The bus is crowded, and the conductor only keeps taking in more people. They get in, slip some coins into the conductor’s callused hands after haranguing over two rupees, five rupees, how is this fifteen rupees it should be ten! A trashy song from the hinterlands of the northern country plays; someone farts and the smell wafts around everywhere, mixed with the scent of skin, sweat, disappointments, a hot sunny winter afternoon. A short, stocky man with a bit of orange in his unkempt beard tries to balance himself; his belly provides a cushion for a boy to rest his head against. A young woman climbs in; too short to reach the bars at the top, she grabs a window bar and moves in chaotic rhythm with the intoxicated bus rushing through the streets like a madman.
I don’t miss him anymore.
I get down after pushing and shoving aside a woman with way too much vermillion on her forehead. The bus speeds away, as if glad to have let go of me on the road. I look up; the neighbouring bookstore is closed. I plunge one step down, one step further into a black puddle that doesn’t exist on the road in front of me and make my way to the college gates.
Crossing the road is a challenge but hey, I’ve crossed it already – here I am, at the ugly, blue, welcoming gates of my college that hold my tetchy, uncertain universe for four years. Three now. Two and a half. In a split second, it will all be gone; time has a way of competing with our commitment to what or who we love; at the end, our fickleness gives way. The ship sinks, the old man selling noodles and tea on a street in college lights up his country cigar. Time always wins.
I step up the little raised sidewalk and well, walk – it’s a hot day indeed, and the numerous rickshaw drivers outside are quiet. I can hear the Arctic Monkeys crash against my eardrums and the sound of my footsteps pressing the ground as I walk; if I wanted to, I could paint a pretty much accurate picture of friction, the madness underneath this quiet universe pushing, shoving my feet forward, egging me on towards where I first forged memories with you and told you that I like eating raw onions.
There’s the big canteen, of course. Milling with people and an excess of oil and smoke; you could smell some banana juice a little ahead to the left of the entrance if you wished. There’s always a dirty washroom out to greet you at the rightmost corner.
I treat myself to a plate of chilli potatoes, fries doused in spicy, tangy sauce. The plate is smaller and plastic now, but the prices just the same. The orange, fiery sauce covers bits of onions and capsicum besides the potatoes themselves; its aim is to set fire. Only nobody will charge it for arson and the ulcers it leaves on the tongue.
I plunge my fork into one piece and move it around in the pond of sauce and slowly let it slide into my mouth. And immediately I feel someone light a matchstick on my tongue; little embers, fiery beginnings spear across my taste-buds.
I go out after fifteen minutes, up in flames; a tiny shop sells flavoured milk, and I saunter along to where the pigeons flutter about the banyan tree right in front of the shop. Even the bees are fast asleep; men go by in light, orange sweaters.
There are trees, and there is the sun; there are people who welcome me because it doesn’t really matter, and if I wanted to, I could walk up to a boy and kiss him on the tip of his nose.