The Adventure of a Lifetime 

“In the desert even a puddle seems like the ocean” I recall someone expressing this sentiment to me recently and though I had thought of it as just another one of those quotes that appear to be trying too hard to seem like a wise epiphany, I’d be the first to accept that it nonetheless reflects the truth.

It was about 12 or 13 years ago, when we were all little kids and easily excitable, much as little kids are wont to be. We had been camping in the wildside for the summer – the we consisting of a group of the earlier mentioned excitable little kids. A group of six, since I am of the mind to be painfully detailed about these affairs. So there we were, six little kids in the forest, living in a wooden cabin. What could possibly go wrong?

Thinking back, I feel it was the fine cloudy morning, offering a nice break from the sweltering heat of the preceding  days, that inspired the spirit of adventure in us. We had just had our breakfast and were sitting idly when my sister came up with the idea. “Let’s go out and explore. I’m bored of just sitting here all day” she said in a low voice, almost as if talking to herself. The statement had immediate effect on all of us as our eyes grew visibly brighter and we all started yapping like excited dogs. “Oh yes let’s!” said my cousin sister, the eldest of us all. “We could explore the forest. It would be so much fun, just like in the books!” exclaimed her brother. “I’m game for anything if it means we are no longer stuck here” another cousin of mine gave voice to his thoughts. Have no doubts about it, all of us had that sliver of nervousness deep inside of us but none of us was ready to acknowledge it. And so we set off, with little heed to safety and not a bother given to studying the maps of the forest that lay about the cabin.

The cabin had been built in a clearing of the forest, which the tribal people had earlier used as farm land. As such, for a considerable distance either side of the cabin the forest was not too dense, and the journey through this area of the forest was, although pleasant, not exciting enough for us. Soon enough we entered the deeper woods, and we seemed to enter a timeless space as the trees shielded the land below from the sun and the moon alike. Adrenaline pushed through my system, as I am sure it did for the others as well, as we continued on our aimless quest.

By and by the talking slowed down as everyone was taking in their surroundings and trying their best to keep their spirits up. That soon proved to be hard for me because the noises of the various forest insects affected me and I had the creepy feeling of insects crawling over my legs. I tried to shake off the feeling but it only got stronger to the point I couldn’t hold it any longer and started vigorously rubbing and shaking my legs. “Shall we go back?” asked my eldest brother, a hint of uneasiness in his voice. I didn’t know at that point, but the others too weren’t feeling very adventurous suddenly, owing to the creepiness of the forest. Now that we were actually in the forest, the threat of the forest loomed very real, and our ears started magnifying every tiny sound to scary proportions. But, unaware that everyone felt the same, and not wanting to ruin their day on my account, I said firmly “No. Let’s keep going”  And so we continued on, all chatter non existent now.

There were all manners of sounds coming from within the bushes and the branches of the trees but we figured it would be for our own good if we refrained from making any investigations into the matter as that could lead us into unwarranted troubles of all sorts. We just kept going further, with our eldest sister leading the way and the eldest brother making up the rearguard. After the passing of some time during which nothing untoward had happened, all of us calmed down and started rather enjoying the trek as evidenced by the return of the light hearted chatter and laughter  among our midst.

I remember I was walking alongside one of my cousins and we were talking about something or the other, when the two sisters in front of the group stopped suddenly. The eldest sister just had a blank expression on her face with maybe a hint of uneasiness showing but the other one had clasped her hands to her mouth and her face was painted with an expression of deep trauma. With a sense of apprehension I turned round the corner and tried to have a look at what had caused such an effect. There, lying on the forest floor, covered partially in fallen leaves, was a skeleton. A skeleton of a grown human person, all the flesh gone and just the bones casually lying there as if it were a dinosaur skeleton in a museum display. I stood transfixed at the sight, my legs refusing to move and my eyes refusing to look away. My ears registered several sharp intakes of breath from behind me as the rest of the group caught up with us. None of us had the words to express what we felt and as thus there was utter silence for a few moments. I shuffled closer to the cousin next to me and gripped his forearm tightly, not trusting myself to not collapse. Eventually the eldest brother broke the silence “Sh-shall we turn back?” he asked, his voice quivering. “Yes please! Please let’s go back!” I said, my eyes pleading with my sister. I didn’t need to, since she was as affected as any of us by the collection of bones on display at our feet. She quickly turned her back to the terrible yet strangely impressive sight and set forth on the path back.

Somewhere, somehow, either in haste or due to pure bad luck, or more plausibly because of failing to mark our path going in, we went the wrong way out (as one is expected to do in such situations, I gather). We came across a small stream which we had not previously laid our eyes upon, and on following it for a short while we came upon a small lake feeding the stream. This lake we had indeed laid our eyes upon previously, so all was not gloom for us. On reaching the lake, relieved to finally find ourselves somewhere familiar, we decided to rest for a bit and gather our wits. Instead, we ended up losing even more.

The thing is, in a forest, as in civilization, the animals tend to go to the sources of water whenever the need arises for them to quench their thirst. We, the little kids that we were back then, had no knowledge of this and thus were totally shaken out of our skins when we saw a wild lion walk towards the lake on the opposite bank. We all saw the lion at roughly the same time, and I am quite certain that the moment we saw it, the world was six people lighter and the spirit world had gained six new ghosts. Such was the whiteness of our faces and the stillness of our breathing. We must have sat there, completely motionless for a good five minutes, each minute an eternity long, before we regained some semblance of sense. Too afraid to unclench our jaws, we just motioned to each other and slowly started getting farther away from the lake. Crawling at first, then walking on our knees, walking on bent knees later, walking and finally running on our feet, we sure covered the entire evolution of man diagram as we hared ourselves away from the lake. We were tracing our way back along the stream that brought us to the lake in the first place, hoping chance would favour us and we’d find the correct turn this time around. As we were thus running, my eyes happened to look towards the stream for reasons still unknown. And there in that stream keeping up pace with us was like a faithful old dog on an evening jog in the park, was a slithering slimy snake. As soon as I saw the snake I felt my lungs shrink inside my chest as I expelled all the air inside them in one sonorous scream. I turned my head away from the terrifying sight and my legs and the rest of the body soon followed it’s lead as I broke off from the group, running away from the stream into the forest. The crunching of leaves on my heals told me that the others had followed me, though whether they had seen the snake, I neither knew not cared.

We had been running away from the stream, turning this way and that, aimlessly and wildly on instinct, when we felt the trees becoming sparser. A few long steps later we broke into a clearing, and we felt the presence of lady luck in our vicinity for the first time that morning as there came into our view a wooden cabin in the middle of the clearing.

As we approached the welcome sight we slowed down to a casual walk, huffing and puffing profusely due to the extreme exertions of the day. We had run our hands through our hair, wiped our faces on our sleeves, dusted off each other’s clothes and pasted gentle smiles on our faces by the time we reached the gates of the house. Just before we entered the house our eldest sister stopped all of us and with a stern expression said “Now remember! Not a word of this to anyone. Okay?”. Content on seeing all our faces oscillate vertically, she turned back towards the house and led us inside. “Where did you go?” asked our grandma, her white hair ahining against the sun as she was bent down watering the plants in the front yard. We decided it would be good for the well being of the plants if we quickly narrated an abridged version of the happenings. “Nowhere. We were just playing around” we uttered in unison and calmly went inside the house.

That evening a few more cousins of ours came a-visiting and it was when we were telling them the story was when we first named our house “the wooden cabin”, our village as the forest, and our street as the clearing in the forest. The cow skeleton became a human one, while the village lion, which responds better to the name of dog, became a wild lion. Sure there was the snake but what it was swimming in was a hand dug canal transporting water from a man made lake to the nearby agricultural fields. But there certainly were things that were actually left unaltered and unadulterated. Our feeling of adventure was the same, as was the fear and discomfort we experienced. And there were trees that shut out the sun but only for a short stretch, not an entire forest.

So why all these injected dangers? Why bulk up our experience? Why the grandstanding? Well for the little children caught up in boredom-land, that little slice of adventure did actually seem that big of a deal! That little break from everyday monotony was the biggest adventure any of us could dream of. Our lives had been so dried up of any excitement at all, whiling away all our days in the serene village household, that even a hint of it suddenly seemed too much for us. It truly is true then, isn’t it? “In the desert even a puddle seems like the ocean”

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.

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.