I rushed through the crowd, one arm grabbed the suitcase and dragged it as the other navigated the lunchtime rush of the Yellow Line. Home was calling and I had to run. “Shouldn’t have booked the bus, would’ve taken any one if there was no booking”, I regretted my smart decision as I gently pushed the crowd of hundreds to reach the Kashmere Gate Inter-State Bus Terminal.
I climbed the staircase, got my bags and myself checked at the entrance and ran. My suitcase cruising behind me, twisting and turning in the opposite direction as I sprinted over the slippery marble. “Do not slip, do not trip”, I kept repeating to myself as I halted at the enquiry booth. “AC. 1:30PM. Dehradun”, I huffed through the opening. More air coming out of my mouth than words.
“It’s running late, won’t be here for an hour”, said the man stationed casually at the enquiry booth.
“Good”, I thought to myself. “Thank you”, I said to the enquiry guy and moved about my way downstairs to the bus bays. Slower this time. The bus was late, my problem had solved itself.
Two hours passed by as I waited for my bus to arrive at bus bay 14 however, other buses kept arriving and departing. No sign of the 1:30PM AC Bus to Dehradun. Frustrated, I got up and went upstairs to the enquiry counter again.
“The bus won’t be coming”, he said to my obvious query. “What do you mean it won’t be coming!?” I exclaimed in anger. I was angry. I had waited over 2 hours for a bus that wasn’t going to come anyway.
“I have an online booking”, I told the man to which he didn’t show much interest. His superior, an older man, probably in his late 50s heard the conversation. “He’s asking you something, you nincompoop”. the man, dressed in the usual white shirt-grey pants associated with government officers smacked on the younger man’s head.
He came out of the enquiry cubicle and asked me of my problem. I told him about the situation, he took out his ledger, checked and confirmed there was just one online booking that day – mine. I suggested I’ll pay the extra fare if I could get a seat in the next Volvo bus. He thought that was a smart idea. I thought my problem was solved. It wasn’t.
The Volvo bus was filled. Every seat was accounted for besides seats 3 and 4. These were seats the driver had somehow kept safe for his associates. So, the bus had seats but there were no seats for me. That is the beauty of India. The man who had suddenly made helping me the mission of his life got furious at this, almost boiling and threatened the young conductor. An argument followed. A heated argument.
“Sir, I cannot give you any seats, there are no seats left”, the conductor kept repeating. Gradually raising his voice at every iteration.
“On my record, this page, I still see two seats. Who are these two people sitting here?” My newfound compadre interrogated the conductor.
“One of them is the extra driver, one is the helper”, the conductor answered in a loud voice and asked the driver to start the bus. I stood on the door, trying to make sense of what was expected of me between the “There is no seat” and “You sit here” constantly being thrown at me from two sides.
“You need four people to staff a bus!? Don’t test the department and my patience, I will get this bus stopped once and for all. You better give this young man a seat.”
“Okay, sir”, the conductor spoke after a little hesitation.
I got a seat. I paid the extra fare. It was settled, finally. Over three hours had passed from when I would’ve departed for home. “I’m in the bus, coming home now”, I texted my mother. It had been a long day.
I saw him again today. He was wearing a nice red shirt. He was doing his job, talking to bus conductors with the same paper in his hand. He was dressed better than he was the last time I saw him or maybe, I saw him in better light than I did the last time. I thought of saying Hello to him and maybe a Thank You for last time but it was a long time ago and I didn’t see the point of disturbing a hero in action.