It was hot inside the bus – there was no air-conditioning. I was engulfed by the stench of stale sweat, cheap cologne and a gloomy scent of desolation. What an oxymoron, though, because the bus was anything but empty, with passengers crammed both inside and on the roof, clutching their bags of coconuts and fresh vegetables that they had collected from their villages as they bid their families adieu and made their way back to the hustle and bustle of the city. A similar bus ride had brought them the other way, but I felt the stark contrast between the two bus rides hit me – the air was not buzzing with the excitement of meeting their loved ones and spending an Eid weekend with them this time. It was filled with the dread of going back to the same old routine of life that was all too uninteresting.
It had been four days since Ramadan was over and my body was already catching up with time. I was thirsty; I had forgotten to bring the red Tupperware water bottle that mum had packed for me. It was probably still on my desk. I cursed myself for being late and missing the first bus. But it's just so hard to say goodbye. My friends were probably having the times of their lives on the other bus while I was stuck in traffic for eleven excruciating hours in this dilapidated vehicle.
The engine revved with a lazy groan and we began our journey away from one home to another.
The windows were between two rows, so I was sharing mine with the man in front of me. As I slid the dusty window midway, a sandy breeze hit the surface of my skin, blowing away the beads of sweat that had formed at the tip of my nose and separating the strands of hair that had become plastered to my scalp, albeit leaving my face covered in soot. I looked out of the window and felt all my discomfort fade away as the bus meandered through the remote mud roads towards Dhaka city.
I would never have thought that road side tea stalls, essentially just a gas stove on the pavement, could have names like “5-star tea stall” and “Na khaile miss”. The superfluous names amused me and for the first time in a while, I smiled.
Now, as the bus paced on the highway, the trees had merged to form one huge blur of green. I felt like I did when I don't have my glasses on. My sight becomes vague just like this and I have to remember to breathe and take things one at a time. As the bus slowed to a stop at the gas station, I noticed my vision becoming clearer. The trees were now distinct, all of the same species and yet each so very different from the other. I noticed how the one with the least number of leaves was standing up tall with its head held high whereas the one with the most foliage was stooped low with all its weight. Somehow, these trees weren't all that different from humans.
With the tank now full, we started again. But this time, the clouds followed me. The white tufts of cotton on the blue canvas moulded themselves into my imagination, forming distinct visuals – the sudden skip of a heart beat as I sipped water for the first time on the morning of Eid, mum's delicious shemai, cousins' smiling faces as they all received their salami, and then finally, saying goodbye.
The clouds now metamorphosed into their darker counterpart, casting my surroundings into an ominous gloom. It started pouring in torrents and the bus continued its way on the bumpy potholed roads. I closed the window and traced the raindrops as they made their own journey down the pane of grimy glass. I could never perfectly predict the path of a single raindrop as it would always take an unexpected turn and reroute, often joining with another fellow raindrop and wandering the rest of the way down.
The rain stopped and the sun was smiling at me again. The freshly washed leaves on the trees glistened brightly and the last lingering raindrops dripped onto the moist ground. I thought how the very raindrop that had fallen from the sky had gone through so many stations and would now evaporate and return to the clouds; its journey was like a cycle. It made me wonder.
My train of thought was cut short as the bus lurched to a halt and the all too familiar sight of the bus station emerged in front of my eyes. As the other passengers got up, gathered their belongings and shuffled towards the exit, my lips curled up in a faint smile. I realised that it was only two more months until my happy days were to come again and I would be reunited with my loved ones once more. I had already started counting the days in my mind!