On the Wheel of Life
"HONK, honk!" The bus blared its horns as it screeched to a halt. Mamoona looked up with a start. The bus called 'Batashi', meaning 'windy' arrived. As usual it was almost half an hour late. Mamoona often thought that to justify the name the bus would have to race with the wind. But alas, how slow its movements were in the hazardous traffic! Everyday after office Mamoona took this bus to take her home to Mirpur.
Standing at the bus stop in Motijheel, Mamoona had been deeply immersed in her own thoughts. As the helper of the bus opened the door she walked forward to board the bus. Clutching her umbrella and her bag in the left hand she took hold of the door's handle and got in. Finding a window seat she settled down. It was a long ride to Mirpur. The local bus stopped at so many places that it would be dark by the time she reached her home. She loosened the end of the sari that covered her shoulder. Keeping a part still covering her left shoulder she spread out the rest of the floral end for it was a little wet from the rain. She let it get dry while she sat in the bus. She would be wearing the same sari the next day to office.
With the engine running the bus was blaring its horns repeatedly as if to call out to the people who wanted to board it. It was early October but the rain was still pouring like the monsoon season. The days had started getting shorter and by the time she reached home it would be around seven o'clock. Her two small children would be sleepy. She could picture her six year old daughter looking on at the door waiting for her. Her eyes would be sleepy and her curly hair would be in a mess after the long afternoon of playing with the other children in the neighbourhood. Her son, just eight, would be with his father doing his homework. Mamoona had managed to get him enrolled in a school that offered free primary education.
"kamranga…kamranga…" came the vendor's call through the window of the bus. Mamnoona called the little boy who was selling some juicy star apples and took some worth two taka. It wouldn't hurt her purse! She was hungry for she had just one small bun for her lunch.
As more people boarded the bus Mamoona continued to think about her home. She could imagine the three pairs of eyes looking up at her as she would enter the cottage. There would be hunger written in them. She would quickly find some puffed rice with chilles and mustard oil for them. And then she would have to set about getting the dinner ready. It wouldn't take much time, just rice and a vegetable curry. Only in the first week of every month could she afford some meat and fish for her family. On other days it was cooked vegetable or mashed potatoes. Mamoona working as a typist in a small firm and her husband working in a garment factory earned barely enough to feed them through the month. But Mamoona was thankful that at least she had a job to bring in little money for her family. She also paid the house rent with her income.
The bus helper continued to bang his hand against the bus and was calling out for more passengers. Awakened from her reverie Mamoona looked at the two women who had settled in beside her. One of them was rather elderly and was wearing a sari. The other one, wearing salwar-kameez was a little younger. The older woman looked rather sad. She dabbed her eyes from time to time with a corner of her sari. Uncontrolled tears seemed to be filling her eyes. Mamoona felt curious.
"Feeling sad?" Mamoona asked giving her a sympathetic smile. "Or maybe you are not feeling well. Can I help you?" she asked.
The woman looked at her, her eyes tormented with grief.
"What is the use of telling what the problem is…the poor always have them multiplying any way. Yesterday I had no food for my family and today I lost my job as an 'aya' at the school in which I worked."
Mamoona looked at the woman's face. The eyes were sunken with worry and the lips seemed to droop at the corners. The nose was sharp as if a symbol that one had to go on breathing no matter how hard life was. The grim expression of the face reminded Mamoona that life was hard on her too. Mamoona knew that her own face, despite the fair complexion and the sharp features did mirror the weariness that she felt. When life is a constant up-hill struggle the face certainly does show it.
The young woman who sat on Mamoona's left gave a short laugh and spoke up. Looking rather pretty in her bright red clothes she said,
"I couldn't help overhearing you. Life is strange. Every ending seems to bring in a beginning and every beginning an ending. You lost your job today and I got a new job, a good one too," She said. Her young face was full of radiance and hope.
"You are lucky," Mamoona said. "But this lady will find it difficult to find another one at her age. Age is a big barrier to getting work."
The young lady chuckled softly with sympathy, " You are right. Any, way, I do hope there is a job for you somewhere." She said taking the older woman's hand in her own.
The bus helper came to collect the bus fare. A middle-aged woman who sat with a small boy in her lap in the back seat started to argue.
"This child is sitting in my lap, why should I pay his fare? He is not taking any seats!" She stormed at the bus helper who continued to repeat that she had to pay any way.
The woman now stood up and faced the bus helper.
"Hey!" she cried her eyes blazing angrily, " there is one child in my abdomen, you want fare for that one too?"
A gentleman quite well dressed and seated in a back seat spoke up, "The bus has some rules, why don't you pay?"
A woman who sat in just in front of Mamoona looked quite respectable in her white sari offered a solution for the arguing woman.
"Why don't you take half fare for the child?" She suggested to the bus helper.
Looking on at the arguing woman Mamoona was thinking, " That's what poverty is, fighting for each and every penny, finding loopholes to save a penny."
Just then the bus finally started. Mamoona looked out from the running bus. The houses and the shops seemed to fly by. It was almost dark. The street -lights were on and the brightly lit shop windows flashed by. Red, blue, green so many colours illuminated the city's large shopping centres. She planned to visit one of them with her family. She had heard that these shops have stairs that run on electricity and you only had to stand still and you could go up or down!
The "Batashi" picked up speed. Just for a short while the bus seemed to justify its name before slowing down again as the traffic came to a gridlock. Looking around the bus Mamoona saw that it was filled up with passengers. Some of them were standing too. They were of all ages; young and old and there were even some small babies in the laps of their mothers. All the faces wore different expressions and they all dressed differently. Yet they were all living under the same sky.
"But one thing is certain," she told herself, "we are all living this precious life because we want to live! Life is a struggle, but we fight on." She marveled at how many lives were moving together on the same bus and yet each of them had his or her own different tale to tell. It was as though they were moving on the wheels of life!
(R) thedailystar.net 2005