It was many years ago, we were not exactly little ones then, we were about high school leaving age: myself and my younger brother. Thanks to our father’s ways we used to be sent to our native village absolutely alone since our primary school age; he used to request the government transport service bus conductor to look after us and to put us in a bus going to our village after arriving at the major preceding bus stations. All the time nothing adverse had happened, and therefore, we were quite used to travel alone or the both of us brothers. It is not at all necessary to identify the state, towns or localities; suffice it’d be that it was somewhere in India a long time back.
We boarded the bus at around eight o’clock in the morning after taking a light breakfast at home, from the then home city we were living in, heading for our native village to spend our summer holidays. Our journey was to take at least 8/9 hours which was to deposit us first in the preceding major station from where we were to take the evening bus to our village, as usual. After about three hours’ journey we arrived at a station which was quite an important stop as almost all the passengers and the driver-conductors used to take their lunch there. Since we left home early we were ravenously hungry by then, and after disembarking immediately went to the large canteen. We took the meals to our hearts’ content, enjoying it thoroughly. We never bothered about the time as we presumed the bus would stop for more than thirty minutes.
Finishing our delicious lunch we saw the bus still waiting in front of the book stall; didn’t know why it evaded our attention that almost all of our fellow passengers and the drive-conductor duo were not to be seen around by then. Being book worms, in another way of our father, we started looking at the books: one book ‘The Way to Dusty Death’ drew my attention, and I asked for it and started turning the pages lazily while my brother got engaged in some other books. Now and then we checked behind, finding the bus still standing there. However, after almost an hour we got suspicious; I bought by book, my brother returned his and we went for the bus.
To our horror, we found the bus was entirely empty! What happened? We inquired with the transport people loitering around. They informed us that our bus had left a long time back and another bus was put there for a journey to other destinations much later. We found ourselves to be stranded with no luggage and very little money in hand. We were not used to such circumstances and so did not know what to do apart from being very angry that the bus conductor never watched or waited for us. The only solacing thought that came to us was that in a small town, just about 20 km away, lived our very dear paternal aunty, and we decided to seek help there. We went out of the bus station and look a public bus that used to be run by private transporters.
The day was very hot, sunny and humid. We were sweating profusely in the packed bus, and to add to our woes as soon as the bus hit the pebble-and-sand road there started a huge trail of dust all along that almost enveloped the bus thanks further to incoming and overtaking vehicles leaving more smokes of dust. I looked sadly at the book at my lap-the way to a dusty death indeed? One more frightening thought struck both of us: if our aunt and family were not at home, gone somewhere urgently? Our sweat became sticky and dirty now.
It was almost evening when we finally reached the town. Luckily all were at home, and they were mighty surprised finding us so suddenly there. We narrated our tragedy, and our uncle immediately asked if we had informed the manager of that station. He got visibly irritated at our dismal performance, and left instantly for the local government bus station, as there were no phones around in most of the homes then. In the meantime our aunt took absolute care of us. We got refreshed with baths and deliciously hot homemade snacks.
After about an hour our uncle returned. He said he had talked to the manager of the preceding station of our destination and requested him to take proper action although it was quite late by then. He also booked our tickets for a morning ride next day as more time should not be wasted.
By afternoon next day we arrived at that major station, and even then it didn’t strike us to find the manager and ask for our baggage. Instead, we looked around the whole campus trying to find if the lifter had deposited the bag or the suitcase in the drains around the station. In the midst of our search, getting desperate by the minute, an uncle who lived in the village found us. He was also surprised at our ways. Knowing our full story he immediately took us to the transport manager’s chamber, and told him about the incident. First, he looked very disapprovingly at us and then pointed to a corner.
We almost leapt with joy! Our suitcase was lying there, still locked. The manager then asked us about the items put inside which we informed him very honestly about. He checked making us unlock it and finding it satisfactory handed over the suitcase to us. About the handbag he had not a clue. We were happy to get at least the major item back.
Our uncle, as if sent by God, took us to our native village and to our home, narrating himself the story behind. All there were also happy that the suitcase could be recovered. We informed our grandfather that the bag contained our undergarments, pyjamas and some eatables sent by our mother and that now we had nothing to wear for the night. Our grandfather smilingly arranged two dhotis (traditional Indian village lower wear) and said that other things would be bought from the market the next morning.
A few days later one morning we were horrified to find the local police officer with two constables marching heavily toward our house. He informed our grandfather that our father was very worried not getting any confirmation of our arrival. We told him with profound apologies that we were afraid to write a letter as we felt guilty, and besides, the tumult of the whole thing made us forget it too. Our grandfather invited them inside for a cup of tea.