That little girl in the red and gold lehenga, for example, one day in Chennai - it has been so many months since I last saw her, and yet, I cannot alight a bus without wondering about her, what she's doing, whether she's still pulling and punching at her dad's pock-marked cheeks, the way she was when I first saw her.
And over here, there is the music. A strange kind of background, jarring and yet, so completely melting into what I'm feeling. Harsh Punjabi bhangra, mingled sometimes with the raunchiness of a Bollywood number, all of which are punctuated by the saucy voice of the DJ as she speaks in English to the turbaned bus driver who has just dipped his moustachios in a pitcher full of creamy lassi. Like the way I have just sucked the juice from my rabri-stuffed parantha... delicately, holding the steaming delicacy in both hands, nimbling at the crust, and then probing with my tongue till I feel the hot sweetness ooze into my mouth, and then I suck slowly, pulling in some more of it. In some strange, undecipherable way, I think of the parantha that I'd eaten just minutes before alighting this particular bus, and no, I would not have it any other way.
No other way, but to hear the fast tempo of the young men, tired and haggard-looking, in white pinstriped synthetic shirts who get on the bus and start chanting - they're selling a part of themsleves, I think, and cannot but help peer closely, almost indecently. A map of the city, complete with the knowledge any blue-blooded vampire would want of where the city's blood banks are, what any tireless sleeper would want to know of the bus routes that criss-cross the metropolis, promising always of something greater, more magnificent, more awe-inspiring - like this simple ride, next to a young man who looks old, tired from his day, who sits slumped in his seat, and I'm dreading the fact that, any second now, his head will fall onto my shoulder, and I still don't know how I'll react when that happens.
But I have my window. And my window has me. My window has memories for me. Of so many other bus rides in another city, where I sat there with a girl dozing next to me, her shoulders also slumped, her head tilted slightly back, resting on my torso, and my arms around her, holding her close so that she doesn't fall, so that she doesn't wake, and I am content merely to watch out of the window, at the waves in the distance, rolling by under the watchful blue moon, making little rustling noises as they kiss the shore, that I can hear even above the solitary roar of the bus, as it rambles its way through the dead of night, through the dead of the countryside.
Another time, another city, no other person next to me. I watch the clouds gather in battle formation overhead, grey and black and silver and blue and a strange shade of ochre, and I message the person I'm thinking of... I wish you were here, I punch in my cell phone, I wish you were here with me, and we were out in the rain, I wish I could kiss you, and then we could make love... as the imagined rain softly patters on the grass outside the bungalow. I wait for an answer to my message, that never comes.
What does come is another emaciated-looking young man, in the trademark white pinstriped synthetic shirt that sticks to his body, replete with the odor of a long day's tediousness. He's chanting those same lines again, about blood banks, and bus routes, and shopping malls, and old historic buildings in this old historic city - all of which can be purchased from him at the behest of a crumpled piece of paper bearing a bald old man's face on it - and I smile almost in mean spite to myself. You're too late, I want to tell him, the other one has already come and gone, you're just too late - and I'm mean, yes, but I melt too at the thought, and I wonder what it is he will do now, after his brilliant oratory is over, and he has finished passing his little books around, but they all come back to him, with nary a crumpled piece of currency?
Maybe he'll sigh, like I did, and hop off the bus, and try his luck in another one - 53A, from Uttam Nagar to Lal Qila, green and white and grey, DTC, Propelled by Clean Fuel, say the painted blue letters.
Damn! I ripped my pants on a nail, as I hurried to my feet.
I think this is my stop.