When things go your way, you can never be too sure of why they’re going your way. As suspicious as it is when everything goes in your favour, you accept it, mentally rejoice and move on. And that might very well be your biggest mistake.
It was a normal sunday evening. I was travelling on a bus that would take me back to my new home once more, the home I had moved into recently for work. Everything was going well – the night was young, the moon was bright and the inky black sky was almost clear. Here and there, grey clouds lingered, and the incessant honking of some trucks on the expressway didn’t really improve the experience.
But at the same time, it was all familiar. Over the last few months, I had grown accustomed to the wisps of grey clouds, the shrill sounds of the heavy vehicles zooming on the beautiful roads of Maharashtra and the seeming long journey. I might even add that the absence of this feeling, this slight annoyance mingling with the cold and bleak atmosphere, would have seemed out of place. So, in short, all was going perfectly fantastic.
And then the stupid bus broke down.
It wasn’t all that surprising… In the sense that the day had been good. A little too good. So good that perhaps, something was eventually going to bring the happiness down a few notches back to normal.
Hmm… Let me see how it began, shall we? So the morning went perfectly fine. I woke up late, happy and content. After having slept like a baby, things were sure to start off nice the next morning, just as they did. I had breakfast and lunch with my family, had a wonderful, home-cooked meal and had a nice hot bath with many comforts in my life that I had been missing, like a shower, shampoo and ample supply of perfect-to-the-touch hot water.
Only to add to the euphoria of a fantastic, albeit perfectly normal, morning was the even more perfectly normal afternoon that included me reaching the inter-city bus stop perfectly on time, as a direct result of which, I did not have to wait in a long line for the ticket.
I think in hindsight, this is where I should’ve know that something would eventually go wrong. No God in their right mind would let me have this peace of mind where for ONCE I didn’t have to stand in line for a ticket. All the other times, I had to wait in that damned line for more than an hour just to get a seat on the bus. But this particular day? No. I reached the bus stop, and boarded my bus as soon as I did.
Not only that, but I, for the first time in history of intercity travelling, got a window seat… That too right in the front! It was like magic.
I guess you can see how ugly it felt when the bus started steaming at its mouth.
It started with a small screech. A seemingly unnoticeable sound. I was wearing my earphones, listening to Can’t Stop The Feeling by Justin Timberlake, when this highly intrusive noise pierced through the melody of J.T. And as expected, it grabbed a lot of attention (so I guess I cannot call it an unnoticeable sound). Babies were crying, woken up from their slumber; old ladies were clutching each others’ hands, wondering where the noise was coming from; men and women alike were sitting a little but straighter in their seats now.
And the driver drove on, without any signs of distress. The noise went as quickly as it came. Everything went back to normal… Almost.
The bus was slowing down! My fellow co-passengers, most of them groggy from their sleep, were indifferent to the speed. They didn’t notice it. But I did. And the engine was humming a little differently too.
I tried to ignore it. I couldn’t. It resulted in me pausing my music every few seconds to see if the humming had gone back to normal.
It did not.
And finally, after crossing the halfway mark, the front of the bus started smoking. Thick, fog-like smoke was emanating from the front, engulfing the whole of the driver’s cabin in it. At first, it was like steam: white and translucent. But as the driver tried to rev the engine harder, the smoke started turning black and opaque.
The engine died sudden as a stroke, panic rushed through the bus like a flood and people started yelling in surprise and fear.
In my mind, as I watched the scene unfold, we were going to be fine. Although a little barbecue-y, the smoke was not going to blow the bus up! Only stop it from running. Of course, little did I pay attention to the fact that I WAS NOT A FUCKING MECHANIC TO BE SURE ABOUT THAT.
The driver was smart though. You see, we were only a couple of metres away from a pit stop. A food plaza loomed in the distance, but with a broken down engine on a high speed expressway, there was no chance we would reach there.
While the cars zoomed past us, rather mockingly, the driver put the gear in neutral and took his foot off the brakes. You see, it’s a simple rule of physics: if you’re on top of a hill, and you take your foot off the brakes, you will roll down it!
I smiled at the sheer brilliance of it as the bus slowly gained speed. It rolled down the express way, snaking its way past some tree branches. And finally, with our hearts in our mouths, we felt the bus screech to a halt.
If you thought breaking down in a bus next to a food plaza, as opposed to somewhere in the Ghats, would improve things, it so did not.
Chaos reigned. People started shouting, yelling and fighting with the driver. The driver pleaded with the passengers to remain calm. He instructed them to not panic (apparently he was a genius only with a vehicle, cuz that was some BAD advice) and informed them that they would be accommodated into the next bus.
Of course, accommodating 30 something passengers into the next bus is no fruit cake. Not only that, but also the fact that our bus was one of the last buses to run, and imagining myself stand in a bus for the next one hour before it reached my destination, the picture I had painted in my mind was painful. So while I tried to think of alternate ways, people fought with the driver.
The driver tried to reason with the passengers. It was night time, there was no way to assign 30 something seats in only two packed buses. I felt sorry for him as I watched him being verbally abused.
It was not his fault that the engine broke down. Or that it broke down without a warning, in the middle of the night. And thankfully, he was tactful enough not to shout back the abuses.
The next bus came, people immediately ran to huddle near its door as it came to a halt. There were only 6 empty seats on it. Fuck.
The remaining 20 something people, excluding me, went back to fight with the driver. As the night wore on, the driver was himself steaming and reddening. I did the only thing I could: I took the other bus.
Yes, it didn’t have a place to sit. Yes, it would be horrible for me to stand the rest of the journey. In fact, a few others joined me. They saw fit to take this bus, and face the situation head on rather than waste their time and energy at something that was out of their control. And of course it would be terrible to see the rest sit and sleep comfortably on their seats. But it was my only option.
And as I saw myself comfortably stand (and later even share a seat with someone else), I glanced on at those who refused to climb on as they continued to hurl abuses at the driver, oblivious to the reality of the situation, completely disregarding the fact that if not for their ego, they would be home soon. The other bus left soon after I climbed aboard. I reached home in one piece.
The next day, I heard from a localite that the rest of the remaining passengers that we had left behind had to actually camp out in the food plaza and go back the following morning. I couldn’t even imagine sleeping on the steps of the plaza.
And that, my friends, is how my journey through the night on a steaming bus came to an end.
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