said as the waft of the pani puri water entered his nose.
“Two more stops and I have to go. Ready for the bet?”
“How do you know? I did not even announce.”
“The water of this pani puri is green and slimy and it stinks.”
“haha. True true.” They laughed.
He got down the stop after the two stops and waved the driver and conductor a goodbye. They smiled for a full five minutes remembering his bet until the conductor met a few rogues again and the driver spent his lunch listening to the conductor’s woes and how the city is so unfair to the working class. There are no unions. There is no unity. Why was he posted here?
The driver’s mind shifted to morning but the smile did not touch his lips.
How could he smile all the time? He would ask him one day, he decided. Or maybe he doesn’t have any problem at all.
Devansh woke up panting. The dream returned.
He choked for breath and slid his hand on the table beside his bed. He touched the hands of the watch. It was 12:30 am. He arched his back and woke up with a jolt. It always worked. He shook his head incessantly till the headache was lost in space.
He groped for his slippers. Wearing them, he walked to the kitchen – cleaning the glass with the new lemon bar, he sipped water. Argh! It smelled of a tinge of lemon again.
“Tomorrow would be a better wash,” he swore to himself.
He ambled to the bed and threw himself on it. The shrill alarm clock woke him up in the morning. He groped for the remote and pressed the power button of the TV and he walked towards the bathroom. The news channels had been airing the news of the bomb blast for the third day now – interviewing the parents, the friends of the victims among others.
They interviewed him too, a few years ago.
“How do you feel? What is your plan from now? What are you going to do next?”
He never asked himself such tough questions. He made fun of his father whenever he posed such questions. But these questions on a national television haunted him.
He remained quiet. He was not a good ‘catch’ for them but nobody was ready to talk to the reporters either. Everyone was shaken. As if a piece of their life had been dismantled and broken to pieces. It was like someone took a piece of their heart without seeking their permission, broke it and put it in, asking them to bandage it on their own.
How can one seek first aid for a wound they were never prepared for? How can an innocent task to buy vegetables become life-threatening? How could some men come and shoot a bunch of people they do not know?
How should one react? Be angry? Be sad? Be violent?
Devansh decided to smile. It was his personal candle march. Was it the most coward act of the world? Wouldn’t everyone die? Wasn’t dying unannounced better? Would the pain be less?
He did not support this act of violence. Like they announced on the television — he ‘condemned it. Nobody was bothered if he condemned it or not but still he ‘condemned’ it.
The walk to the stop was cut short by the sound of the blast. It took him five minutes to absorb that it was the fireworks for Diwali.
He quickly wore his smile and waited for the bus. He devised the bet for the day and entered the bus, chuckling.
“What? I cannot do it. I will be fired.” The conductor was aghast listening to Devansh’s bet.
“Try it!” he plead.
The driver said, “Arey tell me. Why are you telling this phattu!”
“Phattu? Means?” the conductor questioned
“He is calling you a coward.” Devansh teased him.
“I will show what I am.” The conductor said accepting his challenge.
“And meet us at the chai bandi near the bus point. Ok?” the conductor said.
He nodded his head and waved them a goodbye.
That evening when he went to the chai bandi. The smell of the slightly burnt milk filled his nose.
“Should I get a new packet?” he asked the chaiwala
“No no. We are getting a new packet.” He immediately responded looking at the customers present.
The people around placed the nose near the brim of their paper cups and threw the cups aside and walked away.
The conductor and the driver laughed hard walking towards the chai bandi.
“See we told you about our friend, no? here he is.” They told the chai wala.
Nodding his head angrily he asked them to be seated.
“What happened phattu?” Devansh teased the conductor.
“Are you tell him..” the conductor signaled the driver.
“We must change his name. The rogues will not trouble him anymore. Thanks to the fireworks you gave us. We never got such an idea.”
He laughed along with them. The smell of the fresh milk brought back memories of his mother. Devansh laughed hard till tears settled in the corner of the eyes camouflaged by the black spectacles.
Categories: Short Stories