Tuesday 27 March 2012

The last trip into town

He sounded the bus horn thrice, as if he was firing a canon after a hard-won victory.
This is my last trip into town, he thought, overcome by a sense of profound achievement.
He glanced furtively into the rear view mirror and dashed away the happy tears that kept blurring his view of the curving road ahead.
“Careful, Bidha, careful. I have to bring them back safely,” he cautioned himself as the bus lurched around a particularly sharp bend.
His life’s journey had been arduous, but looking back, his devotion of ten years had paid off. And today he could see his dream come true, seated right behind him: an educated Muggi and his bride, the shy red-clad girl with a radiant smile. He still could not believe it. On entering the bus, Muggi first touched Bidha’s knees in respect (his feet were too difficult to reach). Then he asked his wife to do the same. Bidha was overwhelmed. He just placed his humble hands on their heads in blessing.
The long drive was not at all exhausting today. The day passed off in a dream. Soon it was time to take the bus back, the last time for him. He looked around for Muggi and his wife. “As always, I shall wait for the boy,” he promised himself as he heaved his frail body into the driver’s seat. But today Muggi was already there, whispering to his bride in their own little world of happiness. Smiling, Bidha put the bus into first gear and started for home.
He wished he had the courage to ask Muggi to be there for him just one last time. Well, he pacified himself, at least they were settled into a happy life. The dear boy was already so protective of his wife. And she, she will look after him well, too. That look in her eyes says she loves him as much, and they haven’t been married for two full days yet, he chuckled inwardly.
No one knew this, but to him Muggi was his son. Not born of his loins, of course, but over the years he had watched silently over him as he would have over his own flesh and blood. It had helped heal the wound his own child had given him.
He relived that moment many times. A very young Muggi had jumped off a moving bullock cart to chase the bus. Bidha spotted him in the mirror, and screeched to a halt. Muggi’s grateful look as he clambered aboard brought a rush of affection he had not thought was possible any more.
This was the very last day the senior school up in the town will allow new students to join, an out-of-breath Muggi told the conductor. If he had missed this bus, his studies would have been ruined, his life in one big mess.
“Just like my son’s life,” Bidha thought. But he had always shirked school, that one. What did he hanker after?  A bat and ball, marbles, playing cards, the village dancer, hooch. And he was barely 15.
One day, Bidha scolded him real hard. He sold his school books to a farm hand next morning and vanished, never to return.
Muggi had unknowingly won himself a guardian. Bidha vowed the boy would never miss a class. 
Muggi made the most of his bus trips, poring over his books. They hardly ever spoke, but they did exchange a tentative smile in the mirror at times. Bidha kept a rough bag in the corner seat behind him, pulling it away for none but Muggi. This wordless cooperation endured through Muggi’s college days and beyond.
He was a grown-up man now and taught in the college he had graduated from. But still he made the same trip by bullock cart to the village bus stop, returning from town in the same bus, in the same seat.
For some reason, neither broke the ice. He would let the conductor know if he was not coming in the next day. On all other days, the bus would not leave the village till the cart carrying Muggi trundled in, invariably late.
“After a long time your bus will leave on schedule. After all, you are retiring tomorrow,” his boss joked loudly as Bidha climbed off the bus gingerly.
He hardly heard him. He was watching Muggi and his bride head for the bullock cart. But Muggi heard, and turned around.
“You are retiring, Kaka? Can we come in to greet you in the morning?” he asked hesitantly, for the first time addressing him directly. His wife nodded in agreement.
Bidha turned beetroot red at being caught staring, but his cup of joy brimmed over nevertheless.
“Y-yes, my children, p-please do,” he stammered, not minding those stubborn tears.

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