The bus started, and on the way out of the frontier town, it took on the additional services of being a local shuttle – it picked up people at small towns along the way and dropped them off at other seemingly smaller towns. The local townsfolk who entered and departed the bus were decidedly unabashed about finding a place to sit on the crowded bus. Thirty minutes into the journey, he found himself sharing his 5-foot berth with two men who had found enough space to sit next to where he had stretched his legs. He resigned himself to telling these men to get off his berth after 10 pm, even though he knew their only options were either the uncomfortable middle seats between the last berths or the dusty floor.

Among those who entered the bus and found the middle seats suitable enough were two women – the kind of woman who lent this parched western land much needed color – women brightly arrayed in red, pink and purple sarees, with white plastic bracelets that came up to their shoulders, and a veil demurely held over their faces with their teeth. He had spent enough time there to recognize the archetypical Westland Woman if he ever met one anywhere else – their almost full-moon-shaped faces, their large and direct eyes and their ever-present smile that never broke into a titter or a giggle. Seated next to him on the straight-backed middle seat was the younger of the two women, squeezed on the other side by her companion of considerable heft, seemingly destined for an uncomfortable night of travel.

8PM : time for dinner. Consuming any food on the tail-end of a bus is even harder than riding at the aforementioned coach-coccyx. Morsels of food brought up to the mouth computed their own trajectories to get there; a slight miscalculation would end with a smear of almost-always-yellow gravy dribbling down your chin.

She brought out her tidily wrapped dinner, but had no place to rest it. She turned toward him and tentatively placed the plastic dish on his berth, to see how he would react. With two men already on his berth, he didn’t think another minor encroachment of his domain mattered. He let her eat without complaint.

After eating her food, seemingly emboldened by his passivity and the general desire to stretch out after a good meal, the woman decided to rest her legs on his berth. Now the lower portion of what used to be his berth had a grand total of two pairs of legs and two human behinds perched comfortably. Come 10PM, and they were history, he declared to himself…

***

next… Strangers in the Night | Part 1