On the Move
Saad Adnan Khan
The public bus swerved and skidded violently at every turn of the road. The vehicle was old and worn out with sheets of iron peeling off, sponges and spring sprouting out from seats and shattered window panes being held together with black tape. The bus made a sound like an amplified version of the rattling noise a moorir tin case would make, when shaken with puffed rice inside.
Like any other day, the passengers had to wait in a queue that stretched into the distance. When the bus arrived at the stop, they were already late for their work, morning class and bank appointments, but nevertheless hastily boarded the bus. Slowly and steadily the bus started to resemble a can of sardines. When it could no longer accommodate any more, because the seats were taken and the narrow path that ran between the two rows of seats was occupied with people, the ones at the mouth of the queue impulsively jumped and tried to reach for the gateway. The narrow frame of the gateway squeezed in three passengers, along with the conductor, who clung to the collapsible gate, the nearest pole and the shoulders of the last man to get on. This half dangling, half flying middle-aged man hurt his ankle badly while trying to fit into the last remaining space in the doorway. For the next few seconds his ankle continuously brushed with the gravel that left him with a bruised foot for the whole week. For the time being he cursed himself for wearing slippers, and at the fact that he had to limp throughout the day.
The bus looked swollen from outside, with passengers cramming into every inch of space and poking out from window frames. At every jerk and sudden braking action, the passengers, who stood with their arms outstretched above them to hold on to the horizontal pole that was attached to the ceiling, lost balance, and shook and swayed, almost toppling over one another. They regained their previous positions with embarrassed smiles and suppressed fury towards the bus driver. They shuffled and reshuffled in their positions due to the discomfort of being pressed against each other, the movement of the bus and the added crush of someone disembarking now and then. The tiniest movements annoyed and infuriated the ones who sat, either because someone’s bottom had hovered inches away from one’s face, or someone’s elbow had accidently bumped into someone’s head. It seemed to be a test of patience and tolerance for everyone. Some failed miserably in the test. A man started to bicker with another because the latter had opened the window pane more than his 'fair' share, while at another corner, a woman let loose a torrent of angry rhetoric towards a perfectly timid looking man, because apparently he had been leaning too close. Some however practised restraint. A boy in mid twenties, who sat at the edge of the seat, tried his best to stay composed even when a drop of sweat from the forehead of the man who stood next to him, splattered on his bag that he had placed on his lap, while a middle-aged woman worked hard to repress a cry of agitation, because she was trapped between arms, hair and shoulders that muffled her ears, eyes and nose, blocking three of her essential senses.
The first nine seats on the left row were kept for women passengers. The women who sat there looked around to frown and 'tsk tsk' at the other women standing nearby. Men, displaying reluctance and indifference, acted obstinately in not moving back along the passage to create space for potential passengers at the front. The driver ignored speed breakers and ran the bus over them as if they were invisible. The rear wheels of the bus bucked relentlessly, throwing the hapless passengers this way and that.
Even in such chaos, some men managed to doze off, resting their oily heads on the shoulders of complete strangers. Women, who kept looking outside the window, got lost in impenetrable thoughts. Freckled teenagers lightly jiggled their heads along with the music from their phones. Kids pondered over the sour metal smell their hands had obtained from holding iron rods. Hawkers boarded and pushed through the tightly packed crowd in the bus to sell pens, maps of Dhaka city and peanuts, while beggars in prim attire presented the passengers with small chits of paper (that informed readers what was wrong the beggar) before they went and held their hand out for money. The passengers could not care less about the people around them and instead chose to concentrate on the food they would be having once they are home, the bed they would be slumbering on and the moment they would be getting to finally answer the call of nature they have been avoiding for the past few hours. They trooped out when the bus stop came. They went home grumpy and tired, their energy spent, to go to bed and wake up the next morning to travel in the same bus. In the same way.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010