School Bus

Poor Naveen was late

It was the day to get back after an extended weekend. A weekend that also involved the Durga Puja, which unfailingly means heaps of fun. Naveen was not a Bengali (for who the festival is real big) but had lived a couple of years at Durgapur, a town some one hundred miles west of Kolkata, built around a steel plant. The time, though short, was enough to indoctrinate him to the five days of sheer fun that Durga Puja was. It was this morning-after, however, that Naveen dreaded the most. The alarm clock would blare its gut even when the winter solstice sun barely peeped out to say hello. The mind was still groggy from the sweets of the previous evening. An inevitable shrill lady voice would announce shortly – Naveen you are late. The mad scramble then to get ready for yet another day

Naveen, short and not really very well built, now started to walk briskly to reach his bus-stop just outside the gate of the community where they lived. The bus arrives precisely at 7:10 am – and the driver (who in his past life must have been an army fellow) was least likely to wait that extra minute in case someone was late. Naveen noticed the door to Manish’s home was ajar – shit, Manish then must have already made it to the bus stop. Usually Naveen met Manish at his gate and chatted their final few meters to the bus stop. Clutching his shoulder slung bag to reduce swing, Naveen now broke into a run. Actually he had wanted to reach the bus stop early today. To take his chances of sitting next to Alpana, the drop-dead beautiful Bengali girl with large bewitching eyes. Alpana usually got great sweets the day after Dussehra – or Bijoya as she keeps referring to the festival. More than the sweets, it was Alpana’s fragrance mixed with the light petrol smell of the bus that Naveen felt was a heady olfactory concoction early in the morning. Taking the sharp turn at the clubhouse, Naveen could now see the gate and as he puffed his heart out he remembered he had forgotten his tiffin box on the dining table. For a moment he froze, trying to make the decision whether to rush back. He could visualize the lonely Tupperware “dabba” sitting atop the dining table. The digital watch on his wrists said 7:07. Ditch – he decided! On the day when everyone at lunch time will be hunched up at the desks hogging and exchanging dussehra goodies, Naveen will have to walk down to buy some food. But that is better than missing the bus. And Alpana. The bus, goddamn it, was already at the bus stop. The engine was running and it was just about to move – without Naveen – when Alpana sitting next to a window saw him running. Alpana half raised herself from her seat and gesticulated. The bus stalled and the driver put his flailing arm out to rush Naveen – as if he needed the hustle. Ahmed, the driver, was always in a hurry. Naveen barely had any breath left in his lungs or force in his legs as he pushed himself up the three steps and hauled himself and his bag onto the bus cabin. He was greeted with the usual cheer from his mates. The cheer of congratulations in making it to the bus combined with the good-to-see-you-again cheer after the extended weekend. Naveen slid the bag from his shoulder and noticed the seat next to Alpana was taken. Flopping down on a seat next to Gurdeep, Naveen gulped his own saliva to soothe the dry throat. Gurdeep turned towards Naveen, thrust his hand out and said, “Oye, happy dusserah yaar. How was last quarter for you? Targets met?”

The company bus, having picked up its final passenger, started the one hour drive towards Electronic City.

One cannot call this a short story. It is a mere chronicle of an incident involving office-going adults; parts of an event I often witness in my mornings. My memories take me back to my school days and it is impossible to not notice the sheer similarity of circumstances. Did a giant black hole devour the intervening years or are we destined to relive our pasts no matter how much we have walked ahead along the sands of time?

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