The black diary had just returned to haunt me. Damn. Much as my ego hurt, I realised I was licked. I had always prided myself on this ability to sense potential disaster miles away but today happened to be one of those days when fate seemed intent on asserting who was boss. Poor me. Quickly flipping through the pages, I came to September 8th. It was blank - no entries so far, no lessons learnt. Alas. It was not meant to be. I rummaged through the contents of my attache and dug out my pen. I sat back and pondered. How should i put it ?
1. When it rains in September, it usually pours.
2. When it pours, leave early.
3. When you leave early, choose the aisle.
I relaxed and had a relook. I guess that summed it up well. I stared at the leaky roof once again and saw that the droplets drifting in sideways through the window panes had now become almost a current. Another five minutes and I might need an umbrella to prevent getting drenched. Quite clearly I wasn't the only one suffering as a few seats ahead, the gentleman sitting near the window seemed to be facing a bigger problem. Besides the leaking roof, his window shutter was stuck. Everyone around him seemed to fancy an almighty tug at it but so far no one had come even remotely close to success. And the gentleman didn't seem to be taking it all lightly. He'd been on the phone now for the last 3 minutes trying to call George Thomas..As if that would solve his problems :-)
I wriggled to avoid the wet patch that had already formed in my seat but realised it was fruitless trying to avoid the inevitable. I hastily glanced at my watch. It was ten to ten. Swamy, who'd dozed off no sooner had the bus started, seemed to have woken up thanks to all this fracas. Traffic had almost come to a stand-still and Hosur Road was one big mess. Barring the odd generator powered shop and the gawdy neon billboards, it was pitch dark outside - these power cuts always seemed to have this uncanny knack of happening at the most inopportune times. The driver switched on the lights inside the bus and the 'hot' chick in our aisle seat opened her paperback. Swamy coughed. A silent cough. It was our sign. I raised my eyebrows in question and he responded by drawing my attention to the title of the book our seat-mate was reading.
Mars and Venus in the Bedroom : A Guide to Lasting Romance and Passion
I smiled. Old habits die hard. I checked her fingers and found no ring. There was still hope. I winked at Swamy and silently wished him luck. The look on Swamy's face had "The One" written all over it :-) The steady downpour had just become heavier and the huge Hutch billboard was hardly visible through the hazy window. Swamy trying to grab the 'hot' chick's attention, eyed the open diary and flicked through to the latest entry. Glancing at my observations, he casually commented "Non Sequitur". A little too loudly too. Dammit. These freshers from college seemed to be perenially suffering from the hangover of their GRE preparations. Why can't they speak plain and simple English ?
Reminding myself to look up this new word as soon as I got home, I gazed absent-mindedly at the sidewalk across the road. I noticed that traffic had slowly started moving in the opposite direction and the irritable truck drivers were honking at the two wheelers to move faster. At the far end on the other side, I vaguely perceived an old man with a crutch in his hand desperately trying to cross the road. It was really dark and I couldn't but help wonder why he was out in the rains at this odd hour. And then I saw that he was trying to reach out to a small group of children on the other side of the road, near our side of the divider. Everytime he took a step forward, a car or a bus jerked ahead or cut in abruptly and he was forced to retreat. Refusing to give up, he tried again but with every attempt, I could slowly sense his confidence waning.
I opened the window a little bit and felt the eyes of people in my bus boring on my back. Scared to turn back and explain, I focused on checking to see if the old man was safe. By now the old man seemed to have got desperate and was making rash advances. Suddenly out of nowhere, or so i would like to believe, a scooter screeched to a sliding halt besides him. Abandoning the vehicle and rushing to his help was the rider with the helmet still on. Grabbbing the old man by his left arm and supporting him by the shoulder, the duo moved forward fearlessly. The rain continued to lash heavily and the road was now extremely slippery. Wildly gesticulating to the approaching vehicles to let them pass, the rider carefully guided the old man towards the divider. I was almost on the edge of my seat and could barely contain my anxiety. Just when I was about to thank the Gods for the timely help, I watched in horror as the old man slipped and fell on his back. Perceiving his utter helplessness, the rider dragged him across and safely negotiated the last few yards. Relief was writ all over the old man's face and in a sudden burst of emotion, he kissed the rider on the forehead. Physically drained and overwhelmed by the rapid turn of events, the rider took off the helmet and gave the old man a tired hug. And it was only then that I realised it was a young girl. She could hardly have been a day over 15. Petite with long hair, cherubic face, radiant smile. One of God's special children. I had gooseflesh all over me. Never before had I felt so exhilarated. I wanted to stand up and applaud. It had been nothing but a small act of kindness, but for me it was a giant leap in faith. I realised what it meant for the future of humanity. Quietly confident that Swamy had also been witness to this miracle, I nudged to get his reaction. There was none. He had fallen asleep again.
ps: Iyer, this is closer to the person you knew from Pearl 68. I have a feeling you will agree.