The bus driver got into his seat and honked the horn to Indicate that the bus was about to start. The bus moved forward.
Parimala let out a sigh of relief as nobody occupied the vacant seat beside her. But her happiness was short lived. A village couple rushed into the bus in the last moment.
As soon as he stepped in, the elderly man’s eye caught sight of the vacant seat by the side of Parimala.
He turned to his wife and said , “you sit here. I will find a place for myself.”
Then he looked at Parimala and queried “ Amma!Hope there is nobody coming here”.
Parimala’s tummy churned at the strong reeking smell of cheroot coming from the man. The woman standing behind him was dressed in a thick, crumpled cotton saree , a big red dot on her forehead, and so many glass bangles on her hands and was chewing beatle leaves .
Parimala felt disgusted and was compelled to lie: “ Another person is coming here. Go and Find a seat in the back row.”
‘ Already she was worried about travelling alone. And to add to it, if she had to bear the dirty people’s company for four hours , she would have a hell of time . ‘ she thought .
She put her handbag in the vacant seat to indicate it was reserved for someone. The elderly man looked at her suspiciously as if he did not believe her words.
Then he shouted at his wife as he walked past, “ Why do you stand and stare at me? Go to the back and try to find a place to sit .”
The wife moved forward carrying her cloth- bag overflowing with things .
Parimala felt relieved that she escaped the poorly dressed and dirty looking people’s company.
The bus driver honked the horn again. That was a bus that had no conductor. The driver himself was issuing tickets for the few seats left unreserved to the people who got into the bus in the last moment.
Now he got up from his seat and started counting the passengers . He looked at the vacant seat and asked Parimala ,“ You are travelling alone right?” .
Parimala replied casually “yes”.
As the bus was taking a turn to leave the station, a young man came running and got into the bus. He was dressed in jeans and T shirt and was carrying a brief case . He looked as if he owned the world and cared for nobody. He was handsome and attractive too.
The driver issued him a ticket and showed him the vacant seat by the side of Parimala. As he walked towards his seat, Parimala could smell the fragrance of his body spray.
He stood beside the seat, put his brief case in the luggage carrier at the top, and looked at her questioningly.
Parimala took her handbag and kept it in her lap.
“ He looks like an educated and cultured gentleman “ Parimala thought as she looked out of the window.
This journey was not a preplanned one for Parimala. She had applied for a lecturer’s post in a junior college started recently in Anantapur. They called her for an interview without notice. Her two year old child was running fever on that day.
“How can I leave the child and go? It is not in my fate to get this job.” She mourned.
Prakash ,her husband insisted that she should go.
“ Our baby would be okay in a day. You may not get this kind of opportunity again and again. I will apply for leave and take care of the baby. . Our servant maid is there to help. You attend the interview tomorrow and by the day after you will be back. “ he encouraged her.
‘ They were planning to have a baby boy in the near future. If they were to educate and provide good future for the two children, single earning would not be enough. After getting married to Prakash, Parimala had studied privately for Master’s degree with the intention of taking up a teaching job. So, if she got selected for this job, Prakash would try to get transferred to Anantapur. ‘ Parimala mused.
In the meanwhile the bus picked up speed and crossed the city limits.
Parimala , who felt the man sitting beside her nestle, moved towards the window and closed her eyes.
As soon as she got her degree, her parents started looking for a groom for her. The very first alliance clicked. Prakash was a gentle- natured man. He had a good job.
His chiselled features, bright eyes and good personality won the hearts of her family. Parimala, who had been planning to pursue her studies in the university, gave up that idea once she saw Prakash.
After their marriage, Prakash encouraged her to continue her studies. Once she got her M.A degree , she expressed her desire to take up the job of a teacher in a college. As Prakash had no objection to this, she started applying for jobs and this interview was the outcome of her trials .
She had never travelled alone especially during night journey.
“If you get into bus here in Nellore, you would get down in Anantapur. The bus will be full of people. You have your cellphone with you. Once you reach there your cousin will be waiting in the bus station to pick you . Why are you afraid? “Prakash tried to instil courage in her.
As she was thinking of these things that culminated in her present journey, she slowly dozed off.
Parimala woke up with a jerk as she felt the warm touch of a hand on the uncovered part of her waist. The moment Parimala stirred uncomfortably, the man sitting beside her withdrew his hand as if the touch was by accident.
Parimala sat straight so that her waist would not touch the seat.
“ What would be the condiction of the baby? Would the fever be gone? Did she drink some milk? Prakash would not have a wink of sleep the whole night. She had requested the servant maid to take care of the child for a day. In case she got the job she would have to join the baby into a crèche. Till Prakash got transferred to Anantapur, she could stay with her aunt. “ Parimala fell asleep with these thoughts in her mind.
Parimala woke up suddenly. She felt the man’s hand touching her jacket’s neck-line. She pushed away his hand furiously. Pretending to be asleep , this time , he put his head on her shoulder. .
“Hey Mister will you sit properly. “ She warned him in a steely voice. She did not want to raise her voice lest other passengers would get involved and try to judge her.
He sat straight. Even in the darkness, she could see a roguish smile on his face.
She thought he was a gentleman. No man would be an exception to this kind of behaviour when he got the opportunity to be near a young lady especially in the dark.
She moved farther from him. She felt the fragrance of the body spray coming from him unbearable and closed her nostrils with her kerchief.
“ The next time he made any advances , come what may, she would expose him “ she vowed. She tried to keep herself awake but could not for long.
This time the man sitting beside her was emboldened and put his hand on her thigh.
She woke up shocked and immediately stood up from her seat.
The bus driver was busy listening to film songs. All other passengers were asleep.
Not sure of what to do and who to approach for help ,she looked this way and that way.
The villager, whom she sent back lying about the vacant seat by her side, came to her rescue.
“Amma! If you don’t feel comfortable sitting here go and sit by the side of my wife. I will sit here. “ he said .
The well dressed man sitting beside her was pretending to be asleep.
Without a moment’s hesitation Parimla went from her place taking care not to touch the man dressed in jeans and stood beside the coarse looking farmer .
“Thank you very much sir. I will go to the back row and sit beside your wife.” She said and proceeded towards the back rows.
At that instant Parimala did not feel the smell of cheroot coming from him disgusting. As she sat beside his wife , the strong smell of the beatle leaves the woman was chewing, did not disturb her.
“ she could not see the golden heart of these poorly dressed village couple. Likewise she was unaware of the reeking smell of the well- dressed man’s mind and his dirty nature. This experience taught her , the prospective teacher a good lesson life. “ Parimala mused.