Part I – Mine
I was sore. I was miffed. And I had reasons to be. Somehow I managed to put up a spirited and nonchalant image. But deep within the wounds weren’t nursed back to health as yet. And I knew this would take time. I tried to do things that would deviate my thoughts. And I tried hard not to go back in time, and I must admit that I failed pathetically. Friends were concerned and worried; thought I had gone bizarre; they said I “kinda look lost”. I knew what they meant and that they meant well. But apparently this was one stubborn hangover that refused to get off my brains!
It was raining heavily. My bus was at 9.30 p.m. It would be my first visit to Lakhimpur. I had traveled extensively across Assam but Lakhimpur always was left out for one reason or the other. I cross checked my bag to see if I had taken my ticket, cell phone, dairy and other junks as I said one short, quick and final prayer to God before embarking on my journey. 24 – it was written quite bluntly on the ticket. I roughly calculated in my mind where would I be unerringly seated. I assumed that it would be on the either side of the sixth row. Only if this was some calculations dealing with rocket science!
As I swaggered through the narrow corridor of the bus, I saw a stranger on the aisle seat. I placed my bags and took my seat and once again breathed heavily. I have a mental block traveling in AC; it’s similar to a bee getting stuck on a windowpane. I said one more prayer under my breath, though this time it was an earnest request to the bus conductor not to repeat the same lousy and dreadful movies they show! The bus soon paced on the sopping wet streets and I was out of city limits soon.
I gave one passing look at my co-passenger. Not because I had any purpose, but because isn’t it natural, most likely and expected to look at least once who is the person sitting next to you and will be traveling with you for the next eight to ten hours?
One momentary look at my co-passenger and the moment froze ceaselessly for me. The hairdo, height, posture, the stare behind those glasses, the pair of glasses and even the Adam’s apple! He looked identical, like peas in a pod. It was impossible to tell apart whether I was sitting opposite to a complete stranger or was he the stubborn hangover that refused to get off my brains! I did not have the nerve to look at him again. Turning my face to the extreme left towards the window I gawked into the darkness and the rains. I felt throttled. I wanted to get off the bus into the open and soak in the rains and fill my senses with some fresh air.
The bruises not mended as yet were again brushed by a fresh coat of bittersweet feelings, which were delightfully agonizing. The temptation to call him was high. I wanted to let him know that though we were some thousands of miles apart, I was here traveling with some total stranger who seemed to be his mirror image.
But I had a promise to keep… to myself and to someone who mattered more. I dropped the idea of calling him and stuck on to my vow… but to console my battered spirit I again looked at this stranger for reasons I cannot comprehend and oddly I felt secure traveling with this stranger whose name, whereabouts and everything else was not known to me… nor did it matter… after all he was just a stranger … its just a different story that he resembled someone and brought back to me memories and an ache so enjoyable…
Part II – His
I reached the bus terminus much ahead; not because I am a kind of a person who knows the value of time but because I didn’t want to get myself caught in the annoying downpour or an antagonizing traffic snarl. I didn’t have much luggage with me, just a knapsack and a bottle of water. I was on the sixth row and the 23rd seat. A wait can be quite excruciating, especially when you are much ahead of time, like the way I am today. The moment the door opened I hopped inside the bus and made myself comfortably seated. I had no idea who would take the window seat, nor did I fancy the window seat. But secretly I wished I had someone interesting to travel with. Only five more minutes were left and yet there was no sign of my co-passenger. The ignition of the bus was switched on and the cool breeze of the AC enveloped the bus. People were filling inside and taking their seats. Yet the seat next to me still remained unoccupied. As I was giving up all my hopes – well honestly I didn’t have any preferences of a co-passenger. But clandestinely I wanted someone who’d mind his/her own business and not prod into my life or that matter shrug elbow to occupy the great divide or the handle that divided the seats!
I was absorbed in making guess-estimates about my co-passenger so much that I didn’t even realize when did she hop inside the bus. It was the courteous request to “excuse” myself to let her in her seat that I woke up to reality and tally if my intuition and reality match.
She did not look as if she was going home on holiday; she looked much more like a student doing her apprenticeship. Or maybe a backpacker. But did I really care? I wished and hoped she wasn’t the kind of woman who’d pester at the slightest pretext! Not that I mean anything impolite.
She was lost in her own world. She looked vulnerable. There was something invisibly discrete yet innocent about her. I wanted to initiate a conversation with her but for some strange reasons I stopped myself. She was too occupied in her thoughts. I could gather it from the look in her dreamy eyes. I however took note that she looked at me with a strange gaze and turned herself completely against me. I wondered if I looked so disdainful and terrible! I got busy with myself and let this woman be herself, do whatever she pleased, in my thoughts off course.
I dozed off for sometime and the screeching brakes woke me up. I looked to my left; she was in a slumber, her head tilted to one side and arms wrapped around herself. Was she cold? Why was I worried about her? Why was I inviting trouble for myself. I am not a person to muddle with a stranger’s life, but why was I concerned for this strange woman whose name I didn’t even know? I wanted to hear her voice, I also wished she’d speak to someone on the phone. But I didn’t see a cell phone with her. Maybe it was inside her bag, maybe it was switched off, maybe she was one of those rare breed who didn’t believe in mobile phones… why was this happening to me? Why did I have this urge to wrap her a shawl and keep her warm in my arms?
I reached my destination way ahead than hers. I wanted to bid her farewell. Wanted her to tell to take good care of herself. She was in a deep slumber and for the sake of sanity and civility I drooped my idea of being the super hero… after all she was just a co-passenger… its just a different story that she seemed so familiar… I felt a certain degree of bonding … and some reasons only Heaven would know.
Part III – The Truth
This is a work of pure fiction. It bears resemblance to nobody, living or otherwise. Any similarity with the characters is purely co-incidental!