The bus had just started to cross Gurgaon. I sat on a seat by the window near the front exit of the bus. The harsh sunlight coming in through the window didn’t add to the comfort. The conductor stood near the door wearing a well-worn flat cap, his shaved head and the soft stubble of white hair showed peeked right below the side. His face was covered in a stubble too. Traffic made the bus slow down. The conductor looked toward the passengers. “They’re here!” he warned loudly.
I looked outside the window, and I saw the two transgender people coming on from forward, running toward the bus. Out of reflex, born out of a misinformed childhood, I took my earphones out of my ears, put them in my pocket, tilted my head on the window glass, and pretended to fall asleep.
I peeked a little while still pretending that my eyes were closed, and I saw one of them entering the bus through the door near me. The other preferred to take the back door. Although, I didn’t see him go there. I was more focused on making sure I don’t make eye-contact to avoid a shakedown for a hundred bucks. The conductor took a step back, took a fifty rupee note out of his pocket and gave it to the person who wore an off-white women’s suit. Then, the claps started to echo.
As a child, I dreaded the clap. I remember being at a family event of sorts. It was marriage, but I don’t remember clearly. I was a child then. The event was interrupted by five of them. They came, clapping oddly that most Indian people were familiar with. The claps echoed. A couple of minutes later, they had extorted a large enough sum for the elders to make faces and words about. I was scared. The memory stuck.
As I peeked again, still pretending to be asleep, I saw a man on the other window seat in the first-row hand a ten rupee note. He was grabbed by the collar, as she rubbed her hand on his collar, judging the fabric she let out an insult. “Haye! You look like you’re from a good society. Does a ten-rupee bill pay anything these days?”
He smiled, slightly insulted but knowing taking more money out made no sense anyway. He waited for the trans to move forward for their next shakedown. As my row was approached, I pretended to be hard asleep. They didn’t notice. I let out a sigh partly of relief, somewhat of fear because of how I was conditioned, I guess.
A bag was on the aisle, blocking the path and so, the one who entered from the front decided to not go further. Just then, a commotion came from behind the bus.
“How can she shrug me off? I’m no lower than this whore!” The other trans person shouted. Then, she clapped. “I’m not lower than this whore!” She let out. Repetitively.
The passengers all started talking amongst themselves as a young woman screamed, “Get off this bus! I’m not scared of you.”
“How did you shake your head on me, you whore? Is this man your brother? If he wants to give me money, he will. What is he to you?”
“He could be anything. What is it to you? I will shake my head off on whatever I want.”
By now, I had turned completely around. I looked at the girl, and so did everyone else who was on the bus.
The conductor looked down and mumbled, “This has become an everyday affair.”
He let out a casual slang to complete his sentence. Then, he spat outside the bus door out of frustration.
The driver said something, but I couldn’t hear it. I was looking at the girl who was in tears by now. Her co-passenger was looking down and speaking very softly. Maybe, he was asking her to calm down and stop talking. I could never tell you what he said though. I sat too far away.
The one in the front jumped over the bag blocking her way and grabbed the woman by her hair. “What did you say to her? She has a vagina just like you. She can give a man a better time than you ever could.”
The girl was sobbing, still trying to hold her tears back. A man sitting at the last row protested, “Stop this, please! It’s enough.”
The other one, the one who had started the argument, wore a blue women’s suit. She walked to the man, who sat in the middle seat on the last row. A grimace over his otherwise clean-shaven face as he saw her approach. She took her white dupatta off, grabbed the man’s hand and put it on one of her breasts.
“Press this. You don’t have control. I do. Look at your body move. I control this!” She then kicked the man in the crotch thrice. “Here’s your control” she screamed louder with every kick.
I looked at the driver. “I can’t help it, bhai,” he answered without my asking anything. The driver called the conductor out. He walked over to the driver, and they started talking. Both looked back at the passengers continually as they spoke. I don’t know what they talked about. I couldn’t hear it.
Some passengers, most of them male giggled. I wondered if they’d laugh if they were on the receiving end of it. I looked back at the girl again who was still sobbing. The old man who sat behind her told her she shouldn’t have said a word.
“She really kicked him in the balls, man.” The young student sitting behind me laughed. His friend’s laughter followed. My co-passenger didn’t have a comment.
“What’s the point of saying something to them? Just pay them off and let them go,” said the man who sat across the aisle in my row. I nodded. I don’t know why I did that.
Then, I looked back. The man on the last row sat with his head down. They gave him a warning, then they looked back and said something to the girl. I didn’t listen to it. I was tired of the same sentences.
Just then, another passenger picked a hundred rupee note off the aisle and called out to the two trans. “I think you dropped your money,” he said as he handed it to one of them. “Haye! Bless you, chikne,” she said. Then, she clapped thrice out of happiness. She walked down the stairs.
I looked out the window. The bus started to move. The two trans were outside my window by now. I took my earphones out, plugged them into my phone. As the bus picked its pace, I saw the one in the off-white hold the other by the shoulder.
“You’re as much of a woman, don’t cry over what a little girl has to say,” she said.