That morning I woke up with the dread that I have to battle one more day at office before I could claim the bliss of a weekend. I stretched myself one last time before getting out of the bed, with a vain hope of shaking away my pending sleep. What I really wanted to do was shake off my irritation; but the action only seemed to have fueled my budding irritation.
I headed straight to bathroom with the last hope of purging myself. The morning ablution also failed to cool me. I hastily pulled up my jeans; looked for a clean shirt. On failing to spot one, I wore a kurti instead and a stole to go with it. Then, I spent considerable time in front of the mirror. At last, dismayed by the dismal face that was staring at me I left that attempt. Before rushing out of the house, I didn’t forget to steal a quick glance of myself in the mirror. When I reached half way, I realized I had forgotten it again. Like a whirlwind, I swooshed back to my room and retrieved my copy of The Life of Pi from underneath my bed where I had left it the last night after reading it.
I half walked, half ran to the bus stop only to see my bus (usually I travel by this bus, hence the possessive term) shrieking past me splashing the puddle that had sprout during last night rain after mating with the litters of the road. Luckily, I missed the splurge of puddle just like the bus (which was more due to lack of luck), which has now vanished around the bend.
There was something about the way the bus sped past me and disappeared around the corner. Half-teasing and half-accusatory of having failed to chase it. In a state of utter loss and gain and chagrined confusion I failed to notice the bunch of morons from the colony having taken their usual place at the bus stop. They were jeering at me with loud shouts and scowls. I realized I was more of a loser than that bunch of losers. Suddenly, I remembered what my personality development instructor always quotes. He often begins the session with this quote in an assumed inspirational voice, “Remember, you were a winner from the moment you were born. There were several hundred billion sperm in one glob chasing this one egg…There were billions of them, and you won. You won the first race you were ever in.” If that is true, I’m double sure that I was racing with a bunch of super losers.
I went and stood at the far end of the bus stop convinced that at any moment another hell would break loose on me causing me humiliation that would further scald my skin. However, nothing like that happened. An auto stopped in front of me. Unsure as I was, I asked whether it is a shared auto and to my surprise, he answered in the affirmative. I asked him would it go to Neelankarai? He said get on. I felt relieved for the first time since I woke up. You see, to be the first person in a share auto during morning office-hour rush is a rare luck. I didn’t let my rare luck play out my nasty mood. Anyway, I quickly settled in with my book. Although I started reading it, I realized it would take a little while for my mind to settle in.
Soon I was caught in the tapestry of words. The book I was reading was about a man who survived a shipwreck but was lost at sea in a boat with a tiger and a bunch other animals with limited food resources and chances for survival. Figuratively speaking, I too was lost at sea but my problems were nothing compared to that of the man. There is something wicked about human emotions; when you know that somebody else is suffering far more than you are, instantly you feel a relief that your situation is not so bad.
I must have been completely absorbed by the book I was reading because I became aware of my surroundings only when I felt a slight tug around my neck. I adjusted my stole still deeply immersed in the book. It didn’t help me. Suddenly I realized there was a huge mass beside me moving hither and thither causing the stole to tighten around my neck like a noose. I glanced sideways to see what it was. Instantly I was greeted with the most monstrous smile I have ever seen. She had paan stained mouth and teeth; with some of the teeth missing. Surely, there was something wicked about the way she was grinning. I quickly turned away and pretended to be reading. She smelt like a bag of fish. I don’t know how I failed to realize that earlier. Maybe my mind was tricked into believing that the smell was the aftermath of the last night downpour. Rain in Chennai can be a nightmare especially if you are brave enough to tread the roads of Chennai during or after the rain. And when did she get on the auto??? How did I not know???
Quickly I was pulled back from my thoughts as I could feel the creature’s eyes on me. I was annoyed. I blatantly pulled my stole on which she was comfortably sitting, convinced that my day cannot get any worse. Now, the whole day at office I would smell like….Yuck!!!!. I had taken bath and wore freshly pressed cotton kurti. Unlike the female who smelt like a bag of fish. I felt so angry that I could spit fire like a dragon if I opened my mouth. I retrieved my stole and moved away from her as much as the seat allowed me to.
All the while she was unaware that she was sitting on my stole and my actions seemed to have made her realize her mistake. She also realized that I was offended. She quickly took the part of the stole on which she sat and started dusting it as though trying to clean it from the stink or dirt that she carried along with her. I suddenly felt bad and took back the stole from her gently. She said something to me, which I didn’t understand. Nevertheless, I knew she meant sorry. I said it’s okay and again pretended to be reading.
Somehow I became curious…Who is she? What is she? I behaved so rudely, yet she was so gentle. I didn’t have the guts to look at her in the eye. So I quietly stole glances. She was looking out and smiling. Maybe it was a slight exaggeration. Her smile was not so wicked. It was just frightening to someone who is seeing her for the first time. In between, she looked in my direction with the same smile.
After that she took her purse and started counting the coins and feeling the currency. From her attire, I knew she can’t be well-off. Perhaps this auto ride is also slightly expensive for her. I felt maybe she is sad that she is going to part with the little money that she has. Yet she had the same smile. At that time, the auto-driver stopped and told her that her place has come. She asked him how much the fare was and paid him the amount. She slowly got out of the auto and unfolded a white walking stick, which I realized was a blind person’s stick. For the first time I looked at her eyes. I couldn’t know whether she was blind or not. Her eyes held a vacant stare but her paan stained lips had the same smile.
The auto started moving again and she was lost from view but her smile lingered in my heart. Suddenly it occurred to me what was I??? What problem did I have to complain and lament about??? I realized it was not she who was stinking but it was me. It was not her smile that was monstrous but my own mind and attitude. I felt so miserable and looked out, yet I could only see that smile which somehow was now transformed to one of the beautiful smiles I have ever seen. The bright shimmering sunshine on my face made me realize it was too beautiful a day to lament about a missed bus and a few jeers. I thanked god for the beautiful day and the beautiful smile for the valuable lesson.