|Rana Preet Gill|
Rana Preet Gill
She sat on the bus wondering if he would take notice that she had exchanged her regular seat for the spot that would make her more visible to him. She knew he always hung around the entrance, on the steps to be specific, throughout his short journey from the ISBT to the Chowpatty. And she always sat on the last seat of the bus just to make it easier for her to get down. Though the ride got a little bumpy but she did not seem to mind. The tired, sweaty mass of tangled bodies that infested the space between the seats, looked like a giant mass that could swirl anyone close to its surroundings seemed to taper at the end for some reason. But once he saw her as she was getting down and he was standing on the front steps, being prodded by the conductor to move ahead, bus rides had never been the same. She had seen him lifting his head from far away only to catch a glimpse of her. The first time it happened her mind did not register anything. Though she avoided locking her gaze with any passenger but somedays when the eye contact happened she was quick to avert her eyes and maintain the perfunctory seriousness of her expressions. After all she was not the flimsy kind. She did not play this brief game of unsaid promises and unrequited love that often ping ponged like an unwanted ball in her domain but she did not give it enough inertia and the ball would often lose its steam if it was thrown in her direction.
But with him it was different. He did not look like the man who would just look at her only to let her go after a brief spell of attraction. She had found him a little strange, a little different but very handsome and irresistible. She had always got down at the stop which was the second last stop before the bus ended its drive at Chowpatty and started back to ISBT. And all those who did not did not get down at her stop were eventually stalled for the last stop.
Since he never got down at her stop which was the halt for the office goers she had gathered that he was not an office guy like her and the others who peopled this bus. She had lamely called this particular bus as the office bus because it was the only one that started at 6 am from ISBT and since most of the offices were located in the new complex that has emerged before the scenic view of Chowpatty and started their working at 7 am this bus was a boon for office goers. She had found the one hour ride painful and boring. No one from her office commuted in this bus. She was not comfortable enough to get friendly with people from other offices, men who often leered at her, their gaze penetrating the thin fabric of her blouse tracing the straps of her brassiere and lingering on the folds of her sari stopping there for a long time as if trying to find a way through it. But his gaze was unlike them. His gaze rested on her face. His eyes never left hers and there was a certain comfort she drew from his stare that did not seem to undress or malign her.
She wondered on days what he must be doing for a living. Certainly not office type because he did not get down at the spot designated for office goers of that area. There were no work places in a place like Chowpatty as far as she knew. There weren’t any shops as well, not big ones, just the road side melee of stalls that was thronged by non-descript men and women in the evenings. People like her who worked in offices always went back home and never ever loitered in and around that side of the beach which served nothing but grub in the garb of infectious and contaminated food and water.
But his work was the least of her concerns. That day she decided to make things easier for him. She moved towards the front seats with an enthusiasm and found herself the comfortable spot from where her sighting would be easier for him. He would not have to be contended with just a faraway gaze, but a lot more than that. He would be able to look at her in a more proper way from his designated place. And suddenly her fingers reached her pitied cheeks and she wondered if he would be able to spot the little disfigurement in her face more prominently and flinch. The little spots on her face that he might not have spotted from a distance would stand out now. She wondered if he would be repelled by her not so clear skin that was fair but not flawless. She wondered if this little truth would change anything between them. She berated herself for not able to disguise her spots with the foundation that had been lying in her drawer since a long time. It was given to her by her mother few months back when a prospective suitor had come with his family to view her. Though she was able to hide the hideous spots with the application of the foundation it was not enough for him. The wanted dowry exceeded their means and the alliance had died down before it materialized into reality.
And since then she had thrown the bottle of foundation in deep, unfathomable corners of her drawer. The cheap make up had given her a flare up of acne and the very next day when she spotted the red pigmentation with the appearance of nasty little acne she had a vicious row with her mother. It took a week for that flare up to die down not before giving her some fresh spots that made her skin a little more imperfect. But today was the day when she wanted to look perfect. The gaze of a stranger had made her feel wanted and she wanted to present her most appealing and alluring picture today. She had taken care to wear her most presentable sari, the one she has reserved for choicest occasions or important presentations in her office. Her mother had cocked her head slightly when she had emerged from bathroom smelling nice and good. She had sniffed her with a mocking glare, challenging her with her stare as she was about to leave house. This was her way of confronting her ever since she was young and malleable and this had always worked but not today. Now when she had reached a ripe and mature age of thirty she was anything but not the one to be trampled upon neither by her family nor by anyone and yet here she was ready to give away everything to that one look of a stranger.
As she sat on the bus waiting to be filled by the usual chatter of the officegoers she noticed that everyone was taking second looks at her. They know that she preferred the last seat despite the discomfort of the bounce that inevitably came with the presence of huge tires adhered to the bus propelling it to move further. There was some whispering and murmuring amongst them at this change of seats which died down as soon as the bus driver turned on the ignition. She looked at the front gate with a yearning only to find him missing today. Even the conductor who was standing at his spot looking at her with a bewilderment finally smiled, giving her a nod as she looked away from him trying to suppress her embarrassment at being noticed in such a blatant manner. Her cheeks flushed with color as she saw him running along the slow-moving bus and finally making it to the stairs with one powerful lunge dislodging the conductor from his usual spot. The conductor cursed him as he moved towards the passengers and began with his ritual of ticketing. She found him looking intently at the back of the bus as she wondered as if he had missed seeing her. She touched her spots again a little self-consciously this time and looked at him with an audacity trying to catch his attention. She looked around trying to find the presence of a beautiful maiden at the back of the bus, someone who might have dethroned her from the pedestal but there was no one.
She looked around to spot that one female presence to which he was directing his attention at but there was none. And as she was done surveying the people around her she was back to eyeing him when she discovered a suppressed smile. He was looking at her with an adoration that was hard to miss. She flinched as she found it hard to maintain her stiff demeanor. She wanted to give him a hint that she liked him but she was unable to do so but then she knew that he had found out. But despite all the things that were not said yet understood she wanted him to gain the impression that she was one respectable woman who will not give her any undue attention or power over him. She sat stoically, looking at him intermittently as she found him staring at her with unblinking eyes. When the lady passenger who was sitting next to her got down he quickly took this opportunity as a signal and occupied the seat next to her with an affected non-chalance. As if this was the most natural thing in the world to do, occupy an empty seat. Her heart palpitated as she struggled to control her excitement. The conductor gave her a lascivious smile and nudged the man while passing next to them. His thighs rubbed against the folds of her sari but she did not find that unusual. It happened all the time when two people are sitting together on a seat that is not big enough. She was used to such physical proximities that did not mean anything at all. He placed his hand next to hers and she panicked. She did not make any move. He moved his arm brushing against her bare arm now. She cursed herself for not putting a full sleeved blouse. She was getting uncomfortable at his touch now. All the anticipation lost she begin to sweat profusely, getting disoriented at the chain of events. She had not expected that a man who seem to never look beyond her face would touch such nether of human behavior. To be touched as if she was nothing more than a meat piece was more vicious than being leered at.
When she did not make a move to get her bare arm moving which was now in contact with him, he got emboldened and discreetly placed his other hand touching the contours of her breast through the folds of her sari. She could feel him searching impatiently as his fingers pocked her soft flesh. His leg jutted firmly against hers he was trying to corner into some kind of subjugation. A few passengers who were standing on the front steps were eyeing her precarious situation with lot of interest. As he tried to grab his breast in his hand she finally found the courage as she pushed him and slapped him tight on his cheek. A sudden silence engulfed the bus as it came to a halt at her stop and she made her move past him in an unhurried manner taking along her dignity and honour. A few hands clapped and a few murmurs of approval came her way but was gone.
Bio: I am a Veterinarian, writer and author. More than 110 of my pieces have been published in newspapers and magazines like The Tribune, Hindustan Times, Daily Post, The New Indian Express, Deccan Herald, The HItavada, The Hindu and Woman's era. I have compiled my published pieces in the form of a book titled 'Finding Julia'. I have also written two novels titled ' Those College Years' and ' The Misadventures of a Vet'.