It takes four and a half hours to reach Kuttikanam from Cochin, if you are in a private bus and if you are fortunate enough to be blessed with a seasoned driver and little traffic. In the two years of countless trips up and down, there a but a few memorable ones, even fewer fellow travelers acquainted.
Once, a journey I never went on with a light heart or in the least bit pleasure, today, are memories and experiences that I proudly hold and believe had a part in making the man I am today.
The bus ride used to be a test of endurance and patience. It made us shrink into one confined space of a seat with only one long stop to stretch our legs and that came forty five minutes before my destination. By then I’d give in and stay slumped in my seat.
In the later part of the year I became indifferent to it. I was callous to the heat, the back pain, the restless passenger in the next seat. Closing the window shutter became a reflex, when someone was about to throw up in the front seat.
And one of those days, in the growing boredom of the routine journey, there came an anomaly.
All the seats were taken. I was by the window in the back. I looked up to see her hair fall on her face, a slender finger gracefully brushing them behind her ear. Her eyes darted, looking for a spot to hold and regain her balance. There was no panic but rather a habitual demeanour in composing herself and taking care of her small backpack. She rested her arm against the pole. I wasn’t aware I was staring at her until someone took the seat next to me. I chided myself for doing it soon after, but I couldn’t help take my eyes off her.
There wasn’t anything unusual about her. Nor did she wear anything that would arrest any man’s eyes. But she did mine. It must have been her hair which always shrouded her face from me or her relentless artistic fingers brushing them away each time or her grace in balancing herself on the bus.
At the long stop, I decided to get up and gather enough courage to talk to her. When the bus did stop all I did was get off the bus and walk around it, aimlessly, away from her.
The debate began on the pointlessness of the conversation, then came the evaluation of all the possible outcomes if the conversation did happen followed by the inevitable disappointment of unrealized expectations. So on and so forth went my mind occupied, not registering the driver climbing aboard, which meant the last leg of the journey was about to commence.
My walk fortunately went it circles or rather rectangular around the bus. I ended up at the door when the bus started.
After I made myself secure inside the bus, I looked for her. And there she was where I saw her last. Almost as if she were waiting. I smiled to myself. Took a good look at her before I sat down.
She was a little over five feet. I double checked her footwear for high heels, but she seemed smart enough to avoid that on a bus. A maroon checkered shirt that hung rather loosely about her and tucked at her waist unlike her jeans which hugged very closely to her legs.
I resolved as the bus started moving not to engage in any more thoughts about her. The view outside was captivating. But it was nothing I had not seen before. The valley between two mountain ranges were filled with mist, with the sun setting somewhere far off behind some mountain silhouette painting the sky gold. The evening light brought a soft glow on the mist rising from the trees. It was like one of those scenes in a painting or desktop wallpapers. I wished I had a camera.
A soft breeze had began to blow in, which carried my gaze to her face.
All through the journey, She never smiled once, though her face was pleasant. One of those faces that welcomes you to know the person.
All the through the journey, our eyes never met. We got off at the same bus stop. I understood she was a student of the college next to my school and a hosteler too.
In the company of two of her friends, she walked away down the road to her hostel, unaware of my lingering eyes longing for a proper goodbye.
I pulled at my jacket, slung my bag over my shoulder and walked away.
It was for the best. She always remained a good friend in my head. One I’d always met up at Kanjirapilly on my way up. We’d share seats and stories. She’d remain someone who would always be able to alleviate the boredom and never be the cause of it, someone who could complement my silence. A talker I’d love to listen to. A good travel companion, nothing more.
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