The bus moans and reluctantly halts. Warm with the breath of its seething crowd , I board.
It is my routine on a normal college going day.
Inside the bus , the man woman barrier has some how meandered . Through the sticky fabrics , I ooze through . My temporary destination – that seat right behind the driver and that relief of a rod to rest my head on so I can see the full road ahead.
Too bad that seat is occupied . A boy and a lady. But I still have my road ahead : much preferred to oily hair braids or high decibel gossip.
Two stops further a seat beckons. The lady has boarded off. The boy has not. Puzzled I sit beside the boy who looks out of the window.
Now my eyes see. See a dark boy of six or seven or eight in orange shirt and orange shorts. A set of black stripes and peeling fabric. He is so small and so morphed that he cannot reach the back rest of the seat. It seems like a disproportionate task to balance as his head droops against the glass and legs dangle from the seat. His eyes are fighting a struggle – a losing battle with his eyelids. When at last the battle is lost he turns around and startles me. With his back resting against the window sill and legs tucked up he glances once at me and unphased droops back into a drugged reverie. My sluggish smile meets his closed eyes.
In his sleep he nudges me with his hand : just once seems enough as I shift at his command. As his legs stretch themselves – I see a gaping septic wound on his knee. His limbs are rusty with dust and gashed. Hands clutch nothing but a tiny bundled yellow plastic bag with some clothes in .
“So much sleep that it seems drug induced ?”
“Mustn’t have slept last night.”
“Who has bought his ticket? Why does not the conductor ask ?”
“ Hmmm ….”
“ And that awful gaping wound ”
------ no answer strikes me.
I question and I answer and I stop at a dead end.
His utterly helpless head bobs to and fro : mouth agape as his dreams feed him. The wound shows no sign of healing or medication. Festering and septic it eludes me.
“Has he been beaten ? Could it be just a normal bruise he got while playing ?”
“ A runaway child working in the outskirts? “
“ A child going to his mother, labouring at some quarry ?”
The lady in front gives me that incredulous flat smile that I can never return. The middle aged woman beside her is hardly aware of her fellow travelers and is buried in her newspaper. I wish I could be her but the sight beside me is too much to take.
One tiny weakling drowning in sleep travels all alone to a destination unknown as women all around -college going, office going, home bound and unbound , merely stand and suffer the intensity of the boy’s sound sleep.
There are some fifty odd mothers born for him on that 9 am bus on that Thursday . I feel the responsibility too. As each bus-stop renews its set of ‘mothers’ and ‘sisters’ , I wonder if I will get down at his destination or mine.