Radhika Venkatarayan

The Bus Ride

This bus is very crowd­ed. I should have wait­ed for the next one.

I was not going to get a place to sit. Now I need to make a choice again. Which of these tired and sweaty bod­ies should I press myself against today? Which of these stranger’s unwel­com­ing chests should I resist rest­ing my head against today? I looked at my watch, will­ing for time to pass quick­ly. I looked at my watch again, will­ing for the bus to move faster. There was din­ner to be made, home­work to be super­vised, clothes to be fold­ed and prepa­ra­tions for anoth­er day of liv­ing to be made. I was get­ting back from work. I was going home to work. No, I wasn’t com­plain­ing. I don’t usu­al­ly com­plain. Others com­plain all the time. Like that lady who is sit­ting on the third row, on the left, by the win­dow. While bod­ies around her bare­ly have air to breathe, that lady, on the third row, on the left, by the win­dow is com­plain­ing.

The bus is so packed, how will I get down when my stop arrives, she says. Her voice raised, as though, some­how it is our fault that we want­ed to go back to our hous­es.

Home, not house, I often remind myself as the bus with­out any hint of grace, comes to a screech­ing halt. I don’t need to look above the heads of oth­ers to know that it is not my stop. I don’t need to count the num­ber of times the bus stops to know when my home has arrived. I just know. Been on this bus and this route for five years now. I can tell when home arrives.

A few bod­ies trick­le out of the bus and a lot more get added. This doesn’t seem fair. The bus is unusu­al­ly packed today. I want to reach for a tis­sue from inside my bag and wipe my brow. I want to reach for my water-bot­tle inside my bag and take a sip. I want to take that crushed choco­late bar and feel its gooey, rich, creamy and sweet taste on my tongue. I want so many things. Like that poet my father used to quote, a thou­sand desires of the heart, each one of them life con­sum­ing. But there is no space to reach for my bag. There is no space to move my arms. There is no way that I can wipe sweat, drink water or eat choco­late with­out trou­bling one of the bod­ies around me. And so, I just stand there, star­ing at chests and look­ing at my watch.

Another stop, this time the bus is gen­tler. This one is not my home either. The bus gets less crowd­ed. And I take in some air and enjoy the brief respite. And then the new­er bod­ies push them­selves in. Newer per­fumes make an entry. Cheap per­fumes that make an entrance before the body that is wear­ing it. I try not to recoil or cringe. These are bod­ies, just bod­ies, who am I to judge them? Who am I to feel supe­ri­or over them? Who am I?

The chests that I am star­ing at keep chang­ing. Sometimes they are men. Sometimes they are women. And some­times I can’t tell. But I usu­al­ly don’t care. Until today that is, when it was the turn of the man in the blue shirt. His broad chest now stands next to mine. There was per­fume, just the hint of it, very like­ly the one that he wore in the morn­ing, twelve hours ago. But he also smelt of whisky, per­haps sin­gle malt. I won­der if he drank it out of a nice glass. Did he add ice? Did he mix some­thing in it? I think he prob­a­bly had it neat, he seemed liked that kind of per­son. I stared at his hands, clutch­ing an evening news­pa­per. Brown hands with long fin­gers, like an artist. He prob­a­bly had a firm hand­shake. Warm, com­fort­ing and beau­ti­ful hands. I almost want­ed to pull his hands towards me, just to check, because I was curi­ous and because home seemed so far away.

Another stop. Again not my home. No bod­ies were got rid of here, but a few got added any­way. I could feel the reper­cus­sions. New bod­ies pushed the bod­ies near the door, and they in turn pushed the ones next to them, and then next to them and so on. Now my own chest was neat­ly aligned itself against that of the man in the blue shirt. His thighs pressed against mine. Our hips joined togeth­er. His whisky breath and my laven­der per­fume min­gling and cre­at­ing some­thing ter­ri­ble and dan­ger­ous. Our bod­ies fit­ted each other’s per­fect­ly. I tried not to shift around too much. I tried to be as still as pos­si­ble. And then sud­den­ly, I relaxed, my chest now pressed against this stranger with beau­ti­ful brown hands. It had been a long day and I was tired. I shut my eyes. I could now almost taste the whiskey. Yes, def­i­nite­ly sin­gle malt. And then I felt it. That knot on my chest. Small, soft and secre­tive.

This bus is very crowd­ed. I should have wait­ed for the next one.

~

Radhika Venkatarayan lives in Chennai, India. Her work has pre­vi­ous­ly appeared in Out of Print Magazine, One Forty Fiction, Muse India and Helter Skelter Magazine. She was a final­ist in the Feminist Flash Fiction Contest 2011 organ­ised by Mookychick. She work with a non-prof­it in the area of health­care.