“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.