I was standing at a bus stop, not waiting for my bus though – had just spent many boring hours in my room and wanted to be out to answer seductive appeals of the lovely weather outside with its cold winds blowing and clouds overhead, the kind of weather that created music in air and set peacocks dancing. Not everyone danced though; people were already looking for shelter when the rain had started.
I? I just felt like just standing out there waiting for nothing all life, headphones on, listening to one’s music. Now when you are at ease, it is a joy to see people who are in hurry – not to laugh at their expense or to take comfort in their troubles but there is a tranquility in know that people are still running past, when you yourself have stopped to let your eyes take in the fleeting beautiful sights created by the rains that have just died – as if, because of the competitiveness that has become a part of our lives, we are no longer able to measure the pace of our lives except in comparison to others’ lives. The rain had stopped a few minutes ago and I was about to walk back to my place when I saw him.
A few not-common, yet not-unheard-of-either combinations in his personality attracted my attention – for example, he was dressed in perfect formals, expensive ones – with ties and watches. And yet his face was not perfectly made. The skin was heavily tanned in parts that, in formal wears are exposed to the sun, but a lighter shade revealed itself in biceps revealed because his shirt was now folded at arms and lower neck revealed as he had loosened his tie a little and undone the top button of his shirt. He had hard features, forehead had increased cutting into head due to hair-loss, a single worry line starting between eye brows bisected its lower half. The very mobile he had in his hand being of inexpensive sort – not at all going with clothes in terms of economic class. Anyway, if one was to go by his clothes alone, one wouldn’t have expected him to be at a bus stop; one would have thought that he would have a car or at least some sort of personal vehicle.
To me, he was a man trying to rise to higher class – having regular dealings with them rather than being used to be there. I can’t be sure about that, it is just a theory but such trying-to-reach-ups are not uncommon in any society.
I put him near thirty – a few years either side. He had two files in his hands when I first heard his voice from distance (loud and strong – I could hear it through headphones) – calling for the bus presently about to leave the stop to wait for him.
I had instinctively looked for the source of voice. He was running up, waving his hands signaling for the bus to wait for him. He was some distance away and although ticket conductor did notice him, he whistled the bus to start anyway – deciding not to wait for him.
He kept running anyway despite the fact that now there was no chance for him to catch the bus – and suddenly tripped himself, falling on his knees and hands – the two folders he was holding in his hands came loose and pages from them were flown away by the winds–and in one of fate’s cruel jokes, it was this moment that it started to rain and altogether heavily. Other people who were standing in open ran for shelter again, though he didn’t move an inch. After looking down on his hands, he suddenly started crying still on his knees – sobs and all; and could be heard at a distance despite that suppressing sweet sound of rain.
The sound of him crying turned the atmosphere so gloomy that all sounds that preceded his sudden wailing seemed to become a part of silence and his mourning cut through that silence with an intensity impossible to ignore.
I took my headphones off.
Obviously I, and I think all others that happened to be the audience of the scene, were shocked at seeing him mourn like that – and he did so for a great while. Yes, he was in hurry and had missed the bus but that in itself couldn’t be the reason for this kind of mourning –he was mourning as if someone dear to him had just died. No reason must be something else – may be he was going to meet a dying patient. it all looked nonsense. Anyway if that was the case he wouldn’t have seen as emotionally stable as he was before tripping –though even then he had shown a great urgency in trying to catch the bus …
He mourned, still on his knees, looking sometimes at his hand and sometimes on the folder that had opened – the pages were being destroyed by rain now.
…. No, may be, he was up for a job interview? His appearance, his dress and documents in his hand; they all added up. Still missing or being late for an interview by itself doesn’t make you so sad.
It was a painful sight – watching him mourn like that.
I have ever since scolded myself for my doing nothing to console him – I have often wondered how much could a single gesture – a hand on his shoulder, a little consoling pat on back, a word or even a smile ( a smile always seeks a smile in return) would have done to him … but I, like almost all others – many of them were talking about him, stood there as bystanders; curious – may be sympathetic but uselessly so. Almost all others – for at least one person told him not to worry, though in a indifferent tone – and told him that a bus goes that route every ten minutes.
This though didn’t cheer him up.
I have often wondered why I didn’t try to do something for him – it sits at your conscience the inaction in such times. I have tried to think of the reasons. Although any explanation may have been affected by self-justifying bias but still I feel a need to document them. One reason is shock – which could explain the inactivity initially and later one gets carried away with the momentum of inaction.
Another reason was that I had learned from previous experiences that people are not always comfortable being consoled, more so if consoled by strangers. They are skeptic about later’s intentions believing them to be laughing internally at their cost. Moreover, I wasn’t particularly well dressed myself; my clothes all well over from standing in rain and people this well dressed are often likely to be prejudiced against poorly dressed folks like me – at least that has been my observation, though the prejudice might be mine. Still, I can maintain that I have seen significant differences in strangers’ attitudes towards me according to way I have dressed (or whether and how many English words I use in conversations).
At length his sobs died, though he still didn’t raise his head. He was completely soaked in water. Some of the papers from his files must have been destroyed (though a lot seemed to be saved because they were coated with transparent lamination paper).
The rain too had lightened; now washing away the tears it had caused.
Another bus to his route arrived and went, he did not take it.
I know none of above explanations can justify my inactivity and there can’t be a justification – I’m to be blamed but one must try to know the root of problem. And I have no idea – all I can do is assure you is that lack of sympathy was not the reason. I had stayed instead of walking back home as I wanted to see him back to being all right. I had constantly debated internally whether I should act but had each time decided to wait a little more and hope that someone else would come forward.
People had lost interest in him by now, most who had seen the beginning of his breakdown had taken their buses now, and as for new arrivals at stop; he might have been another beggar, sitting on a side of road in his mud-ruined clothes.
I won’t deny that I was curious – though I will say I was sympathetic first. If I was to help him, if it was possible without my needing to know about his tragedy; I wouldn’t have cared to ask the cause of his sadness. I had long learned not to give in to my curiosity into other lives.
Still, as I’m now documenting I feel a need to go into reasons for his so suddenly breaking down. As we have already learnt merely missing the bus or being late for something or other, can’t be reason and now that I have pondered over it, that actually looks like a ridiculous thing to think.
He had now decided to lie on his back on the road side itself, not a care for his ruined clothes and papers showed on his face – had almost went stoic, resting his head over his arm which he used as a pillow; though not weeping, his eyes still seemed liquid-y as he looked up at sky at the departing clouds. He might as well have given upon life – and was enjoying the calm that is in hopelessness.
Another bus to his stop had come and left, he hadn’t moved at all.
I have planned to write a short story about this experience and as I pondered over his sudden behavior with the laptop in my hand, the following words were created in my mind and escaped through my fingers into computer:
“Life, to some people, becomes like a collection of things to hold on to – appearances, friends, families and so on …. Making living sort of like walking a tight rope with those earth pots over your head; a slight trip that need not even be material in any way is enough to break one apart – and though one has enough to wonder if one see the mere fall without knowing the effort previously made to hold on to things, still the fact is that, even without fall, time is constantly lessening our hold – we are getting tired of trying constantly to hold on to things and it is becoming increasingly difficult to retain balance. It is easily possible that at some time, this tiredness may get better of us and we may fall apart.”
I would rather say – I don’t know what happened to him. May be he did fall apart, but now that he had enough time to recollect himself, he lifted himself to his feet, loosely dusted his clothes – that stoicism had still not left him and in a lazy sort of moment – as if he was drunk, slowly and also somewhat carelessly collected his documents. He sits down on the step of the bus-stop to count them, survey the damage done to them and set them in order – some of the pages must have been lost or may he was just trying to ensure that he did not leave anything behind, for he was soon looking around again as if searching for something. Without moving, I too ran my gaze around to try and find something he may not have found, and thus compensate a little for inaction so far.
Neither of us could find anything. When another bus to his route came, he stood there looking at it in indecision for a few moments, I was sure he could have wanted to keep searching for document that might have been lost – or perhaps he wanted to stay a little more in this calm abandonment before resuming on the big race of life; but then with a firm resolve looking down as he took his first step and then quickly raising his head up to face the world, he walked towards bus.