By Kamlesh Pandey
The man behind me was drunk. The man in front of me was dumb. The woman across me was dirty, anybody could see that, and sick. She had tied a dirty scarf around her head, just above the forehead. I had seen her throwing up when the bus had stopped for the lunch and since then I had been looking at her. I sort of developed some sympathy for her. She was traveling alone and I wondered where her people would be. I too was traveling alone and I knew where my people were. I don’t miss my people much, but that woman somehow made me miss the folks at home. I nearly phoned them but there was no network at that place and time of the day. While I was trying to make a phone call I happened to look at the time in the phone. It was 14:14. That reminded me of the date way back to 2007. I had received a message from one of my friends reminding me what a special day that was. That was 07-07-07. When I remember things I sort of become happy, because most of the time I think I don’t have a good memory. I am sort of happy even now. I can very clearly remember that sick woman, that drunken fella and that poor dumb guy. Whenever I see things that I fear of, I become melancholic. The drunken fellow made me feel guilty, reminding me of my own drunken babbling, and almost made me think over my plan of the day: a beer in the evening, after settling down in a hotel. The dumb guy stir something in me. For a moment I thought I too had gone dumb and just to make sure I hadn’t I asked the man sitting next to me if he was in the army. We hadn’t spoken to each-other before that. He said ‘yes and no!’ ‘Ok, so you are retired?’ I kind of prolonged the talk. He laughed and turned his whole body towards me and said ‘I am not in the army, if you mean to ask if I am in the Nepal Army; but, yes, I am in the army, if you know that there is a greater force and it’s called P.L.A. But how did you know I am in the army?’ ‘I too would be if I were as strong as you are!’ that was my now-shut-up-I-am-not-dumb sentence in plain disguise. He was trying to say something but I took out the book and started reading. And later in the evening I appreciated his sense of understanding to not to disturb someone who is pretending to read! I closed the book soon enough and looked at the sick woman on the sly. She had closed her eyes and she was sitting uncomfortably, or may be she was in comfort with one of her legs on the seat and one of her hands on the head.
The bus bumped against the stone (perhaps) and I almost fell off the seat. My water bottle wasn’t lucky enough, though; it fell down and rolled down underneath the seat of the dumb guy. As I had expected, he gave it back to me. I said ‘thank you!” and he nodded “not at all!” I overheard the drunken fellow complaining “if you don’t know how to drive ask for the help from me! Bloody murderer! Is not he?” I told myself, ‘No, he isn’t!”
The bus stopped. Some of the passengers stood up and started collecting their belongings. The man sitting next to me seemed to be in confusion. He sort of stood up, but not completely and rubbernecked to look outside the bus through the window, not through the one by his seat but through the one by the front seat. “You wanna get down?” I asked. “Yes and No!” he answered not looking at me. “Ok”, I mumbled. “Yes! yes yes yes! I am getting out!” I don’t know what he saw outside; he was suddenly in a hurry to get down. I stood up and let him go. When the bus resumed its journey I saw the dumb guy walking alone. And I saw a part of me walking too, alone. I waved at him and he waved back at me, but in such a way that that made me think of him for a long time…till now. I could see the innocence, beauty, grace and something painful, too, in his gesture.
I looked at the woman. She was looking at me, through me perhaps. Her sunken eyes had a story to tell. I lowered my eyes, for I didn’t want to read hers wrongly. But my eyes fluttered to look at her again. I tried to smile. She turned away. I looked straight and I saw the black stains on the seat cover of the front seat. I turned back and mine too had the same stains on it. That reminded me of several other buses with their seat covers stained. And out of the blue, I remembered someone telling me that the dirtiest thing in the world is the money. She had meant the notes and the coins, but I had become thoughtful and thus stupid to tell her how indeed it was, the way it rules the world, like politics! And upon hearing that thoughtful remark she had laughed. The way she had laughed was enough to prove my stupidity. Yeah, I am stupid.
Now I think it’s time to tell you about the journey in a more personal level.
I was mad. I was mad at myself. I wanted to drop some insanity. I wanted to come back ‘sane.’ I wanted to be the sheep, finally. I wanted to be ready to say ‘yes’ to everything…no matter how strict a ‘no’ thing it might be. I wanted to keep up the family name, forgetting my own name, my conscience. I wanted to smirk and forget to smile. I wanted to hurt someone and get something ‘precious’ out of it. I wanted to be a ‘man.’
It’s no use to go back to what made me do this. It just makes me think how I have (had) been standing against the world. It just makes me think how I have (had) been tolerating all the teachings that make us become the meanest creature in the world. Even now nothing much has changed though. But, at that point of time, I thought it would be easier to be a sheep than to be a sensitive and intelligent man. I thought of going to somewhere peaceful and close to nature to give my weird thinking a meaningful farewell. I booked a ticket to Rasuwa and the next morning I slipped by the closed doors.
I was sad. But what made me sadder along the journey is the invisible man’s struggle for existence. The ‘man’ here is the dumb guy and so is the sick woman. I am not a thinker as such, neither am I a philosopher, though the moment I say I am not a philosopher I am already it. The dumb guy was gone. The sick woman got down at the bus stop in Syafrubesi. I was the last one to get down, following the drunken man. And the moment I was out of the bus I was blank in the mind. I sat on the bench outside one of the cheap restaurants and pondered over my journey. I was escaping like a loser. I told myself ‘don’t do this, for even if you try you won’t be able to do this. This is your nature, your true self and if you kill it, all that is left is a leaf in the wind.’
I drank beer in the evening, as I had planned. Next day I came back home.
And I say no to a ‘no’ thing and I love my insanity. I still listen to The Doors, Pink Floyd… While I am writing this I am listening to a covered version of Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley. And still once in a while I read On the Road, The Catcher in the Rye, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest…When it comes to music and books, all I can say is either wow or fantastic, can’t explain it to others. And still once in a while I sit to write. Sometimes I make it worth reading at least twice, and other times I just delete it saying bad writing. And still once in a while I ask myself “what next, sir?”