The old man was still waiting there at the third bus stop. He was there at the Barkatpura bus stop almost every day at 8 am. Even if I did take an earlier bus to college, he would still be there smoking a cigarette and holding up The New Indian Express. Passers-by say that he is always there sitting at the bus stand under the Ashoka tree with the earphones plugged on.
As soon as the college bus halts at the stop, he peers from behind his newspaper and takes his glasses off as if expecting somebody. By then, he makes sure that his ear phones are firmly plugged into his ears. One day, as the bus arrived at the stop, I got down and sat next to him, by an impulse.
I sat there as if gazing at a distance and peering at him laterally very so often. Twenty minutes passed. Every time bus 56J or 56M stopped by, he got up almost as if receiving someone. At one instance, he even smiled. He responded to the St. Joseph’s bus also likewise.
I couldn’t hold back anymore. I, anyway, decided to miss college that day. So, I had the whole day – I could afford to take it slow. I wanted to start the conversation in a way that won’t make my intentions seem interfering.
“Uncle, where do you stay?” I asked.
He was taken aback by the sudden invitation at conversation.
He adjusted his spectacles, showing the darkened marks on the bridge of his nose.
“I stay close by, beta. I live in Himmayatnagar, beside Meera salon, on street 6.” He said feeling trifle awkward and peering down on the ground.
“Uncle,” I said pursing my lips. The gentle breeze of the morning blew across my face ruffling my forelocks and making a few tresses stick to my lips, to my lipstick. I continued, neatly gathering the strands of my hair back onto the forehead, “Why do you wait here daily? I see you getting up and smiling every time every morning bus going to St. Joseph’s college stops here. You look keenly at the college’s official bus too.”
He smiled, “I am glad someone noticed. Not many notice that I come for the college bus too.”
“I had a daughter who passed away.” He said sighing.
“I am sorry. How did it happen?”
“Keep it to yourself. I usually don’t speak about this.”
“It won’t be spoken to anyone else. Trust me.”
“Nisha was drugged and raped.” He said as his eyes moistened.
“It was seven years ago. It happened during a late night party at her friend’s place. As the group of seven students, three of them boys, was in the terrace, she fell prey to them. The other two girls were kept tied and gagged the whole night.” He carried on tightening his fist, trying to fight his tears, “A month before, one of the boys made an advance at her and when she slapped his face to keep him at bay, he made up his mind to show his vileness and spoil her life.”
Apparently, the boys got away. They bribed their way through the lawsuit that followed. After a few months, the local public frenzy also died out.
“One of her female friends never recovered from the horror. She took to stuttering ever since then. Psychiatrists, counseling sessions! Nothing helped her.” He said running his fingers on the rough wooden bench darkened with rain and moss.
“I see my daughter in the bus everyday wearing her favourite blue kameez and black jeans.” He says, “She is always on the footboard and waves at me. As the bus passes the stop, she goes into the bus.”
He said, pausing, “But…there is no way I can ever hear her voice. I have her singing voice recorded in the CD. I plug on my ear phones as soon as the bus stops and then, she waves at me. That way, I can hear her voice when she waves.”
He widened his eyes and averred, “I don’t ever tell my wife that I see Nisha. She may think I am mad. I tell her that I go on morning walks. Besides, I have this figured – Nisha doesn’t show herself to anyone except me.”
Nothing makes sense to me. I am in a haze as the man spoke about her appearance on the footboards of the buses. What do I tell him? That foot boards are unsafe spots? Do I tell him that he is hallucinating? Perhaps, he is grieving for her? Or is it really that the ghost of the dead girl greets him from the bus every day?
These are questions I’ll never dare try and find answers to. For now, I find comfort at the bereaved father’s smile as he restrains his tears falling down his wrinkled cheeks. He clutches his knee to get up from the bench and walk homeward.
As I remained seated on the bench too stunned to move, I saw the silhouette of the elderly figure limping home in the bright morning sunshine.