i had a bus to catch that evening from the main stand and i found myself in a familiar queue for the local shuttle, a whole two hours before i had to catch my bus. the shuttle usually took 40 minutes for a 30 kilometre journey to the main stand, and it made no stops in between. it was my preferred mode of transport here.
the tickets are issued at the booth only when a shuttle arrives from the destination i was headed for and after emptying its load here, the driver reverses the board and heads back to where he came from. not a very bright idea, as peak load times would mean shuttle build up at the wrong end!
anyways, our shuttle had not arrived yet and there was a steady drizzle outside. i counted the number of people ahead of me in the queue. if each of them bought only a ticket for themselves, then i might make it into this bus. else i'd have to wait for another one to come by.
finally a shuttle arrived and as the people saw it coming from a distance, they all stopped their conversations and got into the queue properly, with exact change in their hands. the cat lying near my feet, probably having had a heavy meal at the nearby fish market, yawned and stretched itself, shaking its head at the unwelcome commotion.
21, 22... yes! i made it to the ticket booth and tickets were available. i settled into my seat, the last row window seat, and waited for the remaining passengers to fill in. it had stopped raining now. i loved the rains, but was not carrying any rain gear today, so i thought its good that the rains stay away till i get into my bus for the evening.
the shuttle passed swiftly through the familiar places and i watched as again i had to leave all this behind to go earn my living, in the hope that someday i'd have saved enough to make a place for me under the sun (or rain) here.
30 minutes and no sign of rain yet. but a look at the skies and i knew what i had in store for me. the skies were grey all the way till the horizon, with heavy, rain bearing clouds and there would be no respite once this downpour starts. and i knew when it would start too, just as i reach the main stand. i could almost feel it.
myriad shades of green swished by my window and lakes filled up to the brim with crystal clear water smiled at me happily. dark red water flowed across the roads - waters from a previous downpour having dissolved the mineral rich soil found in this part of the world.
and surely enough, as our shuttle approached the first big roundabout of the city, the heavens opened up. our tiny shuttle was lashed by torrents of water, quite like a tiny dinghy would be in a stormy ocean! the driver quickly guided his ravaged vessel into the hangars of the local bus stand. i was the last guy to get off, thankful for the flimsy yet available sheets of plastic forming the roof.
but i still had a problem. i was in the local bus stand and had to go to the main stand. and there was a huge gap between the two enclosures. the 5 minutes of rain already had a small river flowing in that area.
the crowd under our roof was swelling. but many people had come with their umbrellas. some of them, too lazy to fold their umbrellas as they passed through our platform, just lifted them higher and squeezed their way through the huddle. as they did so, droplets of rain from their umbrellas fell on our heads and there arose collective murmurs of disapproval.
then there were others who had their umbrellas carefully tucked into their bags. they removed their prized possessions once the rain gods relented a bit and made their way hurriedly to wherever they were headed.
for once i was really early to someplace i had to go to. i thus had the luxury of waiting out the rains. but now it started pouring again. coupled with strong winds this time. our platform was just plastic domes atop tall metal stilts, not much protection in this weather!
the chatter around me rose. kids had to get home after tuition, tourists had to catch their buses, friends had to reach a party, someone would miss seeing off someone, dinner would be served late as husbands were stranded with their shopping bags, traders had to load their wares on buses that would depart soon, drunkards would be late for their drinks!
amidst all this bustle, there was a girl enjoying the rains. she was already drenched, yet she was looking at the heavens with a wry smile. drops of water ran down from her dark hair to her dark maroon top. she did not seem to be paying attention to the rabble around her.
another batch of people, knowing that the rains are not going to subside soon, opened their umbrellas and stepped out, resigned to their fate. i had half the heart to ask someone for a lift under their umbrella till the main stand. but all these years away from this place had made me grow hesitant.
not that the people had changed much from my earlier days here, there were still plenty of people getting lifts like i used to, but i felt i did not fit in here any more. the rains admonished the escaping people with some thunder and lightening for their temerity of ignoring the show that has been put up.
the girl seemed busy. she was trying to figure out something. i soon realized what that was. i had been standing some time back where she stood now. and there was a leak in the roof above. occasionally a big, fat drop of water would fall splat on your head. and she was trying to see where the water was coming from.
as she was looking around, our eyes met, and i pointed out the spot where the water was collecting before it descended upon its target. her eyes followed my finger to the leak on the roof. she smiled to herself, for being so obvious i suppose.
great gusts of wind now sprayed the rain into the enclosure and people who stood snugly in the middle also got drenched. everyone started jostling after this, but anywhere you stood, the rains could reach you. in all the commotion, i found myself standing next to this girl now.
she was pretty. with warm, brown eyes. warm even in this weather. she looked up at me and smiled. her smile reached her eyes. and i smiled back. but mine was just a polite smile. i wasn't really smiling.
i felt empty. i felt guilty. and so i stepped out. out of the shelter. out into the rains. she was still looking at me and smiling. i just turned around and walked toward the main stand.
i was not running, as people around me were. there was no use running. i could not run. i just walked slowly toward the gate, ignoring the puddles of water underfoot. i stretched out my arms and let the rain drench me. i soaked it in.
as i crossed the gate, i looked back. i could not see her now, but i'm sure she was there. smiling. happy.
i went in. i had a bus to catch...