It was 9.55pm. I was waiting at the Neeta Travels bus stop in Shirdi. I had booked tickets in the sleeper coach of the bus that would take me and my family from Shirdi to Mumbai. The bus was supposed to start at 10.15pm as per our bookings. The only problem was that there was no bus in sight.
The bus stop was more like a rest room. Equipped with long benches facing each other, passengers were making full use of it. These benches had not only restless passengers on them but also luggage of every kind-plastic bags, polythene, handbags, suitcase and briefcase. Some of the passengers had garlands of red roses with them, the scent of which was spreading rapidly in air. Children were playing and loitering around. Nobody stopped them. I bet their parents were letting them get on with it because there was nothing else to do! Just sit, wait and watch for that invisible bus was meant only for adults. This thing can be hardly expected from kids.
At 10.10pm, men from the crowd ventured outside. My brother started listening songs on his iPod-Nano. A guy few benches away from me had a guitar. I was just wondering if he could only play it for the bored crowd, when the bus arrived with a bang. It was deep red and luxurious, atleast from outside. It promised to be a comfy one.
The passengers started to board it. An irritated man checked all the passengers’ names against the list in his hand. When my turn came, he looked at me hard in the eyes and then made a check sign against my name in the list. He wrote my seat no. on my American Tourister suitcase. It was etched so deeply with a chalk that it is still visible today, though it has started to fade now slowly.
After getting into the bus, we went to our allotted seats/beds. They were arranged such that two passengers could sleep at one place. I joined my mother, pushed the curtain, entered inside and I could smell it all-bed sheet and pillow. Aaah! If only we had bought a room freshener! My father and brother took the other seat. There was only one straight way to move in the bus which was littered with shoes and sandals.The conductor put his foot on some and got angry looks from the owners.
It was 10.40pm when the bus finally started. The passengers were tired and sleepy. All were looking forward to a sound sleep and wake up in Mumbai! But our dreams were cut short. When the bus entered on the highway, it hit on the accelerator. All was thrown backwards- shoes, sandals and passengers. I gripped my mother very tightly. A man nearly fell down from his seat. He shouted to the conductor and gave him a lecture on how frequent a traveler he is and how a bus should be driven. The conductor listened patiently and kept nodding. Poor guy, what else could he do? Soon a toddler started crying. Apparently the speeding bus had frightened him. His mother tried to pacify him but the crying just got increased in volume. Everybody woke up (none could sleep anyway). I decided to enjoy the night view from the window. My brother started listening songs again. After a very long time, I finally could sleep. Not soundly of course. I woke up when the bus came to a halt at a dhaba. The conductor announced loudly that the bus would be stopping for 15 mins.
And when I opened my eyes for the second time, I looked at my watch. I couldn’t see the time due to the dark. Instead I turned to my mobile. It was 3.30am! I was surprised. I blinked and looked out of the window. Mumbai was glowing with the street lights. The highway seemed deserted. Only our bus was moving speedily. I turned and saw my mother was already awake. The conductor was shouting different stops that would come one by one. Soon passengers were stirring. The conductor suddenly shouted Mulund, the place where we had to get down. We lined up behind the driver. He applied brakes and we got down slowly. The air was cool and there was silence everywhere. Some taxis were parked at some distance. After the last passenger was out of the bus, the conductor waved to us. The bus started moving forwards, away from us, leaving us at our destination. Five hours back, we were in Shirdi. Now in Mumbai. Safe and sound and ready to face the real world….thanks to the bus!