A flash of neon green under dark boots, dark pants and a dark shirt – a fluorescent-lined silhouette traipsed in the dark. The engine was loud enough to drown out sounds outside; it stammered every now and then to let horns blaring after streaks of light come through.
The window-sill was unrelenting; it wouldn’t let my arm rest in peace. Every time it did, my brain rang warning bells – never stick your arm out of a moving vehicle, or you might lose it.
There must’ve been about four other people on the bus when I got on. That was rare. I was already settled into the empty front seat (the bus’ huge windshield gives a nice wide view) when the conductor came for the ticket. He looked annoyed.
On the edge of the sidewalk outside, a man clad in a puckered dhoti was sitting with one leg crossed over the other, one of his hands flitting constantly between his calf and his foot. It took me a second to realize he was tapping out a rhythm. Silent music. A tall boy in a snapback passing behind him stumbled upon a loose rock and flailed to keep balance, his head immediately snapping up a second later to check whether anyone saw his gracefulness.
There was a schoolgirl in two neat plaits and a maroon pinafore zipping between the traffic like she was cutting through a crowd of old people instead of heavy, lumbering vehicles. She crossed the road and jumped into my bus, hurrying lest the light turned green and it started moving, and slid in beside me. I shot her a smile. I didn’t even have to think about it. Her face felt familiar, like a romanticized piece of the past.
She smiled back – instantaneous, dark-complexioned, beautiful. A bus comrade.
There were lives and vehicles and people and stray animals inter-crossing, threads twisting expeditiously, and there was absolute stillness too. There’s always some nook or the other somewhere that cuts itself off and becomes an entity of its own. I saw a baby sleeping, on the footpath, in a lap where no light entered to disturb, no sound rang through. There was a plastic wire that was helping him breathe. Through the traffic, out of my window, I wondered why he needed it. He looked healthy enough. He definitely looked too small for it. I’m not sure if it was the wire or the expression on his face that held my attention and made me turn around when the bus started moving. The mother was looking steadily at the baby.
A few meters away, a boy with messy hair and a face lined with grime walked along a graffiti covered wall. There was a comical outline on his forehead where the dirt contrasted against his pale skin, just where his hairline began. Like there hadn’t been enough to spread further. His uniform appeared close to a rag stitched from a washcloth at first sight; creases and folds at all the right places quickly made themselves seen as if to reassure that it had recently been ironed. He trudged down the alley with heavy footsteps, a hand dropping down now and then to support his drooping frame on bended knees. Bright yellow light from the streetlamp above filtered through his lashes directly into his eyes, making him squint as he looked towards either side of the intersection back and forth as if trying to make up his mind about which way to go. He couldn’t seem to decide right then. Or maybe his feet refused to carry him further, because the span of a couple of minutes found him closely nestled against the wall, staring listlessly towards the traffic.
We moved on; my eyes flitting past. I don’t know why I wasn’t staring into space as usual, even though the music grinding out through my earphones was still doing its job of making me imagine myself as a singer rocking the stage every now and then. I looked away from another person I made eye-contact with every time we stopped across from people waiting at bus stops. It was different every time.
Maybe it takes years to get to know people, but maybe, to know a part of them, it just takes a random, unmasked second. I could feel a gaze still on me a lot of times after I’d looked away, and I wondered what it was looking at every time. Maybe those accidental glances are the shortest and the most honest stories ever.
I was shocked to find the aisle completely crowded when I looked back in and registered the rest of the bus for the first time since I’d gotten in. A wrinkled old lady was leaning on the handle; I got up to give her my seat. I couldn’t believe no one had done that already; it’s one of the easiest ways to feel like a nice person.
The walk back home was slow, with Ed Sheeran and cool air and dried leaves. The road was empty except for me and quiet parked vehicles, splattered with tiny, crushed green fruit and tiny yellow flowers. It was picturesque – the only thing missing was rain.