**Fictional story based on a true incident**
It was eleven in the night, and it was an empty road in the outskirts of the city, where a young boy in late teens was waiting for his bus. He was sweating profusely, and cursing himself for wearing the full sleeve shirt and jeans. The night was hot and dry and it was almost a half an hour to midnight when the bus arrived. It was fairly empty even though it was the start of holidays. The bus stopped right in front of him and he was ushered into the bus by the conductor. As soon as his second foot hit the footboard of the bus, the driver gave the bus a kick in its engine and the bus started with a jolt. Steadying himself with the support of a rod, he got in and showed his ticket to the conductor. The old man showed him to his seat and went back to the front of the bus to continue his chat with the driver. He put his bag in the luggage rack above his seat and settled down into the seat. The window was open and he was slowly lulled into a half asleep state by the wind brushing across his face. Suddenly there was commotion. Disturbed, he opened his eyes and tried to find the source of the disturbance. There was an agitated discussion going on in the back of the bus. He was always annoyed at people who disturbed the peace in public places, especially during travel. Cursing them loudly in the safety of his mind, he tried to go back to sleep. However, the voices grew louder and louder to a point where he could not ignore them any longer.
“…it is very dangerous!”
“But we do not know anything for sure.”
“Exactly my point! Don’t you see?”
“What if the owner comes? What are we gonna say to them?”
By now, the voices grew from barely concealed whispers to a point where they drowned down the noise of the engine. This peeved the conductor beyond measure – the noise of the engine was his lullaby. When the uproar did not subside even after a while, he stuttered his way to the back of the bus.
“What is this ruckus down here? Please keep your voice down. People are trying to sleep!”
“What is this?” asked one passenger pointing to a bag lying in the aisle of the bus.
With an incredulous stare at the passenger, the conductor replied “Someone’s bag, obviously!”.
“Yes but whose?”
The conductor understood the matter immediately. There were someone else’s bags lying in the aisle next to them and they wanted them removed, though the bags were of no inconvenience to them.
“It’s ok. Maybe the owners are asleep. I will have them moved them to the luggage bay at the next stop.”
“No. You don’t understand. This man was here from the starting and he saw someone leave these bags and get off the bus. They did not board the bus.”
“Oh! Maybe they got down to buy something and missed the bus. I am sure they will come aboard in the next stop.”
“I don’t think so. If they really missed the bus with their luggage inside, they would have called.”
The conductor was getting irritated now. “So what are you suggesting?”
“I think they did not forget this bag, but they left it here.” “Why would someone leave their bag like that? It is stupid!”
A passenger seated in front of them, who was craning his head back and listening to the little squabble, offered his opinion. “You have the list of passengers that were supposed to board the bus at the last stop, right? So just check if anyone did not board and contact them.”
The conductor shook his head slowly “No. We check twice before leaving any stop. All the passengers that were supposed to board at the last stop are here.”
“Well then what the hell, man? These bags belong to no one and they are still here! Just throw them out of the bus!” the first man snapped back angrily. This flared up the conductor. He could not understand why this man was so intent on having these bags removed. It was not as if they were going to bite. And also, they disturbed his sleep. “What do you mean throw them out? What if the owner of those bags is waiting at the next stop? What am I going to tell him then?”
“I don’t think he understands what you are saying.” Said the person who found the bags.
“What do you mean?” asked the befuddled conductor, his eyes demanding explanation.
“He thinks that this bag may contain explosives.”
The conductor turned so fast, he could swear he heard his neck bones pop. “WHAT?”
“Yes!” said the passenger, who was now all wound up. “I saw it the TV today.” “And what exactly did you see in the TV?” “The city commissioner cautioned about unclaimed bags in public places. He said that terrorists were targeting our city for bomb blasts.”
The conductor could not believe his ears. Yes, he too had listened to the commissioner’s press release – it was blaring out from speakers everywhere for the past few days. But he never imagined anyone would plant a bomb in his bus. After all, why would anyone target a bus which would carry a maximum of 45 people at any given time?
“I saw it too, but I don’t think that is what this is. I mean, this is a small bus. Why would terrorists want to blow up it?” “I don’t know. Maybe I will ask them when I meet them. But right now, just get it off the bus!!”
By now, the entire bus had learned of what was causing the turmoil, and everyone was giving their opinions to whoever cared to listen.
“This is a serious issue. We should drop the bag” said one. “We should inform the police” said another. “Why don’t we just look inside the bag?” suggested one. “We cannot. It is locked” replied another.
The conductor went off towards the front of the bus to discuss the issue with his driver. He came back after some deliberation and announced “I will call our office at the next stop and ask them if there is anyone waiting to board the bus and if they have their luggage. If there is no one, we will inform the police. Okay?”
While the passengers were all grumbling and mumbling their approval, the conductor quietly slipped off to the front of the bus again, with the phone held to his ear. After about five minutes, the bus stopped and everyone became alert. There was an air of anticipation and tension in the bus. The conductor came towards the back of the bus, almost in slow motion, and sighed. “Those are the bags of a passenger. She will be boarding the bus here.” The passengers were visibly relieved but not completely. “So where is she?” asked an intrigued old man. Just as the conductor was about to reply, a middle aged lady entered the bus, followed by a small girl, presumably her daughter. “There she is” said the conductor.
And then it started. The outpour of anger. The sudden release of all the nervous energy of the passengers. The poor lady was surprised, scared, angered and then surprised some more and then angered even more.
“What did you think you were doing?”
“Why did you leave the bags unattended and why were they on the bus before you?”
“I left them on the bus and git down to get some dinner. By the time I returned the bus had left. Why are you guys shouting at me?”
“Why are we shouting? Don’t you know how much irresponsible you have been? Couldn’t you have called the conductor?”
“I didn’t know it was such a big deal! And don’t you say I am irresponsible. Do you know how scared I was that my bags would be gone and that I and my daughter would be left stranded? And I will say this once more. Do not shout at me!”
“Those bags were locked! Do you know how scared we were? For all we knew, these bags could be containing bombs in them. Did you think about that?”
“Well but they aren’t. So why the hell are you still shouting?”
“Because you don’t seem to be able to recognise the extent of your mistake and how much angst you have put us under.”
“I did no mistake and put no one under any kind of angst. I just forgot my bags and you people thought the worst because you were already scared of bombings and terrorists. So this whole situation is on you people, not me. Now step aside so I can go to my seat.”
The passengers stepped aside, allowing her and her daughter to pass through.
Seeing that the situation had calmed down sufficiently, the conductor took over. “So everyone on board? Any other unattended bags? NO? Okay then. We will be off shortly.”
Saying so, he returned to his seat at the front of the bus, obviously to discuss the whole matter in depth with the driver. The passengers all settled into their seats, some still angry at the woman and some sympathizing with her, every one of them relieved. A little further from all the ruckus was sitting a boy in his late teens, who was not so concerned about his full sleeves shirt now. He was obviously shaken by the incident but a sly little thought kept his lips smiling. This could have been a story for the front pages. But now, it was a cool story to share with friends over some drinks.