A Journey by Local Bus
In the year 2018, I was a third-year university student at the Military Institute of Science and Technology and my residence was in Dhaka Cantonment. The distance between my house and my alma mater is only nine kilometers. Most of the days I used to travel by the university bus. If somehow, I missed it, only then I would take a local bus. Entering a local bus is similar to entering a mine field, except for stepping on a mine, you might end up stepping on the foot of a sweaty angry passenger inside a jam-packed bus. Dhaka is one of the most densely populated cities in the world and you will be rightly aware of this fact after entering a local bus during rush hour. Your ride will be the most enjoyable if it is summer or monsoon. All the local buses of Dhaka city are possessed by an angry, selfish spirit, I bet. And as soon as any passenger enters a bus, they are also immediately possessed by that obnoxious spirit. They become mean and nasty, they stop thinking about the fellow travelers' comfort or wellbeing; a pure "survival of the fittest" scenario. These are fiercely competitive passengers, who can even kill others to avail a transport.
At that time, there was no pandemic, nobody wore masks and no seats were needed to be left blank for health safety. In fact, if you could catch a bus within time amidst the cacophonous crowd, that was your lucky day. And if you could get an empty seat for the commute, well, then that was a miraculous happening.
It was a weekday and I missed my university bus. With a sullen face I stood in the queue to catch any local bus arriving at the nearest bus stop. After waiting for fifteen to twenty minutes I could finally get into a 52 seat non-AC bus, that too with an empty 52nd seat right at the back. "What a lucky day; what a divine conspiracy," I thought. In the back row there were a total of six seats. After much hurdle, I reached the empty seat which was situated in the middle of five men of various ages and classes. I took a deep breath and decided to fill up the blank seat. It did feel uncomfortable, but I thought, "That's life. Now don't keep analyzing lest you'll lose this seat!"
As I was just going to sit, the guy sitting by the left window stood up. He requested the other four guys to scooch to the right so that I could sit by the left window and be saved from the awkwardness. He surely was a gentleman whom the evil spirit of local bus did not possess yet. My thoughts shifted and I started focusing on this young man. He was tall and lean with wide shoulders, a clean shaved elongated face, sparkling authoritative eyes and very manly features. He had a strict middle-class air to him. He was wearing a pair of casual jeans and a not very classy semi-formal shirt, and I guessed he was in his mid to late 20s. I felt in my stomach a tingling sensation, my heart fluttered. "This could be my Knight in shining armor!" I thought. I felt as if I were starring as the lead heroine in a romantic Bollywood movie opposite this virtuous hero. Everything felt like a stupendous coincidence, as if stars were being aligned. The smell of stale sweat transformed into a sweet fragrance, the cacophony gave birth to a rhythmic melody, and the unpleasant disposition turned into a romantic scene. He made room for me and I sat by the left window. He sat right next to me. The bus kept moving towards the destination. It became a dreamy ride.
The seats were congested, I struggled to carry the backpack on my lap. The gentleman sitting next offered to carry my backpack on his lap. I asked him not to, but he took it anyway saying, "You are a tall person like me, I understand your pain. It is tough for people like us to journey in these congested local buses. Please let me hold your backpack. Sit comfortably, it's at least a 20 minutes journey." I was smitten and let him do what he wished for. "So, are you a student of MIST?" he asked. I nodded in the affirmative. It's not a difficult task to identify a student of MIST. Thanks to our grey and white kindergarten style uniform. However, the uniform didn't embarrass me that day. He guessed, "You are not used to traveling by local bus, are you?" "Not that much," I nodded shyly. We exchanged smiles. I didn't wish to talk to him anymore. All I wanted to do was to pretend looking outside the window while imagining a lifetime with this hero. I wondered what it would be like to spend the rest of my life with him. I imagined us living in a small apartment at the outskirts of Dhaka, with jobs paying us only bare minimum, a happy life where there were no diseases or miseries, just him and me, and our happily ever after. We actually didn't talk to each other. Probably, he was imagining something else. Maybe he already had a loving wife at home and an ailing mother whose gall bladder needed to be operated as soon as possible. Maybe he was on the same route as I, to lend money from an old friend who happened to live in Mirpur DOHS. "Nope!" I didn't like that idea. So, I planned to ask him his name and learn who he really was. Sadly, I had already reached my bus stop by then and we never got know each other's name. He handed me the backpack, "Here you go." I replied with a smile, "Thank you very much for your kind help." He acknowledged, "I am very glad that I could be of any help!" I got down from the bus and we never ever met again. It has been 4 years since that encounter. I don't travel by that route anymore and fortunately I don't have to journey by local buses anymore. I don't even remember his face. But his kind gesture remains fresh in my memory even today.
Maliha Huq is an engineer who loves reading books and (sometimes) enjoys writing essays and fiction. She is also a regular contributor to The Daily Star.