It was a foggy day and the bus stood on the road, panting heavily like a hound. Across the nearby wilderness, He could hear her shrieks. Unable to witness her delicate body writhing in pain, he deliberately shut his eyelids tight. Numbness spread through his body and he failed to even notice the blood that was gushing out of his mouth and nose. His bag was torn. So was his heart. Slowly, he got up and checked his mobile phone. A long sent message from his beloved was lying in his inbox and he guessed that she must have tried calling him. The message read:
“I feel empty, why have you switched off your mobile? Do you feel I have spread dullness into your life which was vibrant with colourful flowers and dreams? If so, I won’t disturb you ever again”.
He typed a reply: “here, in front of me, a colourful flower has faded away” ,
And sent it only to see a ‘no network’ message on his screen. With frustration, he switched off his mobile and kept it aside.
He was trying to rewind the previous incidents in his mind.. About his trip to Darbanga…about the moments he spent in Samastipur railway station…but then he never thought this trip would turn out to be an unforgettable one. The railway station was more crowded than it would normally be. People were walking to and fro, passing by other unknown people- a robotic phenomenon.
Suddenly he remembered that long trips had always made him feel uneasy. Train compartments comprise a room full of emotionless people. The hearts of the passengers are also pulled along with the trains that move across boundless places. Here recalled that he had always enjoyed sitting on the small waiting benches in the railway stations, mainly because he found the place less noisy. Watching the trains move along with the hearts of the passengers, his tensions too would move far across with them. This was what he used to tell his beloved.
” Why are you wasting away your talents and boring yourselves by slacking away on these benches? ” she would ask.
She was right. Thinking about her, a smile appeared on his face. He recalled the wetness of her lips and her alluring scent. No matter how far she was, her scent remained dissolved into his own sweat – being a part of him.
“They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats ” -some great man’s words echoed in his ears,as he stepped out of the railway station.
He could catch up with many of his friends at Darbanga- Jofin of Ernakulam, Chennai media centre promoter Josephine David, Ajith Mahajan of Pune – and the like. It was also a kind of a small get-together. He also had to portray in front of them, his short film – ‘ Aparajitha’, which thematised the topic ‘ women’s rights’. He was also thrilled by the thought of speaking in front of the audience at the Darbanga international film festival, which had great fame across the country.
As usual the town grew busier and crowded. He could see college girls walking in tight jeans and t-shirts, teenagers hurrying towards the shopping malls, V.I.P’s who were cooling themselves inside air- conditioned rooms, prostitutes who were waiting for customers- all towns had the same face. ‘Towns’ are magic boxes where we get anything we want in a jiffy, just at the click of a finger or a clap of the hand. Towns are multifaceted- an abode to pimps….. a dwelling for criminals…a home to preys…a place of addiction that tempts us daily with varieties.
He had to take a bus to Madhubani and meet Anoop- his classmate. Walking in the scorching sun made his throat dry and he gulped down some water from his bottle, to quench his thirst. Most of the buses passed by without halting, paying little heed to his waving.
He could see Lallu Prasad Yadav and Niteesh Kumar smiling at his from the flex boards on the road sides. Beside them stood a gigantic flex board holding the picture of Narendra Modi upon which something was written in Bihari, which was undecipherable to him. Whatever be written on the poster, he was sure he could never find on any boards, the ‘language of the poor’.
Daringly, he stood in the middle of the road, ready to tackle the consequences of his action. He waved to a bus that was coming and to his luck, it halted in front of him with a sudden brake. He got in to the bus and contrary to normal expectations, he found the driver to be a beautiful young woman and not a man. He lowered his voice and thanked her :
” Bahut Shukriya”.
‘ Ok, take your seat’ , she replied politely. He sat in the cabin near the driver and stuffed his luggage beneath the seat. He observed the driver girl…she must be 20..seemingly matured. Meanwhile, the talkative girl asked him plenty of questions: where are you going?…Where do you come from?..and the like.
He was sweating inside the air- conditioned bus.He enjoyed the English accent of the girl who was talking without a pause.
There must have been almost 40 passengers in the bus at the time, including ladies, children and aged people.
The girl was tapping on the steering with her fingers. Maybe those ‘taps’ represented her dreams regarding a colourful future…it had tone..it had rhythm..it also had expectations. He felt that it may also have been an awakening song that would lead her path to a bright future.
” A smile costs nothing, but it creates much”
The daylight was slipping into dawn and the bus moved forward, while he melted in the girl’s innocent smile and watched the colourful world outside the window.
His body was aching with pain. He realised that those memories were coagulating his mind. He felt very uneasy and brushed off his bleeding nose on his shirt.
How did sudden darkness spread in that peaceful moment? When did those two rogues get into the bus? He wondered. He recalled that the men were tall and burly. Suddenly like a villain, one of the men pointed his gun at the driver girl and tugged at her hand. At that instance, he saw a wry smile spreading across the man’s face.
She tried to get away from his clutches and shouted :
” tu badmaash”.
At the same time, the man slapped her hard on the face and dragged her out onto the road. An eerie silence spread through the bus, where everybody stood like lifeless statues. He could see the whole world shrinking in front of him and he assumed the ‘world’ to be a ‘ bag of unreactive losers’. Some aged women cried :
“ Hare Bhagwan”. He could not recollect whether he was shouting at them, at the instance. All he could remember was himself pleading to them:
‘ help her, please, help her’.
His voice was lost somewhere in the surrounding. There stood many lifeless statues inside the bus. He looked at each one of them,one by one, in awe. Then, without wasting his time thinking about them, he ran to her help. He pulled the leg of the second man and shouted to the girl:
” run! go and save yourselves”
Next, he felt the strangers’ boots being pressed on to his face consecutively. He closed his eyes in pain. He could hear the girl writhing in pain
He was helples..he hated himself…he called himself a coward- another lifeless statue. He was unable to see or hear anything. After a while, he got up slowly. He was still bewildered at the previous happenings. Dragging his legs, he moved towards the bus with a heaving heart. He was reminded of her innocent face.
The night grew darker.all the passengers were seated inside the bus. When he looked towards the driver seat, to his astonishment, he found the girl sitting there. Was it her? Was his heart refusing to cope with the reality? Blood was oozing out from her lips…her clothes were tattered…still..her eyes shone bright. Was it fire that was blazing in her eyes or rage? Or, was it sorrow? He feared to look into her eyes. Slowly, he stepped onto the bus and whispered to her,
‘ sister, I was alone, I was helpless’.
She looked at him intensely and he stood mystified.
‘Please don’t get upset’, he consoled her. She pulled out his luggage from underneath the seat and hurled it outside
.’Get lost’- she cried. The ‘ statues’ inside the bus stared at each other. She then started the bus.
He felt his whole body crushing in pain…no..it was not pain..but pure numbness. He sat on the road with his luggage. He was intensely thirsty and gulped down the remaining water in his bottle. While drinking the water, he got the taste of the saltiness of his bleeding lips. He felt a little relieved. He checked the DVD of his short film inside his bag, only to find it broken into two. On the DVD, he saw the picture of a bleeding woman, which made him feel disturbed…this bleeding face will remain a question in his heart forever.
He felt suffocated. No vehicle intended to give him a lift. After sometime, a cab halted in front of him and he swiftly got into it.
He murmured. He could hear a Bihari song from the car stereo which intensified the heaviness of his heart. Darkness prevailed everywhere and streetlights went on and off in some places. He watched the rickshaws moving in queues, on the road. In the dim light, he brushed away the bloodstains on his face. Sights never end.-.never !
All of a sudden, the car slowed down. There was a road block ahead and he witnessed a crowd in front of them. Everybody was trying to move ahead. the road was packed with police vans and other vehicles. The cab driver got out and the smell of ‘pan parag’ emanating from the drivers’ mouth made him nauseated.
” Today is a bloody bad day…I should not have come here today”.
He too walked towards the crowd.
A policeman saluted a senior officer and said:
” Sir, all forty passengers are dead. Over speed, careless driving. Driver was a woman”.
The ambulance siren added to the monotony of the scenario. Unable to look into the trench beside the road, he shut his eyes tight. ‘ Get lost’ – the girls’ voice reverberated in his ears. Darkness started to fade and covered the road with a foggy mask. He sat on the road and cried his heart out. His tears were hardened and dry.