Someone like us

“Don’t run on the road, shorty! Your mom is going to be very angry at me if you get hurt” I shouted. “OK, brother!” came back the reply.

It was the first time that we were going from our house to our grandma’s place, by ourselves – just us, without any elders. Me being the eldest among us all, it was my responsibility to keep a watch on them. Everyone was excited, shorty more so than anyone else. He was always shy and reserved in front of elders but in the company of us children he was a live wire. That made my job that much harder. We were a group of six children with shorty being 8-9 years younger than me and the rest of the pack came between us in terms of age. Our journey was supposed to be simple and easy – just get on a bus in the bus station of our town and get down on the main road of our grandma’s village.

We started at our house and made our way to the bus station, with shorty jumping and running about on the road. Once we reached the station, we had to wait for some time since a bus had just left and the next bus would start only after 15 minutes. In the meantime, shorty and the younger lot started to get impatient and unruly. The bus arrived after 5 minutes. We decided to climb aboard the bus and wait inside. So, we got inside the bus and took our seats in the middle of the bus.

Sitting in the bus, we were just chatting when one man, heavily drunk, entered the bus. He stumbled his way into a seat at the back of the bus. As he walked past our seats, we could smell the stench of liquor emanating from him, and it was so foul, it made me nauseous. I looked around to make see if any of the others had a worse effect. All of them had looks of disgust on their faces, but they seemed alright. Soon, the bus started and we were chatting excitedly and the cool evening breeze flew through the window. After a while, the conductor came to our seats and took all of our money. Of course, he returned the change and also gave us our tickets. As he continued on his duty, we went back to our nattering.

Suddenly, shorty turned his head towards the back of the bus and was looking nervous and tense. I was perplexed and looked where he was looking. I saw that the conductor and the drunken man were having a heated argument about something. Apparently the man boarded the same bus in the same state every single day and he always paid less than the actual charge. The conductor was fed up of letting him go every time, so he was determined to get his full ticket charge that day. As and as their discussion heated up, shorty was getting more and more nervous and even started shaking. None of us others knew why he was so afraid or what to do, so we just watched nervously and hoped for the scuffle to end soon. However, it only got bigger and bigger to a point where the driver actually stopped the bus and came to the back to investigate the matter. Soon enough, even he was involved in the fight and there we were, in the middle of the road, with nowhere to go. The drunken man was very stubborn and refused to pay up as well as to get down from the bus. The driver and the conductor, with the help of two other frustrated passengers tried to remove him from the bus forcibly, but he held on to a rod of the bus very tightly, making it really hard to move him.

As all this was happening behind us, right next to us, shorty was having a breakdown. Tears were running down his cheeks and he was silently crying rivers. Seeing him in such a state, my heart skipped a beat. He was my responsibility and I had to console. I tried to find out what exactly was bothering him, but whenever we asked him, he just wiped his eyes, shook his head and replied, “Nothing.” And then started crying again. Meanwhile, the driver and the conductor decided to take the bus back into the town and handover the drunkard to the police. The driver soon started the bus and turned it around, towards the police station. All the way to the police station, shorty continued on crying and glancing nervously at the inebriated guy at the back. I thought that maybe he was afraid that the drunken man would harm us in some way. So, we tried to console him saying that he could do no harm and that the police would take care of the situation, but he just could not be controlled.

Soon the bus stopped near the police station, and the police dragged the man out of the bus, gave him a good beating on the street and took him into the police station. The driver and conductor gave the report to the police and the bus was soon on its way. Once the bus started, shorty went to sleep, being very exhausted. When he woke up after sometime, I could sense that he was feeling a tad ashamed for crying like that in front of us. We comforted him and asked him exactly why he had been so afraid. He replied “I am afraid of people shouting and fighting each other. If one of them goes out of control and starts going crazy, then he will hurt those around him. And since we are in a bus and had nowhere to go, I was afraid that the drunk man would go out of control and would do something that would cause harm to someone in the bus. That thought made me really afraid and nervous and I just could not calm myself down.” His fear seemed childish at that point, but after reflecting back on the incident over the years, I must say that what he felt was what was hidden in the deepest corner of all of our minds. We all had consciously repressed it in order to feel brave, but he had filled his mind with that fear. Maybe if he was older and stronger, he would have done something to stop the man before he could hurt others, while we on the other hand, would still have been sitting down and feeling oh so brave! Or maybe he too, would have grown up to become someone like us.

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The Bus Incident

**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?”

“Excuse me?”

“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.