It was like any other day- I stood waiting for the bus at the gate of my field-station, all packed for a day at work. I prefer to take the 0830 hrs bus, rather than the 0930 hrs one, for two simple reasons: the 0830 one is less crowded, leaving a chance for me to get a seat, and, the bus-driver as well as the bus-conductor are kind enough to stop at my doorstep to pick me up, unlike some others, who refuse to do so!
It was like any other day, I was waiting for the 0830 bus to work. The red-bus appeared from behind the ridge of the next village, visible from my room. I hurriedly locked the door, ran to the gate, and boarded the bus, to occupy a window-seat on the sunny-side (the sun still seems pleasant during early hours of the day).
Hardly five minutes into my journey, I realised that I have forgotten, probably the most important thing in this world, my money! Before it was too late, I headed to get-off at the next stop and walk back home, to take the much avoided 0930 bus.
“Where are you going?”, a pull at my backpack, along with a hoarse voice asked.
The bus-conductor, who usually puts up a rude face to everyone, especially kids, but very subtly pamper them with his affection. He reminds me of one of the alpha-males of a bonnet macaque group here, but that story is for some other time to tell.
“I forgot my wallet, Swamy. I will take the next bus”, I reply in haste.
“How much money do you need for the day?”, with the typical thumbs-up questioning gesture that is used in this part of our country, the thick-mustached man asked.
I fumbled, as I did not have an amount ready at the tip of my tongue. “The two-way bus fare, and some extra to keep.”
“Aha!”, and he swiftly shuffles four hundred-Rupee notes and tucks it into my hand, and gestures at me to sit down.
Utterly embarrassed, not to mention extremely baffled, I tried to resist him from giving me the money, when he mock-glared at me, and slightly raising his voice almost ordered me to be seated quietly, and not to be late for work!
I sat down, as I would have reacted to a similar action from my father, and finally convinced him that only one hundred-Rupee note was enough to bear the expenses of my entire day. He took back the other three notes only on one condition that I need not buy the ticket that day, as he wanted to ensure I had enough money with me, in case there was an emergency.
I reached my destination within the next half-hour, and all along the way, I kept wondering about those few exchanges of smiles and small-talks that, quite unknowingly, translated into an affectionate bonding between me and the man with a thick mustache.