Out over in the distance, a bus finally began making its way down the road. The handful of individuals stared aimlessly at the oncoming lights, patiently or impatiently? It was hard to tell. The horn bellowed as the vehicle lumbered its way over at last. The light from the inside revealed the absence of any empty seat and as per the norm, a large crowd of standing passengers were brushed up against one another. When the bus finally screeched to a halt, the scrawny helper yelled out the route and names of the many destinations they would be taking.
Both parties rushed; those attempting to get out found themselves obstructed by the ones attempting to get in, leading to the exchange of some choice language.
Sajid looked on in dismay. He had stayed up the previous night for a midterm and he wanted nothing more than to give in to his exhaustion. The last thing he wanted was some creep rubbing up against him while he dozed off. His wallet barely had fifty taka remaining, and as such, taking a CNG or calling an Uber was out of the question. He sighed, mustered up strength and pushed himself through the crowd.
I regret this.
Sajid had ridden public buses routinely over the past few years. They were rarely ever empty and the passengers were rarely ever bearable. The cramped interior, the sweltering weather, and the general lack of hygiene was an unpleasant combination to say the least. Whether it was due to his lack of sleep or the terrible day he had, on this particular journey every little negative emotion felt amplified. He could not even decide where to look. Straight ahead at the beard that was pushed up against his face? (Ack!) To the right where someone was asleep, visibly drooling? (Hayre, even snoring is better than this). Maybe to the left where a group of hands were desperately grabbing onto a glistening pole for support? (Iss!). Ultimately, he decided to angle his head in an attempt to look out the window.
Blues and blacks and lights! and blues and blacks and lights! and blues and blacks and light–
Sajid closed his eyes. He shuffled around to find comfort, an action that was met with little success. Letting his eyelids fall, however, was quite wonderful. His neck muscles followed suit moments later and Sajid’s head drooped down ever so slowly.
‘Ei, why’d you step on my foot?’
Head and eyelids flung back up. In his drowsy state, Sajid must have accidentally stepped on one of the other passengers.
What did he mean ‘What?’
‘You intentionally hurt me and then have the nerve to just say ‘‘sorry’’?’
Exhaustion was now injected with fear. Sajid eyed the man cautiously; he was large, possibly half a foot taller. A broad nose decorated the center of his face and jutting out of his mouth were teeth of the most distinct shade of yellow. He sported a dirty maroon shirt that shone impressively even under the sparse lighting of the bus. However, that was nothing compared to his hair. Parted midway and falling to both sides, the man’s head must have never seen a dry day. It was smothered to the roots with oil. Sajid could have sworn he saw a drop or two make their way to the shirt below. Maybe that was why it was so shiny. However, with all that said, the defining feature of this stranger could not be anything but his eyes. Bloodshot and unblinking, a permanent scowl was etched onto his face. That penetrating expression bore straight through Sajid, dispelling any thoughts of rest he previously had.
The poor boy gulped. What had he gotten himself into?
‘I…’ he began, ‘I didn’t intentionally step on you, bhai. It was a mistake…’
‘What the hell did you say?!’
‘Shala, do you know who I am? Do you?!’
‘No, I-’ Sajid stammered.
‘I have men who do whatever I tell them to do. Do you know how many people I’ve killed? We could find your family and cut them into pieces, do you understand?’
‘No you don’t understand, you son of a bitch! I will rip you apart!’
Sajid felt like a rabbit caught in headlights. Most of the passengers were now staring. He eyed them wordlessly, hoping someone would come to his aid. But he knew better. Twenty four years as a resident of Dhaka city taught him better. No one would help. He knew it. They knew it. They knew that he knew that they knew it. He needed to think of something to do, something to say. But what? The lunatic was not willing to listen. Maybe Sajid could be more submissive? Bow down perhaps? Lick his shoes if it meant not being ripped in half? No no, there was no way this was going to end well. What could he do? Come on, he thought. Think harder. Think. Think. THINK-
‘Ai Mirpur!’ the bus boy called out.
This was not Sajid’s stop, but he was all too happy to walk the rest of the way. He rushed forward.
‘OI WHERE ARE YOU GOING?’
Sajid squeezed through the horde of people in front of him, pushing, shoving, elbowing anyone who was obstructing him from the entrance. In record time, he had jumped out of the bus, and ran. He ran fast. He ran past curious onlookers. He ran past barking street dogs. He ran past fruit vendors and rickshaw pullers and owners of little shops. He did not even think of stopping til the bus was just a speck far behind.
After about seven minutes, he came to a halt at last. The adrenaline was beginning to wear off and amidst the fear and exhaustion, Sajid made a mental note to begin jogging from the following day. Who knew when he would have to run away from a madman in the future? Almost involuntarily, he gave out a nervous laugh; boy, would this make for a fun story. When he regained enough of his composure, he made his way to one of the small shops nearby.
‘One bottle of water.’
He would pay in a bit, but first he really needed to quench his thirst. Sajid emptied the bottle entirely in one go and threw it into the roadside.
‘Fifteen taka.’ stated the shopkeeper bluntly.
‘Yes, hold on.’
No, not there.
Not there either.
Right back pocket.
Left back pocket.
image credits: https://www.flickr.com/photos/avikbangalee/8043023586/