POSTED 04/24/2018 14:59
When the ricketty bus final dropped her at the destination bus-stop she was totally drenched in sweat. It was an April morning 13 years from today but Kusum could still feel the sticky sweat on her face as if it was yesterday. It was the first day of the long 8 years that she worked as a doctor in a village primary health center with a peculiar name "Jhikira". There were a handful of buses which did ply on that single-route road. All of them were near retirement. Old age clearly written all over their body. Wrinkles and scratches... Scars of old injuries.
Every bus had "jhikira" written on its body telling us where they did finally rest but each spelt the name differently according to the whims and fancies of the owner. So it was sometimes jhikra.... Jhingra... Jhikre....Jhinkira... So on and so forth in languages both English and Bengali. Some broke down mid-way many a times and Kusum along with the numerous other passengers had to shuttle the rest of the journey in rickshaws or open vans called Vutvuti.
These vutvutis were numerously scattered along the road, and the moment the bus broke down they would emerge from here and there and ply the passengers’ plight. The delight on their faces were venomous and Kusum thought many a times sitting on the vutvuti with her legs dangling mid-air that the vutvuti-drivers were like jackals waiting for the lion to retire.
It was on one such bus that Kusum met Kuldeep. Driver Kuldeep Singh as the name suggests was 0% Haryanvi where his ancestors hailed from and full 100% Bengali. It was his Jat-like features, tall dark complexion that first attracted Kusum's attention. He was a total misfit in jhikira as she was too. Coming from a well to do family she emanated that look from head to toe pulling magnetic gazes from co-passengers... So was he, in total contrast of pot-bellied balding ill-dressed middle aged Bengali men. But he spoke fluent Bengali and did chew pan which was a Bengali attribute but in Kusum’s eyes, that very irritating attribute of chewing pan looked macho on him.
Kusum and Kuldeep became friends on one such day that he was driving the bus and it broke down mid-way. He came down himself and arranged a vutvuti for her and saw that she got a good seat. She was then a novice about these things. The moment the bus broke down everyone ran and scuttled in competition because there was little time left and long way left still. After that day there were numerous times Kusum saw Kuldeep.
Every time, he was smartly attired, that pan in his mouth, looking straight at the road, strong hands gripping the wheel. He was an excellent driver. Had the bus been young or the road been metal-finished, the ride would had been smooth on any hands but the way Kuldeep managed the pot holed totally disrupted road, that too in record time always had given him full marks in Kusum’s good-books. There were always acknowledgments, a slight nod of the head or a simple smile or a flash in the eyes and Kusum knew. In the totally over-crowded bus she would slowly inch her way forward towards the driver.
On reaching there as if she knew not how, she would slowly squeeze herself into a small seat right behind the driver which all the mean-while was there but nobody had seen it. The moment Kusum sat there, everyone that was previously standing, especially the women would gaze at her and the men would gaze at Kuldeep. This complex mathematical problem of a pretty young woman managing a seat hidden behind by her friend the bus-driver in the over-crowded bus was solved in the side-mirror where two sets of twinkling humorous eyes met.
It was always this humour which fuelled their friendship. There was no talking what so ever, no exchange of phone numbers, they did not even know their full names. It was a simple passage of time along a dusty road on a rickety bus where the driver looked steadfastly ahead at the road and a young woman watching the same road from behind. The crisp air blowing on their faces. Where the road ended, the bus stopped at the destination and both went their separate ways.
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