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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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THE JOURNEY


by Tirumal Mundargi



 

Sagar's been waiting for a bus for the past two hours. Dripping from top to bottom, he stands in the middle of the dark bus stand.

Sagar's traveled for four days and nights with his dog, Tommy, walking muddy tracks, swimming watery ditches. He hasn't eaten anything since the beginning of the flood. Wounds and scars cover his body, his skin peeling in places. And he's virtually dragged himself for the past few kilometers.

Two buses pass him without stopping. Both fully loaded with passengers, many of them hanging precariously to the footboard. He would have hopped on any of them and would have left for any dry place. Any bloody place. To start a new life.

The squirrel-colored mongrel, wet and hungry, squeals.

"Are you hungry, Tommy? Wait for maybe just another day. Let's go away from here, first. Someplace where you’ll get to eat bread and drink warm milk. After that a lot of sleep, too. I'll get you something.''

The dog wags his tail at his master's whispers.

Sagar fumbles in his breast pocket and feels two hundred rupee notes.

He looks around. Not a soul in sight. Above, stars blink endlessly, as if to mock him. During that seventeen day deluge, many perish, or flee the city. Muddy breezes blow from the flooded areas.

At last, a bus swerves in, with just one headlight glowing. As it pulls up, Sagar goes near to board it.
 
"Come in. Hurry up!'' says the conductor. "No luggage, please.'' Sagar glances at the conductor’s face; it seems familiar.

"It's no luggage. It's my dog, Tommy.''

"All right. Get in. Make it fast.''

Sagar enters the dark bus with great effort, pulling the reluctant Tommy by the chain. He looks around. He hears no sounds like the drone of the engine, the shifting of the gears-the bus hitting the road. He feels the presence of passengers on every seat, like cursed shadows. While the other buses that passed him were fully loaded, this one has no passengers standing anywhere.

"Sit here. All other seats have already been occupied.''

Sagar takes the one beside the conductor. Tommy, moaning, curls down in the aisle, by his side. The conductor blows the whistle and the bus moves on.

"Ticket, please?'' the conductor asks. Sagar takes out a hundred-rupee note from his breast pocket and hands it to the conductor.

"Where do you want to go?'' the conductor asks.

"Take me as far away from this bloody place as possible. My Tommy, too.''

"All right, then.''

The conductor hands him the change and a ticket.

"It's for your journey as far as this bus goes. I haven't charged for your dog.''

"Thank you, please.'' Sagar slips the change and the ticket into his breast pocket and sighs.

The bus cruises along. Is it rolling on its wheels or just flying? Sagar wonders. He looks out the window: nothing but sliding darkness. He turns toward the driver's seat.

"Where's the driver? I can’t see anyone!'' Sagar asks the conductor.

"Driver? Why do we need a driver? Aren't we going nicely?''

Soon the bus pulls up and he notices that nobody either alights or boards the bus. After a moment, the bus moves on.

"Where're we going?''

"Don’t ask questions. For the last four days I’ve been toiling without rest and sleep. I’ve not taken a bath, too. I’m feeling rotten and bone tired. Understand?''

"You're the conductor. Who shall I ask but you, about the bus and the journey?''

"We haven't got any destination board. You might've noticed when you stepped in. And I asked for your destination while you purchased your ticket. You didn’t mention anything. So you have forfeited your right to ask questions. You can travel down to the last stage. Or you may get off wherever you want to. It’s all up to you. But don’t ever ask me any questions. Understand?''

"Yes. Maybe you're right.'' He looks around and asks,  "Where's Tommy?''

"Who? Tommy? Your dog?''

"Yes! My dog!''

"He got down at the last stop.''

"Got down? You should have told me! ''

"Your dog, your responsibility. I’m not here to guard dogs and cats.''

"Oh! Tommy! You left me alone,'' Sagar starts crying.

"Don't cry, man. You’ll definitely complete your journey.''

Sagar looks at his hands in the faint glow of the diffused light. He can feel his veins, bare muscles, red and white. He touches his face. It feels like raw meat.

"What's happening to me? Where're we going?''

"Don't ask questions. Be silent.''

Sagar looks out the window. He can't see anything in that total darkness. After an hour or so the bus stops again.

"What's this place called?''

"Some place. You'll not get down here, anyway. Others are alighting. Be silent.''

"Who's alighting? I can't see anything.''

"You can't see everything.''

"What's happening to me? Leave me to my fate.''


"Why're you worried? You'll complete the journey. You've already paid for it. Haven't you?''

"Of course, I have. What sort of journey's this? I'm not understanding anything.''

Sagar wants to cry, but he can't. A little later, the bus crosses a white patch.

“What's that?'' he asks the conductor.

The conductor doesn't answer.

After some time, Sagar sees a cool white light beyond the windshield. He looks out the window. The bus has stopped. He sees his wife, his two sons, his daughter; all waving their hands, urging him to get down. He also sees Tommy, wagging his tail vigorously.

 

Everything's so peaceful!

"Want to get down, here?'' the conductor asks.  "You can travel further if you want.''

Sagar considers for a moment, gazing at the bright light ahead.

"You may continue your journey later. Lots of buses. Free of charge.''

"No. I want to go on. That’s my final decision,'' he says, peering at the light.

The conductor blows the whistle and the bus glides ahead.