It was a pleasant Friday evening, quiet and clean after a brief rainfall. So pleasant as to lift Shanthi into better spirits upon the prospect of travelling despite the fact that she had a horrible day. She was almost humming to herself when the bus started and the wind dispersed her carefully kempt hair. She had the whole window to herself and was particularly happy about it after a tryingly humid and wretched afternoon.
“I get a call from my boss right when I’m in the middle of my bi-weekly P.G. classes right when I was unfortunate enough not to keep my phone in the silent mode. The professor, as hideous as I always knew her to be, promptly asked me to leave the class for the little folly. And then my boss rings up again and there he goes, ‘DON’T YOU EVER CUT MY CALL AGAIN! EVER!’ not giving me the chance to explain what a peeing-pants experience his call had been!” she later loudly explained to an excessively social and merry elderly lady beside her—not lacking good humour even though the passenger who just occupied the seat in front of her, pushed back his end of the window obstructing more than half of the wind flow she previously enjoyed. Knowing Shanthi, this is not the kind of thing she can stay shant about.
Surely he did not mean to be rude…though the way he hastily pushed back the window implies rudeness, it might as well be thoughtlessness…. She gently pushed the window till she covered almost half the window space the intruder claimed. She knew this was a bit unfair, but being a part-time saleswoman with a beastly boss, she was knowledgeable enough to begin a negotiation (however silent or insignificant it might be!) unfairly so that your opponent would be obliged to end it fairly or better even, slightly to your benefit. However this time, the person pushes it back almost totally covering her portion with a sudden impatient thrust obviously irritated and with no regard what-so-ever to social niceties. Baffled, she sits back in disgust.
I am the one who’s supposed to be irritated!! She mumbles to herself. With anger raising her pulse, she could feel the irritation throbbing in her temples. She wished the old lady would say something very nasty to the impertinent young man (a man, she knew through the semi reflection on the window. And only a young man can be so rude to someone) in the front seat that only the old are eligible to say, even though it was apparent the old lady faked sincerity. But it was not to be as the old lady was already snoring softly with her mouth half open exposing a few teeth in various stages of putrefaction. The sight and the sound brought utter disgust to Shanthi and on an anger driven impulse she pushed the window forward again with a firmness that did not recede even at her opponents reverse thrust. The window went back and forth a couple more times till it settled at a point that is almost-fair for Shanthi. She wanted no more of the un-civility, so she compromised. She was furious at herself for letting the temper overcome her leaving her shaky and she was doubly furious at the calm indifferent coldness with which the intruder tackled her. She vented her anger on the conductor of the bus who did the unfortunate mistake of passing by.
“Where’s the change for my 50 rupee note I gave you for the ticket? You promised to give it to me in five minutes. You think I would forget about it and let you enjoy a fat tip? You better get back to me with the change. Now!” she lashed at him.
She immediately regretted the outbreak.
It was all because of his insultingly impertinent attitude. She thought wryly as she stared at the front seat. A mild gush of wind bringing in the sweet smell of wild jasmines calmed her nerves a little and she decided that she would let her I-pod perform its magic on her nerves too. She fell into a short uneasy sleep while the I-pod played soothing romantic songs.
A while later she felt queasy and uncomfortable and woke up to find that the peace treaty has been broken! The window was moved again (though just a little) when the enemy was asleep!!
What a back-stabber!!! She stared at the semi reflection of him on glass pane—showing his left hand, neck, left ear and a portion of his hair and unshaven cheek—with such fierce contempt that she was sure he’d have burned had he been facing her.
Enough of this uncivil nonsense. I know how to handle these kinds of guys.
She then slides her hand towards the guy and knocks softly on the window adjacent to his face. She doesn’t wait for his acknowledgement. “Uh…listen, I have a problem with travelling you know…I tend to puke while in a bus. So if you won’t give me enough window I might as well vomit over you!” She laughs nervously and retreats and waits for him to pull back the pane himself. But he does no such thing. He stays there unmoving. Mortified at his callousness she shouts, “You! I’m talking to you! How dare you act so rude! When I ask you so politely to open up the window a little, why don’t you bloody do so?!”
The old lady wakes up with a start at the commotion around her and a passenger sitting beside the intruder calls back, “What seems to be the problem girl? Why are you shouting? You’ll wake the poor lad up,” he says pointing to the intruder.
She colours as she looks at the peering faces of awakened passengers. “What a brat!” they all must be thinking….Deeply embarrassed, she says nothing and stares into space through her window. “You should keep your temper at bay girl. Raising your voice over a window! And tongue lashing the conductor— ”
“Don’t bullshit me old lady,” Shanthi says brusquely cutting her short. Not looking at the old woman she adds, “And keep your rotten mouth shut while you sleep, will you?” almost to herself.
“WHAT! What did you say girl?” the old woman begins to which Shanthi makes no reply. Encouraged by the audience around, the lady takes up a discussion on how totally fresh the current generation is.
More than anything, Shanthi is more concerned that ‘the intruder’ might’ve been awake and had heard the whole scene out! The sadistic pleasure this might have brought him made her clench her fists till her nails dug into her skin. In the silence that followed, every detail appeared amplified and abhorrent. The old woman’s snore, someone behind her clicking fingers continually, a lock of her own hair that continued to fall into her eyes, the minute bumps the bus made and the sudden whiff of wind that ensued after a vehicle passed their own, a piece of polythene fluttering at an unknown location….everything bothered her and more than anything the semi reflection of the unmoving, unflinching ‘intruder’.
Another bout of uneasy sleep made her extremely jealous of ‘the intruder’ for one more reason.
How could he bloody sleep so peacefully?!
When she woke up she saw that once again ‘the intruder’ took advantage of her sleep and trespassed. But this time she wasn’t very sure if he did push his way back a little or if it was an illusion. Whatever it might be, he sure did enjoy a better window space than she did. And this time he even rested his elbow on it so that she wouldn’t have a chance to push back.
But you’re wrong buddy. I’m going to get you now. After all God does provide a chance for vengeance and of course certainly provides punishment, which is what you’re going to get now!
Without thinking anymore she took a sharp breath and pushed the window pane as hard as she could. She thought she even heard bone cracking. There was an ‘Ouch!’ and a groan before a handsome face contorted in pain and anger turned towards her. She fully intended to give him a crooked grin (and the finger if possible) but she just gasped. So loud that someone might think she received some news of death.
“Sir!! I’m… Is that you! I’m…I’m…I’m so sorry! Did I hurt you? Certainly not! I just meant to open the window!” She rambled on in astonishment, embarrassment and mortification. It was her boss’s younger brother Prashanth. She certainly intended to keep her job. But after he accepted her apology…for trying to break his arm and assuring her that she did not hurt him that much, her old resentment returned and she wasn’t ready to forget his behaviour. She almost wished she could’ve hurt him a little more badly! But Prashant instantly turned very sweet and amicable and charming and he craned his neck above his seat for so long to talk to her that she had to forgive his impertinence explaining it to her groaning vengeance seeking self that he owes such behaviour to causes like xenophobia, excessive affinity to fights (because belligerence might be a heavy word) etc.
“So why don’t you come sit beside me here? The man beside me just left at Aganampudi.” He offers.
She almost says yes before she remembers! The battle! If she goes beside him, he wins. He’d have the entire window for himself! She couldn’t let this happen!!
“No. Its alright, I’m much better here.” She says with a smile only to receive another mocking yet charming smile back.
“But I’m not…Aaagh! My neck is aching from talking to you.”
It was almost ten minutes they started conversation. She then looked very uncomfortably at him.
“Well….I thought we were having a lovely conversation. But now I know you think I’m a bore.” He adds.
“Oh…no! Nothing of that sort. Not at all! Its just that all my luggage is here and its such a pain moving….and….” she searched for stronger excuses but none came to her mind.
“ALL RIGHT! You can have my window seat!” Prashant exclaims finally!
It takes a moment to digest what he just said. She breaks into a sudden incoherent stupid cackle. Quickly recovering, she smiles sweetly and says, “I love ice-breakers!” and hops into his seat.
With quite a bit of satisfaction she notices that she had given him a nice blue bruise on his elbow but resumes her apologies and fusses over the bruise like his mother.
Their acquaintance that began here eventually lead to love. But not until long after does Prashanth confess that he purposefully changed seats after seeing her in the bus and purposefully provoked her temper which he knew was short.
“But don’t you worry dearie, I love the way your nose flares up when you are angry.”
“You know what, this isn’t FUNNY!”
“Aah…There it is!” And a little kiss finds its way to her nose.