Work days during Mumbai monsoon have a scripted sense of ordeal. A routine smooth getting drenched while waiting for the public bus at the stand right across from my office building was tiring, yet familiar. Today was different. It had not stopped raining for the past 21 hours. I was holding on to the pole, digging into the well-like purse when I first noticed him. He was looking out of the half shut, translucent windows without actually aiming to notice anything. His face was pale, hair oiled and combed with a wide tooth comb and his eyes, staring at a blank. I got on to the bus, without much pushing. Guess, bus travelling is not a monsoon favourite to many, after all.
A thrill in me, that I have not been able to articulate even in thoughts for myself, made me grab the empty seat beside him. He turned right, only half way, to welcome me, with a minor sense of innocent discomfort. His legs inched closer, his body even more cocooned. His shoulders shrunk with the weight of a bag on his back. Wait, he was wearing a school uniform. And this, was his school bag!
“Are you travelling back home?” I asked. “Why are you going back so late? What is your name? I shot a flurry of questions at him in one breath. There was something extremely captivating about his innocent, docile and school going face. He gave a quick, lusterless response, “I leave school at 4 pm. Then, I wait for the bus. Majha naav Shubham Aahe” (: In English, My name is Shubham).
This young lad, all of about 10 years old, was travelling back home, alone, on an unusually stormy day, in a public bus, at 8:50 pm in the evening.Travelling in buses was a familiar feeling for me, as well. Since pre-primary school, I have been moving on them. But, those were school buses and I had familiar people in them, with me.
Shubham and I sat together for the next twenty minutes. I asked him about what he learnt at school and if he traveled like this everyday. Innocence is a strange virtue. One does not know if it is fragile or full of grit. I had not felt this kind of happiness in long. He would answer all my questions, and ask me a bare few. We chatted like childhood friends, like I did with my younger brother when he was actually ‘younger’. Meeting Shubham was meeting my childhood, albeit for a brief while. It was already refreshing but it became special because of what Shubham did in the next few minutes, before we got down at our stop.
Everyone in the bus started queuing up, getting their umbrellas and raincoats in place. I shifted diagonally, with my feet bent on a side and Shubham quietly stepped out to join the queue. I looked up, passed a smile and saw him look back in a nonplussed manner. I called out , “I am struggling to find my umbrella. You go ahead, do not miss your stop.” Within seconds, the bus was ready to march ahead for the next stop and I was still contemplating if I could risk stepping out with the laptop. My friend, Shubham, was still waiting for me to join him. He came back and said “Use mine di, I will run and go.”
In that moment, I was the child who would light up when she was allowed to eat a chocolate on a non-chocolate day. Well, I managed to find my umbrella and we both quickly hopped out of the bus. He turned around, bid adieu and vanished.
It’s been more than a year and a half to that monsoon. I have already made my travel plans for the coming one. If things get back to normal and office reopens during the months of July-August, I need to find myself a good umbrella and a stable footwear. Something I can trust with, for a long wait at a bus stop. Who knows?