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Dirtscapes

Read. Suffer. Try to Enjoy.

Short Story - The Harbinger

The bus arrived at the stop, packed to capacity. The regular motley crew of sleepy, hyperkinetic and plain laconical travelers scrambled to get in, carefully sidestepping the rich assortment of human and animal waste surrounding the bus stop. A couple of crows almost got ground to the dirt in the process, obsessed as they were with the rotting remains. The usual beginning to the usual day. A couple of school girls managed to get in along with the rest, and desperately tried to worm their way through the mass of bodies, standing in three lines in the gangway.

The diminutive conductor stared with a malevolent eye at the horde from his vantage point near the driver, wishing he could just burn them all with his gaze. He tried to concentrate really hard, giving it all he had. But like always, nothing happened. Shit happened. Shit world. Shit job. Shit happens. Because nothing else is supposed to. Save shit. If only he had the physique to kick out all except the regulated number of standees printed on a sticker on the inside of the bus, which was like a delirious joke. Number of licensed standees = 19. Hell, there would be 19 in a square foot today, he thought.


Ploughing through all those stinking, sweaty bodies was something he couldn’t imagine doing. There was no option though. He could feel his irritation growing with each passing passenger. There was the usual bunch of gropers, making sure that they rubbed up fully against each woman as she wriggled by. He shot them a murderous glance as he gave them their tickets. Bastards.


Then there were the luggage overlords, blocking up the gangway. These guys got off on arguing over the extra luggage charge. Today was no exception. He screamed at the uncouth guilty party, and with a superhuman effort, managed to charge him extra for the ugly ass tin trunk, which nearly took a square off his khaki pants as he scraped past it.

Next was Mr. Self Important Whose Cell Phone Was A Body Part.

"Hello... hello... haan sir, I will follow up with the sales executives to execute your plan. We should achieve good traction with the newer strategy."

"Yes I've told Desai to call you sir... what's that? Hello"

The whole fucking bus was getting a lesson in sales micro-management. No one soaked it all up. The poor fuck was wasting his breath. Not that he was doing it for their benefit in the first place anyways. He just happened to love the amplified sound of his own voice.

The conductor tried to get his attention.
"Where do you want to go?"
He got a ten rupee note in return.
"Where to ?! "
No answer.

He plucked out a ten rupee ticket from his box, and shoved it into Dr. Philip Kotler's hands. He moved on. He wouldn't be stuck here, doing this, if he was you know, clairvoyant?

Then came the schoolgirls.

"One half, the school stop." said one, and gave him a ten rupee note.
The other girl did the same.

The conductor finally smelt blood.

"Do you know how much your half-ticket costs?"

"One rupee." said one girl.

"How much have you given me then?"

"Ten."

"Ask your father to get me a change bearing tree."

"Why?"

"So that I can give your highness 9 rupees back. Get down from the bus now."

He yanked on the frayed bell rope. The bus ground to a halt.

"Go on... get down."

The girls started sobbing.

"Please... we have to reach our school... we have an exam today."

The whole bus turned around, and started watching. The conductor bristled with self-importance. He loved it when he had an audience. Who doesn't?

"Go and ask your father for that tree. Now. Only then will I let this bus move."

The kids started bawling, as he launched into a bitter tirade.
"You think what I do is easy? Do you think I have a coin factory here? Where am I supposed to give you 9 rupees from? Why don't you go back to your home state? Maybe people there have plenty of change. Don't come and settle here to make our lives miserable. I don't have to serve you folk."

People started to murmur. Reality TV was fine, but they had a routine to get started on.

"Let it be... "
"Forget it... let the bus move!"

The conductor was adamant.
"No... this will not be over that easily. I don't have any change."

A burly bearded passenger started to talk sense into the conductor.
"What do you mean, talking to kids like that? You've got a problem, talk to me. Stop yelling at them!"

The conductor didn't flinch. He had a surprising reserve of strength today.
"You shut up! Don't tell me what to do here! Get off if you have a problem."

Before the burly guy could retort, a quiet voice spoke up from the rear of the bus.
"Bhai, jaane do. Don't you see master sahab is under such a lot of stress? It's the tension that's making him do this... I don't think he means this. He doesn't have the easiest of jobs, you know...here, I'll solve the problem."

The quiet guy came up, and gave the conductor two rupees to take care of the tickets. The conductor self importantly accepted the money, and punched out the two tickets. The quiet guy smiled at the kids, wiped away their tears, and handed them the tickets. The bus was on it's way once again. Vaudeville show over, people returned to whatever they were doing... reading the paper, splintering their eardrums with FM Radio, staring at the rivets in the tin sheets making up the roof of the bus and the peeling paint, or hanging on for dear life from the sweaty stained hand straps.

The kids got down at their stop, and scampered for dear life to reach before the exam bell. The crowd eased a little as people got down. But it wasn't comfortable by any definition.

The conductor finally got a moment's breathing space. He rested against the rear door, wiping his brow, pleased with himself. He just had to vent a little. That's all. He started to weed out the ticket stubs from his tin box.

The quiet guy approached him, and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"How are you feeling now? Better?"

The conductor looked at him and said

"Yes, much much better. It was just one of those things... you know how it is..."

"No. I don't."

The conductor was a little confused.

"But I thought you did... you yourself said so!"

The quiet guy's grip tightened on the conductor's shoulder, and his fingers started to dig into his clavicle. Hard and merciless.

"That was no way to talk to an eight year old kid, you sick son of a bitch..."

Before the conductor could do anything, he felt an open hand slap him hard on his left cheek. His ear started to hum agonizingly. And then a fist caught him on his lips, making them bleed and his teeth rattle. And then a sickening blow to his solar plexus making him double over and gasp loudly. The quiet guy overturned the conductor's money bag, and the change hit the floor in a series of resonant tinkles.

The quiet guy smoothly slid off the rear exit, and melted into the morning crowd, as the conductor wheezed on all fours, his senses swimming. The driver had stopped the bus, not knowing what was going on. The people started pocketing whatever money they could lay their hands on. Some of them were laughing. No one bothered to help the conductor up.

The quiet guy hummed a light, pleasant tune to himself as he scurried to catch his train. No chance in hell that he would have hit the bastard in front of the kids. Poor things, they didn't deserve to see blood on the eve of an exam.

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12:51 AM, January 28, 2007
Blogger Jimit Shah said...

Neat!    



3:38 AM, January 29, 2007
Blogger SEV said...

Disturbing.. but effective.

I'm just assuming this isn't based on a 'true life story' :)    



10:20 AM, February 04, 2007
Blogger Tapan said...

Jimit,
Thanks... :)

Satish,
Yea man... part of it is true. Now which part? I leave that open to interpretation. :)    



5:30 PM, February 05, 2007
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good one bro. I've been hooked on to ur blog for over a month now.
Appreciate u replying to every comment in ur writeups.
Keep the key-board clicking.

Also u can be nice to our eyes by changing the background color from black. The ones in ur geocities site are pretty easy to read    



10:29 AM, February 07, 2007
Blogger Tapan said...

Anon,
Thanks man...
Point noted about the background colour. To tell you the truth, I am kinda partial to black. :)
Blogspot has some new templates in the new version... will try and see if they are any good. At least a lesser shade of black should be cool, yes? :)    



10:27 PM, February 08, 2007
Blogger AJ said...

I second the anon's opinion.
Lesser shade of black-- white maybe? :)    



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