I take my handbag and glance at the mirror, once again. My white saree, flung with patterns of vermillion red flowers, outwits this brilliant morning, and infuses me with animated freshness. Mother screams at me because she hears the noise of the bus. I rush to the bus stand.
“I’m late. He’ll take my seat.” I murmur to myself.
I get into the bus. Ah, he is there, occupying my favourite seat, looking at me like a conqueror. He would do this every morning, if I get a little late. Both of us have an incessant yearning to occupy the window seat just behind the bus driver– it is easy to get off, offers the full blast of the morning breeze and the views of the passing towns. I got the seat yesterday, and enjoyed his sulking face as I insulted him with facial gestures. Today, he is the winner, and I would have to sulk. He says “Good morning” — possibly a peace offer. I do not respond, my anger is too great. But, I cannot help smiling to myself as he looks away.
This is my regular bus to office from Peliyagoda to Colombo, and I meet him almost every day. He is good looking, tall, well-dressed, and has an unforgettable smile. But, he will not get away lightly today. I am not sure why I smile when I am next to him. And I am not sure why he seems overjoyed and nervous at the same time, when he is next to me.
“He’s not worth it. Why can’t he give me the seat — like a gentleman? I hate him,” I murmur to myself, hoping that he can hear my thoughts.
The Kelani River meanders lazily towards the sea as the bus passes the bridge. The water is brackish, and large. Possibly because it has captured happiness and harshness of the people who live in the slums around it. This scenery offers the only respite from my dull suburban office dealing with financial issues. One day we can give a better life to these slum-dwelling people. But, I do not know how. People do not like to share, I have learned this from financial markets. But look at us, me and this boy next to me–we do not share either. We fight, one wins and the other sulks.
He is a gentle Sinhala boy who I knew lived in a boarding house. I know that the food at this boarding house is terrible. I have heard him telling his mother on the mobile. I would love to strangle this boarding woman one day and give him a proper meal, made with my own hands. He talks to his parents kindly, my eyes fill with tears when he addresses his parents as “amma” and “appachchi.”
Though we have been fighting for the front seat, we have never spoken to each other, other than the occasional song of victory: “Good Morning.” It is very strange how I longed to see him every morning, and would feel unhappy if he is not there. I think he also feels the same.
The bus gets crowded minute by minute. He is engrossed in the view outside the window — my view — and I get only a second-hand view. The bus is not in a hurry. It would take another thirty minutes to get to the Colombo Fort. He suddenly looks at me, as if he wants to say something. I look away. He looks again. I do not respond. I am not sure how I would respond if our eyes meet. A part of me longs to experience that unknown. The other part wants to hurt him. I think I am stuck between affection and aggression – or even love and hate.
A Buddhist monk gets into the bus and the conductor makes a great drama to make sure that the monk gets his reserved seat, which is our seat. Since the Buddhist clergy do not sit with females I need to vacate my seat. He looks at me long and hard as I get up. I for some unknown reason meet his eyes. I am not sure what the emotion that overcame me. But I know that his eyes are telling me something … what is it?
I get pushed and pummeled in the bus and that is not a comfortable feeling. On another day I would have fought and defended my space. But, today, for some reason I am passive and lost in my thoughts. I get pushed and pushed and pushed away from the front seat, until I am way at the back. I do not see the people. I only see his eyes. Someone offers me a seat possibly because I look ill right now. I sit and close my eyes. I cannot even see him. He cannot see me.
The first thing that happens is the smell — pungent smell, like gunpowder. Then, I feel hot. Powerful heat. Then there is smoke.
* * *
I may have been unconscious for two days. When I wake up, I am at home, lying on my bed, my mother utters words I cannot hear. It takes time for me to acclimatize. A Buddhist monk, mother says, saved my life. But he died. So did ten other people in the bus. It was a powerful bomb. Many people injured. Some critically. I sleep again. Because I do not want to face reality. I cannot even cry. I can only be numb to the world. Where is he? What happened to him? How can I go in that bus again?
As I sleep softly, I remember his eyes, what were they trying to tell me?
As I sleep like a helpless infant, I hear him calling his father “Appachchi” with a rare unknown gentleness. I wake up, crying “Appa”. My father who is next to me responds immediately. He is a man of few words, but today he rubs my head and says” Entai Pillai”. I see a window, a large and a wide window which offers me and him a panoramic view of the whole of Sri Lanka, and the world, and the universe in one go, without us having to fight.