It had been a long day. I was at last out of office, and had now been on the bus for ten, maybe twenty minutes. I couldn’t tell how long exactly.. I was tending to fall into trains of thought that led nowhere. It must have been at least twenty minutes because the bus had been quite empty when I got on, and in fact got myself a window seat- and by now it was quite full.
I let out a long sigh and stretched a little. My hand accidentally hit the girl sitting on the window seat right ahead of me, on her shoulder. I immediately muttered an apology. She turned her head, smiled a little, and said, “No problem.” She looked ahead. I sighed again. This time she turned her head, not completely, but enough to catch my reflection in our common window, and asked, “So… everything’s ok?”
“Yeah.. yeah..” I said more cheerily than intended… “More or less..”
She turned her head fully back again, and looked directly at me. Turning her head again at the angle like before (there really wasn’t enough space for her to keep turned around completely to speak to me), she said, “Go on..” It was like we were communicating secretly, like they show spies talking in public places in the movies.
I considered for a moment- here was a complete stranger.. what should I tell her? Rather, how much? Does she really want to know? Or is she just making conversation to pass the time? I looked at her wild curly hair falling all over her shoulders and much of her face, her soft eyes reflected in the glass window, her loose clothes of bright colours. I felt a strange pull.
I leaned just a little forward, checking in passing my own reflection- hair tied back neatly, and rather tightly.. a grey dress, and the shadows under my eyes exaggerated in the glass by the inadequate lighting.
“All this time on the bus.. it’s too much, don’t you think?”
She laughed. “Really?”
“Yeah, yeah.. it’s too much time.. to do nothing but think. I would rather convert this time to work time.”
“You’re kidding,” she said.
“No! I mean not because I feel like working more right now. But I just wish there weren’t these blank spaces. You know, the mind races, all kinds of thoughts keep coming into my head. I don’t want that. I don’t want to be sitting here.. thinking!”
She giggled. But I looked at her eyes in the reflection in the glass- they were kind.
So I went on, “You know I am doing just fine all day, even though it’s crazy pressure at work. But I have no time to think. It’s when I get on this damn bus that these crazy questions keep popping up in my mind- is my life going the way I want it to? How long ago was I last on a green pasture? And then all of a sudden, a song will start playing in my head.. you know, it will bring up some or the other memory- from my younger days.. or remind me of a heartbreak long ago.. or of summer holidays with friends.. you know how you associate songs with certain times in your life.
And it just.. just leaves me paralyzed. Like I lose the last ounce of energy I have, to go on. It’s like I am running on adrenaline all day- and then this just calms down the adrenaline. And I feel so exhausted! And I don’t just mean physically, but mentally.. emotionally..”
I thought I saw her reflection smile. I was lost again in my own thoughts for a few moments.. I looked up to speak again- but she was gone!
But not far, there she was- near the door. Her stop was close now perhaps. It was rather abrupt- I wondered when she had got up. And then it happened- she casually tucked the curls that were caressing her left cheek, back behind her ear… and I saw she was wearing ear-phones.
A mixture of hot and cold sensations poured themselves down from my chest till my stomach. I looked around- had anyone else seen me make a fool of myself? I looked around but processed nothing, except for this strange sensation. Just as she was going to de-board the bus, I allowed myself to look at her briefly again. I thought I saw her smile at me familiarly. And then she was gone.
My destination still lay half an hour ahead. And I wondered if she had been wearing the ear-phones throughout, and had in fact been speaking with someone else. Or maybe.. maybe she put them on only after she got up from her seat! Maybe we had in fact connected in an unlikely but deep way! Except if we didn’t, then I had only behaved ridiculously, alarming the girl now and then by talking too loudly to the back of her head.
Which was it? Another half an hour of wondering about this.. of being captive to this ‘free’ time.
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