The bus-stop did not even possess a shelter to protect the waiting commuters from the scorching summer sun.
For the past quarter of an hour or so, the large crowd had been waiting impatiently for a bus to appear on the horizon. Now, all of a sudden, a solitary bus appeared at the end of the road. The crowd seemed to wake up. Bags were gripped firmly, shoulders were squared – and men and women alike readied themselves for the mad rush to enter the bus.
With the tortured scream of burning tyres on asphalt, the bus braked to a halt a few paces away from the bus-stop. Mr. Sharma had but a brief instant to notice that the interior of the bus seemed to be crowded with passengers before he, too, joined in the mad scramble to get in, holding on tightly to his briefcase. Grabbing the handrail at the entrance with his free hand, Mr. Sharma pushed past the straining bodies and, unmindful of the danger to his clothes, dragged himself up the steps. As the bus jerked into motion, Mr. Sharma, propelled by the mass of humanity still trying to get in, was pushed through the entrance. He was in!
As the bus resumed its journey, Mr. Sharma found himself standing crushed in the midst of a mass of swearing bodies. He could barely breathe, much less move. In this packed atmosphere, he felt the heat more intensely than ever. In this crowded bus, a seat seemed as unattainable as youthful ambition. Mr. Sharma realized that he would, in all probability, have to stand all the way home! A tiring day in the office had left him drained of all energy. A few minutes later, Mr. Sharma was ready to collapse. And his bus-stop was still another thirty minutes away…
Mr. Sharma was standing at the back of the bus, leaning against those lucky few who were sitting in the back seat. He had no strength left to push his way to the front. Then, just as Mr. Sharma’s legs were beginning to give way under him, the man sitting nearest to him stood up – and Mr. Sharma, with a look on his face of a person who has just found himself at the receiving end of a miracle, thankfully collapsed on the vacant seat.
With the unexpected gift of a seat, Mr. Sharma revived like a watered flower. Within a few minutes, Mr. Sharma had recovered sufficiently to open his briefcase and take out from it the evening newspaper he had bought from the vendor near the bus-stop. Opening the newspaper to the centre page, he began to read.
Slowly, as the bus progressed down its route, it became more and more crowded. Soon, Mr. Sharma became conscious of a body pressing against him from the outer side of the newspaper he was holding. As the crush increased, the person was forced to lean more heavily against him. A quick glimpse of saree - and Mr. Sharma realized that the person leaning against him was a woman. He buried his head more deeply in the newspaper.
A woman! Did she expect him to give up his precious seat for her? Why the hell couldn’t she go and occupy one of those seats specially reserved for ladies? But, then, perhaps they were all occupied by ladies already. Well, that was her bad luck then…why should he give up his seat for her?
Mr. Sharma tried to bring his mind back to the contents of the newspaper. But in vain. He had lost his concentration. The woman seemed to be leaning against him more heavily than was necessary. Perhaps she was very tired, the poor thing. But then, nobody gave his wife a seat in a bus when she was tired. Why, it was only a couple of days ago when she had returned home, completely exhausted, because she had had to stand all the way in a bus!
Mr. Sharma felt his resolve strengthen with these thoughts. After all, he too was very tired. He needed to sit and rest. Moreover, if he returned home completely exhausted, it would only increase his irritation. He owed it to his wife to return home in a better frame of mind.
Having satisfied his conscience, Mr. Sharma tried to bring his thoughts back to the contents of the newspaper, but he remained uneasily aware of the woman pressing against him. She did seem rather tired. As the pressure of the crowd increased with every stop, the woman began sag against Mr. Sharma like a dummy without any support. Mr. Sharma, his face still covered by the newspaper, began to feel renewed pangs of guilt.
Suddenly, the bus took a sharp turn, and the woman was thrown violently against him, the newspaper tearing with the impact! As the bus straightened, Mr. Sharma heard the woman give a long sigh. Then, before his horror-stricken eyes, Mr. Sharma saw the woman slowly collapse, like a punctured balloon, at his feet…
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“Hey, did you see that man? The slightly bald man who carried out that woman who fainted at his feet?”
“Yes, I saw him. He looked as pale as the woman he was carrying!”
“Yes. But did you hear what he said?”
“He said the woman was his wife!”