I looked at the bus. The white and blue of the bus were so mixed together that it was quite impossible to say which one was the base colour, but I guess it was white. Blue streaks and lines made up most of the body and encircled in red was written in black in the front, 16. Yes, 16. That was the number of my school bus. But it was also something else. It was my roll number, my house number and also, my age.
Anyway, I looked at the bus. Few people had arrived; I was one of the first. This meant victory. This meant the special privileges. The right to choose the seat I wanted to sit in. The right to choose who sat with me; the right to choose the side of the seat. I got into the bus. It was empty. My heart jumped with joy on my triumph.
I left the last three seats and booked the two-seater. That was where I sat daily – beside the window-sill of the middle two-seater. It was the best seat in the bus, I had it ascertained. The sliding windows were fully in my control, not in the hands of the one seated behind me; the seat was right in the middle of the bus, and suffered the least possible jerks when going over an irregularity on the road, both protrusions and intrusions; and the seat marked the boundary between the girls and the boys in the bus. So I had the luxury of sitting right behind the last line of girls, twice, every day.
The bus was full of students within the next ten minutes or so. I shouted “hi” at everyone whom I knew well, and smiled at everyone whom I didn’t know that well. But one person was missing, the girl who sat beside me every day. I had my bag on her seat, keeping it secure from the vultures of students who hadn’t been able to secure a seat, or a friend to block a seat for them!
I wasn’t a very great friend of this girl, and we weren’t even on talking terms. I mean, there was nothing positive between the two of us, nor was there anything negative. It was only an emotion, an obligatory emotion that made me keep the seat for her, and vice-versa. I didn’t know her name and I didn’t know her class. The only thing I knew about her was her bus stop and the alley that she disappeared into every afternoon. Also, that I didn’t want anyone else to sit beside me!
The bus was about to start when she climbed the bus. A sense of relief ran through me when she tapped my shoulders, asking me to move my bag. I smiled at her. She smiled back, looking at me with those innocent eyes of her. Light brown; I noticed them for the first time.
The little girl sat beside me and took her heavy bag on her lap, holding it closely to her. Her feet barely touched the floor and so she jumped back to be firmly seated. As the bus moved through the roads, she took out her tiffin and started having a late “recess”.
I was looking out of the window, eyeing the other buses and the girls in them. Humming songs in my mind and singing them in the wind. I turned around to look at the kid, she was busy eating the cold food, which, if left, would have probably earned her a scolding at home. I got back to my own work.
Fifteen minutes later, the bus started making halts at various stoppages. Another five minutes later, the girl beside me packed her bag and got down. The bus was still motionless as she started towards that alley. And then, something very strange happened.
The little girl turned around, looked at me, and with a lovely smile on her face waved me good-bye.
I looked at her. She had already turned back and darted off in that gulping alley of hers, but the event had taken me by surprise. I tried to follow her as the bus moved, making her disappear again.
The next day she didn’t come. Nor did she come the day after.
I found out after a few days that her family had moved to a different city. And then, it struck me.
A part of me, unsaid, unknown, unfelt had just left me. It was gone, even before I knew it; even before I could realise it was leaving; even before I could feel it was a part of me. It had disappeared, just like her down that alley, where my eyes searched for her, but an overpowering force took me away.
We had never talked, never chatted. There was nothing between us, except for the twenty minute bus-ride. There were no desires, no promises, no friendship and no love. There was nothing to be talked about, nothing to be gossiped. If anything ever existed, it was simply a feeling of travelling together.
I guess I liked her sitting beside me and eating her unfinished tiffin. I guess I liked the silence of her presence. I guess I liked the innocent face of her. And I guess she liked it too. She was nothing to me except a companion for a ride. But when I look back now, I find words fail my explanations of our relation.
I want to see her again, and I want her back in that seat. Just for another ride. But the one thing I want to do, the one thing I could die for, is to wave the good-bye back.
Dedicated to Baba. Delivered, as promised.