Encounters

It’s pleasant today. It rained last night so weather is quite nice. Today buses have been parked straight and rush is relatively controlled (perhaps because advanced booking has arranged the flow of people to travel). It’s the busiest bus station in one of Pakistan’s largest cities. Hostess of one bus looks tired; she has come from Abbotabad and will move to Lahore after a stay of 15 minutes or so. She meets another host on her way to office and gives a usual courteous smile and together they enter the office. There are a lot of people today at morning time because of Eid holidays. People come and go. A young girl looks apprehensive. It seems she is travelling for the first time alone, she holds her bag tightly and looks around with a fear as if some bad man would appear and steal her bag or grab her at worst. A young boy with a shopping bag in his hands looks restless to find his bus. He has bought shoes from Sage; the shopping bag in his hand tells. His worn out jeans cannot make anyone decide whether it’s his style or he cannot afford new ones. A woman in uncomfortable stilettos tries to walk peacefully but the agony her face reflects is in contrast to the shine of her shoes. As you inch closer, you can see her long brittle nails and cracked heels (one is reminded of primitivity and man in caves). It is quite obvious that nowhere in her distorted cognition it rests that half of the pain in her life at the moment is due to heels she wear. A middle aged village woman in tea-pink intricately patterned print shalwar qameez and white malmal-dupatta gets down from a bus from Multan. She carries a small steel bucket of desi ghee or suji-halwa or maybe gurh-halwa. She looks headstrong woman from Punjab, she is alone and seems confident to travel but now she looks anxious as her eyes move around waiting for someone. She carries the small bucket tightly; her only possession. A chubby guy hurriedly pays the taxi driver and looks for his bus. He seems to be late. After checking two three buses, his movements slow down, he looks happy now as if he has hit an instant jackpot. Perhaps he feels relieved to know that he has got sometime. To celebrate this momentary pleasure he takes out a cigarette, lights it, makes puffs for being happy or maybe he is still tense and wants to release his tension of ‘ifs’. Surrounds himself in thick clouds of smoke and leans back at the wall staring at his destination bus. Another man stands still in camel coloured corduroy pants and gives occasional looks to people sitting on bench behind him. He has an old styled suitcase. The suitcase brings 80s tempo. He seems a bit old schooled with nice English hair-cut. He moves towards tuck shop and carefully glances at displayed items; he seems to be picky. He is happy to get hot coffee but now looks disturbed with a feeling of being observed. A father of four five children also enters the terminal, each child carries a pack of chips. The mother seems tired, perhaps she has gotten up quite early to prepare for the journey while husband and children had two three more hours to sleep. Behind them there is another family with two boys. The woman in abaya seems furious and calls her husband Aamir. “I cannot sit at such a dirty place”, she says and refuses to sit on the bench and continues complaining about the dirty place (probably she hasn’t seen our real bus stops and dhaabay). They seem to come from some Arab country. May be Dubai. Giving up she sits on the bench and one can smell the strong fragrance of her perfume as if she has poured the whole bottle on her. The man and sons seem quite peaceful unlike her as they don’t bother what she says. They are busy looking at a girl and a boy who argue with the bus host about non-availability of seats. May be they have been issued wrong tickets. The host tries to calm them down that they are trying to accommodate them. A sweeper comes to clean the floor. Passengers sitting by get angry due to dust his broom spreads. He says sorry to all but what he can do. It’s all wrappers, juice packs and used tissues on the ground by educated people who think they are civilized enough to travel by expensive bus service and are keeping up with refined social class. He is there to clean the dirt they have brought with them. He does it with a smile. As the weather is good, he does not mind. Most of the passengers prefer to sit outside as it’s nice out there. A newly-wed couple glide towards their bus with new suit cases. They are happy and are oblivion of dirt, dust and rush around. They look forward to their happy days together. A father in waistcoat scolds his five year old son who insists to buy snacks from the high-priced tuck shop while mother is busy looking at the dress of another woman who is busy texting someone. The announcement informs about the arrival and departure timings but the old loud speaker fails to make it clear so most of the people are hovering around their buses. Two young boys greet each other warmly and look surprised. They seem to know each other and meeting after long time. It seems a happy surprise. They walk towards the open area talking to each other. A young mother carries a baby in her lap who looks peacefully sleeping. Can’t decide if she/he is a baby girl or boy but is a real heartbreaker at the age of just few months. He now is waking up and the mother puts a Milk Pack in small feeder and feeds the newborn; another elderly woman with her seems tense about it. Perhaps she is thinking it’s not good for a baby to drink such thick and artificial milk as it may cause terrible constipation and cramps in stomach. But why would young mother care; they hate traditional approaches and nuskhay. Dissatisfied, the elderly woman turns her face to the other side. It’s time to leave. Everyone with their luggage moves towards bus. Kids have eaten all snacks and left the wrappers on the floor. Half lit cigarette lies on the floor burning. A girl moving towards bus stumbles upon an empty Milk Pack under her feet. While all move, sweeper comes again to clean the dirt that passengers have left behind…

She too gets up and takes the seat by the window.

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9 thoughts on “Encounters

  1. I must say it is an excellent piece reflecting on our daily practices. We always put the burden of responsibility on someone else’ shoulder. We always blame others and criticise them especially ‘illiterate people ‘. The bus terminal you are talking about is somehow elitist and fenerally so- called educated well behaved cultured citizens of Pakistan can afford to travel through Daewoo and we have seen how these people carelessly throw liter here and there and show the real face of their personality under the mask of sophistication. Hence proved it is not the illiterate rather it is the knowledgeable university educated beings spoiling the society in all respects. A scatty critique of society in an eloquent way. Good work done dear Sonia. Keep it up!

  2. There is a daewoo terminal right next to the place I live, and I have been there quite a few times my self as well. I have had very similar observations, excellent writing by you I must say. Great way to put it all into words. Keep up the good work !

  3. Hello to my friend from the other side of the border. I’m a young bona fide writer from New Delhi and I’m looking for contemporaries whose writings aren’t shackled by the certainties of boundaries. I’m planning to start a cult of SAARC writers who can come together in this visual world to express their unheard sagas. I invite you to consider my proposal.

    Waiting for your reply at
    leonado.karan@gmail.com

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