Kids Corner

                    Jaspreet Singh



B - a short story



The following is an excerpt from a new, unpublished short story by the award-winning author of Seventeen Tomatoes: Tales from Kashmir [Vehicule Press, Montreal, 2006. $16.95, 162 pages, ISBN # 1-55065-188-9].



B, the bus-driver, was the first one to notice the woman, M, from Kashmir gliding towards his stop. He decided to wait, defying whistles blown by the ticket-conductor and yelled frustrations of the July crowd standing in the aisle.

She took three minutes to approach the vehicle in pouring rain and another two to settle down on seat number seven, the ladies seat.

She was short, not over thirty, and she worked at the Weather Office in the plains of Punjab.

B's bus  -  Golden Temple Express  -  was packed that Friday because of bad weather. Monsoon had arrived late in Punjab, but with unexpected force, and the meteorologists announced on radio that it was the heaviest in ten years. Right after the bus merged with the city traffic, B adjusted his turban and looked over his shoulder.

Mem-sahib, M, was surrounded by vulgar boys with fake Bollywood haircuts, he noticed. But. She didn't seem to mind them. She recovered a book from her shiny purse, and placed it in her lap, and began reading as if her whole life was soon going to change.

B drove the city bus part-time. The job financed his Chemical studies at the college. He was one of the lucky ones hired under the special category reserved for the orphans of 84. Congress party workers had killed 10,000 Sikhs all over the country in 1984. Mrs. G's son had led on the killers. ‘When a big tree falls, the earth trembles; there is fire, there is rain,' the son had said.

B's neighbor had saved him then, hiding him in an aluminum trunk for an entire week. Father and Mother could not be saved: both were burned alive by thugs on a train. The neighbor who saved B happened to be a Muslim.

The rain simply didn't know how to stop that Friday, and this slowed down the bus considerably. B's passenger was still glued to the book that was going to change her life. He speedened up the wipers. He knew one fact for sure: She was also a Muslim. And he wanted to thank her that day for being a Muslim. But really he wanted to talk to her.

She squeezed out of the crowd and stood by the door, waiting for her stop. He switched off the radio.

"Don't worry," he said. "I will drop you home."

She didn't respond.

"Please allow me."

He turned the bus right into the compound where she resided. She avoided the gaze of other passengers and began directing.

"Block-D. Next to the Mango tree."

The conductor blew the whistle and opened the rickety door. The bus stopped not far from the big AIDS prevention advertisements.

B's passenger stooped and pulled off her sandals. She hitched up her salwar and landed on the flooded street, walking towards the concrete building. Only half of the building was fully finished, the other half was still under construction. Her feet cut through water, and then kaolin clay. B focused on her ankles. She wore no anklets, and yet his mind turned to a poem on anklets, the one he had read in One Way, the magazine printed by the Transportation Ministry.

"Stop," shouted seat-number-seven. "Lady mem-sahib forgot book."

The new occupant was a woman with wrinkled walnut face, and she was carrying roosters. B turned off the motor. The roosters crowed. The ticket-conductor blew long angry whistles. B abandoned the bus.  The passengers yelled at him. But, he kept walking.

Conversation about this article

1: Singh (New York, U.S.A.), December 15, 2007, 10:28 AM.

This story was wonderful. I hope we'll get to read more of your stories. This one has taught me a great lesson.

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