I was standing at a bus stop waiting for my bus. I was bored in my room and wanted to be out – moreover, it was lovely weather with cold winds blowing and clouds overhead, the kind of weather that created music in the air and set peacocks dancing. Not everyone danced though; people were already looking for shelter.
I … I felt like just standing out there waiting for nothing all life listening to one’s music.
Now when you are at ease, it is a joy to see people who are in hurry – not to laugh at their expense or to take comfort in their troubles but there is a tranquility in seeing the world moving when you yourself have stopped. It was while being in this mood that I first saw him.
A few not common, yet not unheard of either, combinations in his personality attracted my attention – for example, he was dressed in perfect formals, expensive ones – with ties and watches. And yet his face was not perfectly made. The skin was tanned in parts exposed to sun, the face had hard features, forehead had increased eating into head due to hair loss, a single worry line starting between eyebrows bisected the lower half of this forehead. The very mobile he had in his hand being of the inexpensive sort – not at all going with clothes in terms of economic class. Anyway, if one was to go by his clothes alone, one wouldn’t have expected him to be at a bus stop; one would have thought that he would have a car or at least some sort of personal vehicle.
To me, he was a man trying to rise to a higher class rather than being used to be there. I can’t be sure about that; it is just a theory but such trying-to-reach-ups are not uncommon.
I put him near thirty – a few years either side. He had two files in his hands when I first heard his voice from distance (loud and strong – I could hear it through headphones) – calling for the bus presently about to leave the stop to wait for him.
I looked into the direction to see the source of the voice. He was running up, waving his hands signaling for the bus to wait for him; the first time I saw him. He was some distance away and though ticket conductor did notice him, he whistled the bus to start anyway – deciding not to wait for him anyway; which was probably the right thing to do since it was time and he wouldn’t have guessed what this slight action of him was going to result in.
He kept running anyway despite the fact that now there was no chance for him to catch the bus – and suddenly tripped himself falling on his knees and hands – the two folders he was holding in his hands came loose and pages from them were flown away by the winds – and in one of fate’s cruel jokes, it was this moment that it started to rain and altogether heavily. Other people who were standing in open ran for shelter, though he didn’t move an inch. After looking down on his hands, he was still on his knees, he suddenly started crying – sobs and all; and could be heard at a distance despite that suppressing the sweet sound of rain and music I was listening to.
The sound of him crying turned the atmosphere so gloomy that all sounds that preceded his sudden wailing seemed to silence and his mourning cut through that silence with an intensity impossible to ignore.
I took my headphones off.
Obviously I, and I think all others that happened to be the audience of the scene. were shocked at seeing him mourn like that – and he did so for a great while. Yes, he was in a hurry and had missed the bus but that in itself couldn’t be the reason for this kind of mourning –he was mourning as if someone dear to him had just died. No reason must be something else – maybe he was going to meet a dying patient. it all looked nonsense. Anyway if that was the case he wouldn’t have seen as emotionally stable as he was before tripping –though even then he had shown a great urgency in trying to catch the bus ….
He mourned, still on his knees, looking sometimes at his hand and sometimes on the folder that had opened – the pages were being destroyed by rain.
…. No, maybe, he was up for a job interview? His appearance, his dress and documents in his hand; they all added up. Still missing or being late for an interview by itself doesn’t make you so sad.
It was a painful sight – watching him moan like that.
I have ever since scolded myself for my doing nothing to console him – I have often wondered how much could a single gesture – a hand on his shoulder, a word or even a smile ( a smile always seeks a smile in return) would have done to him … but I, like almost all others – many of them were talking about him, stood there as bystanders; curious, maybe sympathetic but if so only uselessly so. Almost all others – for at least one person told him not to worry, though in an indifferent tone – and told him that a bus goes his route every ten minutes.
This though didn’t cheer him up.
I have often wondered why I didn’t try to do something for him – it sits at your conscience the inaction in such times. I have tried to think about the reasons. Although any explanation may have been affected by self-justifying bias but still I feel a need to document them. One reason is a shock – which could explain the inactivity initially and later one gets carried away with the momentum of inaction.
Another reason was that I had learned from previous experiences that people are not always comfortable being consoled, more so by strangers. They are skeptic of later’s intentions believing them to be laughing internally at their cost. Moreover, I wasn’t particularly well dressed myself; and people this well dressed are often likely to be prejudiced against poorly dressed folks like me – at least that has been my observation, though it may be my own stereotype. Still, I can maintain that I have seen significant differences in strangers’ attitudes towards me according to the way I have dressed (or whether and how many English words I have used.)
At length his sobs died, though he still didn’t raise his head. He was completely soaked in water. Some of the papers from his files must have been destroyed (though a lot seemed to be saved because they were coated with transparent lamination paper).
The rain too had lightened; now washing away the tears it had caused.
My bus arrived and went, I decided not to take it.
I know none of the above explanations can justify my inactivity and there can’t be a justification – I’m to be blamed but one must try to know the root of the problem. I assure your lack of sympathy was not the reason. I missed the bus since I wanted to be sure that he was helped. I had constantly debated internally whether I should act but had each time decided to wait and hope that someone else would come forward.
People had lost interest in him by now, most who had seen the beginning of his breakdown had taken their buses now, and as to new arrival at the stop; he might have been another beggar.
I won’t deny that I was curious – though I will say I was sympathetic first. If I was to help him, if it was possible without my needing to know about his tragedy; I wouldn’t have asked the cause of his sadness. I have learned not to give in to my curiosity about the lives of others.
Still, as I’m now documenting I feel a need to go into reasons for his so suddenly breaking down. As we have already learned merely missing the bus or being late for something or other, can’t be the reason and now that I have pondered over it, that actually looks like a ridiculous thing to think.
He now lied on his back – had almost gone stoic, resting his head over his hands; though not weeping, his eyes still seemed liquidy as he looked up at the sky at the departing clouds. He might as well have given up on life – and was enjoying the calm that is in hopelessness.
Another bus to his stop had come and left, he hadn’t moved at all.
I have planned to write a short story about this experience and as I pondered over his sudden behavior with my laptop in my hand, the following words were created in my mind and escaped through my fingers into the computer:
Life, to some people, becomes like a collection of things to hold on to – appearances, friends, families and so on …. Making living sort of like walking a tight rope with those earth pots over your head; a slight trip that need not even be material in any way is enough to break one apart – and though one has enough to wonder if one see the mere fall without knowing the effort previously made to hold on to things, still the fact is that, even without fall, time is constantly lessening our hold – we are getting tired of trying to constantly hold on to things. It is easily possible that at some time, this tiredness may get better of us and we may fall apart.
I would rather say – I don’t know what happened to him. Maybe he did fall apart, but now that he had enough time to recollect himself, he lifted himself to his feet, loosely dusted his clothes – that stoicism had still not left him and in a lazy sort of moment – as if he was drunk, slowly and also somewhat carelessly collected his documents. He sits down on the step of the bus-stop to count them, surveys the damage done to them and set them in order – some of the pages must have been lost or may he was just trying to ensure that he did not leave anything behind, for he was soon looking around as if searching for something. I too looked around to see if I could find something he may have left, and thus compensate a little for inaction so far. Neither of us could find anything when another bus to his route came, he stood there looking at it in indecision for some time, I was sure he could have wanted to keep searching for document that might have been lost; but then with a firm resolve looking down at the first step he took and quickly raising his head, he walked towards bus.
Copyright – Sidharth Vardhan