City of Journey

Shorey jao dada!”(Move forward) rings a loud voice, right next to my ear. This has to be the most annoying day of my week. It’s a Wednesday. Everyone knows Wednesdays are worse than Mondays. You’re entrenched in the mess that is your work week. It’s 43 degrees in the middle of April. My boss is waiting to have a ‘meeting’ with me. My wife is upset because I didn’t make my son eat his breakfast and ran off. My mother-in-law is at home, who doesn’t help matters. India is not playing too well. I forgot to wear my watch. I’m thirsty and sweaty and it’s only morning. I don’t have a seat in the bus, because I ran to catch the one that was taking off, so as not to keep waiting at the bus stand. There are so many others here. If I’m not careful I’m sure some self righteous woman will assume I’m groping her and bash me on the head. I’m not groping anyone. I couldn’t, even if I wanted to. I can’t wait for the day to be over.
If I think over it, I couldn’t wait for a lot of days to be over. I don’t know where my joie de vivre has left me. Perhaps I left it one day on a bus like this one. And now it’s gone. Maybe someone else who needed it picked it up and is sitting in another bus, smiling, chatting and generally anticipating a good day. It is Kolkata after all- the city of joy. My city, in a way. My wife keeps telling me to stop being so grumpy all the time to my mother-in-law. Well the woman IS batty. My mother-in-law, I mean. Although, my wife’s not too far behind. Idiots, the lot of them! “Joy” she says, “Can’t you even have dinner in peace?” What peace? I want to watch the bloody football. It is my house! My TV! And my time! Except they want to watch a soap where all the women will be decked up and behave like everything shocks them. Vile, vapid vixens.
Dada deche deche koro na!” Again the conductor goes past me. I marvel at how the conductor seems unfazed by the heat or the crowd or life, really. He took it, maybe. My joie de vivre. As I’m trying to think of anything except about the single line of sweat dripping down my neck to my back, I spot a seat. Now, this is no time to twiddle my thumbs. If you need a seat, you have to wrestle and claw your way to it. There’s no old person who can make me feel guilty for taking the seat and I’m gunning for it. There! Got it! There. Oh! to have a seat under your backside.
How did I get here? How did this become important to me? Not the seat- this mediocrity. This life.
The woman sitting next to me seems to be in an even sourer mood, if that’s possible. She’s clenching her fingers on the seat handle like she wants to wring it. Or maybe she’s imagining it to be someone’s neck. The way the driver’s at it, it’s good to hold on to something though. Everyone’s had it with this week. Except maybe the conductor. Well, I still have about half an hour to go. I find myself snoozing a little. Didn’t have my coffee today. I stop fighting it. I can do a power nap. Anyway I will wake up if I get a call. Just ten minutes.
****
I can’t do power naps, obviously. My phone has switched off. I don’t know what time it even is. Except- it is definitely almost afternoon. There are very few passengers on the bus. The lady next to me seems to have moved away. I fumble to understand where I am. I get up in frenzy. Let me ask the conductor. When I go up ahead, I see the lady who was sitting next to me is sitting in the seat next to the driver. They seem to be in a chatty mood. Laughing, giggling and what have you.
The conductor tells me they’re nearing the last stop. Which is basically an hour on the other side of my office. I rush to leave, but the conductor assures me that they’re going to be departing again soon and will go back the same way. Within about 45 minutes I should reach my office. I relent. There’s anyway going to be thunder clouds at work. What can I do by running around now?
Truth be told, I think my nap has helped me a little. I’m glad my cell phone battery has died. My wife can’t call me to tell me what I did wrong. My mother-in-law can’t tell me to get groceries while I come back. Groceries in which there is invariably something amiss- so I have to change it, and also feel like I have to apologize to her.
I take a seat again. This time next to a window. Any amount of breeze helps. The conductor sits next to me. I observe the two again. By this time there’s no one in the bus except the conductor, the driver, the lady and yours truly. The lady and the driver seem more than chatty. They’re almost…romantic. She speaks to him, laughs and then looks coyly at him. He seems to be laughing a little. I can tell even though he is looking ahead on the road by the mirrors. His eyes seem to be laughing at least. That’s for sure. I see them holding hands fleetingly.
I look at the conductor, almost embarrassed to have caught an intimate moment. I have no reason to feel this way, but I feel like I witnessed not hand holding but much much more. The conductor lets loose a belly laugh, rattling his spry frame. He caught me, then. I look up at him again, and find his laughter ebbing away, giving way to a bemused expression. He narrates to me that these two have been in love for over a year. Every morning they take a bus ride together. She comes in with her face powdered, lips painted and bangles jangling. They share a smile or two, some knowing glances and then they have a conversation.
Protidin?” (Every day?) I ask, incredulous. Surely not!
Hain, Onudeen” (Day after day)
“Are they…?”
“Married? No”
“Oh”
She is about twenty, a billing agent in a supermarket. Her shift starts in the afternoon. They share a lunch, after which she carries on with her day. He has a wife and three children at home.
Bhalobasa E Jibon, na eta?” (Love is life, isn’t it?)
I stammer something. By the time I could form a response the conductor has moved on as a few passengers have come in. I observe the duo for a while longer. Maybe it was five minutes. Maybe it was thirty. They looked drunk on something. Her earlier anger seems to have dissolved. He is driving the bus smoothly. For them, life seems to have it. I’m sure they don’t want this day to be over.
I startle from my trance, as the bus reaches my stop finally. Later that day, as I go for the meeting, the discussions, the phone calls, emails and the grocery shopping, for the first time in a while, I don’t want the day to just get over. Middle of the week notwithstanding. In fact when I went home, I smiled at my wife. She didn’t do anything extraordinary. She was still telling me about the tough day she had the moment I got in. But well, I couldn’t help smiling. “Joy? Can’t you listen to me? Why are you smiling?”
Don’t ask me why, but that made me smile even more.

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