He was a man in his mid-fifty’s wearing a grey shirt and what looked like a carelessly worn bleached white dhoti. The man politely nodded and uttered a ‘yes’ but to my surprise he did not give me way to sit near the window nor had he left enough space that I could sit near him letting him sit by the window; he was sitting right in the middle of the seat made for two. Miffed by this indecent behavior of his, I told him harshly to move to either of the two sides of the seat. He moved to occupy the aisle-seat entirely while telling me to take the window-seat. With a big school bag, containing my school copies, tuition copies and a couple of books, on my shoulder I moved obliquely to the window-seat while he made no gesture to allow me less hindrance by his knees. For a moment I felt like my bag punched his scraggy face but his rude conduct forbade me to apologize to him.
It was awkward to be in wet clothes and I tried hard to avoid the devil of a person standing in the aisle and looking at me with prurient eyes. I looked outside the window to see the streets wet with the downpour. A little later, the man sitting near me asked me what the time was. I lifted my arm and showed him my wrist watch so that he could see the time for himself but the ill-mannered person did not bother to look at my watch. I heaved a sigh as I told him it was fifteen minutes to seven. He thanked me and asked me where I was heading to. If he were not an old man I would have figuratively killed him for trying to talk to me after all his indecent behaviors and that too in a dark evening like this. I just verbalized a single word to his query: “home”. But when the conductor came by my seat to take my fare I had to tell him where I will get down and the old man heard it. The latter then asked me “your home is there?” I uttered a scornful “hmn”.
I felt like it was the worst day of my life, moreover, it was a day for firsts. It was the first time that dusk fell so soon; it was the first time that my umbrella betrayed me and flew off in the wind; it was the first time that I dowsed in the rain so critically; it was the first time that a person standing in the aisle was stealing glances at me so obscenely; it was the first time that I sat with an irritating and indecent, although old, person. He then asked me if I knew someone called Madhav Sharma or Madan Verma who lived near my home. I refused to know the person without even trying to listen to the name mentioned. He said, “Then you must be living somewhere far from the bus stop”. Although my house stood just at the foot of the bus stop I concurred with his prejudice with a “yes”. He then asked me, “What did you say your name is?” With this question of his, my pique reached its peak and I spat out “I did not”. After that, thankfully, he remained quiet for the rest of the journey muttering hokum words like “old man…no sympathy….today’s generation….mad people” to himself occasionally. I wanted to tell him that it was he who was mad and not me, as it was he who showed his impropriety every now and then by either asking questions or being rigid while I was making my way to sit on the seat I now occupy.
The bus, by then, had reached my stop. I looked through the window to find that, luckily, it had stopped raining. While I stood up to go, the old man asked me where we were, as if he could not see. He stood up too when I responded to his question. So, there was he, moving slowly, taking each step of what seemed like 1cm or less, to the front door of the bus while I was in haste. He could have let me move ahead of him but as expected he behaved as if I was not there.
Finally we got off the bus after what seemed like an hour to me. I was taken aback when he again talked to me. He asked me to take him to an address which he had on a piece of paper. I could see the initials M.V. there but I let out a big “no” and ran away, both due to disgust and terror. I was disgusted by his behavior and terrified that he might take me to some wrong place. Mother always tells me not to talk to strangers, I should not have sat beside him today, and I should have left the seat at the very moment when he was not allowing me to sit properly. My face reddened with fear and anger as I reached the verandah of my house.
While bent down to take off my shoes I stole a glance towards the street. I was appalled when I saw that that old man had a stick in his hand while his other hand was extended as if searching for an invisible support in the air. He really could not see; he was visually impaired, blind.
I ran towards him to help him but before I could reach him, an upright man came and held his hands. My eyes followed the duo as they went inside the house of late Uncle Mohan Verma. Uncle died last night due to an accident and mother had told me that it was God’s way of punishing him since he had thrown his blind father out of his grandiose house to live in the streets.
I looked up at the sky to ask God if he would punish me.
The sky looked blurry.
And it rained; this time, my eyes.
And two teardrops from my eyes fell on my cheeks as I hung my head in shame while walking towards the ajar door of our house.