By the time Rajesh reached BMTC Bus stand it was already late. The crowd was getting bigger and bigger. He cursed his boss. He wanted to smoke, but was hesitant. Last time a police man had warned him. His body was wet with sweat. This year the summer has been unusual in many aspects. It had reached Bangalore rather early. The hot and humid weather was draining his sap. Many buses came and went, but there was no sign of his bus. Whenever a bus arrived the people were swarming its two entrances like bees. It was a struggle for people who wanted to get down. He could hear them cursing.
He stretched his neck to look at the number of the bus. He has been travelling in this route for the past 25 years. His bus number has been changed, but now it has appendages like A, B and C. He looked at his watch, it was already half past eight. His wife had already called twice.
Finally his bus arrived, people from everywhere started running towards it. Before he could know, he was already inside the bus. He felt bad as he could not get a seat. He thought people were always faster than him. He badly needed a seat as he was damn tired. He wanted to sit down and relax his paining neck and may be he also wanted to think about Saroja, his colleague. She too had stayed back today late at the Office with him, assisting him in preparing the reports. He leaned against a supporting rod in the bus and closed his eyes. People were pushing all around.
He closed his eyes and tried to push in the thoughts of Saroja. He had a minimum of forty five minutes of bus journey ahead. ‘Saroja has a strange smell’, Rajesh thought. He was surprised at pleasant smell oozing out from her even in this hot summer. Today evening she had come many a times near him. Whenever she came near him, his nostrils used to open wide and his breath used to get deeper and deeper. He wanted to ask what perfume she uses, or was it the fragrance of her sweat? ‘Whatever it is, it has a soothing effect’, he thought. Bus Conductor was shouting to accommodate more people. Somebody pushed Rajesh and he did not budge nor he opened his eyes.
Somebody pressed against him and a strong pungent smell entered his nostrils. Suddenly Saroja escaped from his thoughts and Rajesh opened his eyes. His breath choked as a pungent, stinking smell enveloped him. In front a teenaged boy was standing and he was being pushed by others. Rajesh wanted to get back away from that boy, but he could not even lift his leg. The bus was so overcrowded. Rajesh could not tolerate the smell. Twitching his face he looked at the boy. The boy wore a sheepish smile. His clothes were dirty or rather they were like starched clothes- hardened by the dirt and sweat. It seemed the boy had never taken a bath in his life time. His eyes though innocent had secretions collected at the edges which too was hardened. Rajesh’s stomach churned. He closed his eyes and leaned back as if to get away from that boy. He could not. He tried to hold his breath to stop that pungent stinking odour entering his lungs. But his efforts were in vain. He could not stop the stinking smell emanating from the boy entering his lungs. He started grumbling, he felt very uneasy. He had never experienced such a repulsive smell in his life. He wanted to get down from the bus and he tried to jostle through. He could not move an inch. People were still trying to get in and were shouting. He was so helpless and miserable. Rajesh looked at the boy again. The boy was looking out of the window at a film poster. It seemed as if his hair has not seen oil or a comb. He saw the boy scratching his head and his eyes unknowingly saw the nails of the boy. Rajesh was shocked. Half an inch long nails had all the dirt on this earth. Rajesh felt dizzy and he closed his eyes. The churning in the somach had not stopped. Rajesh stiffened his body and closed his eyes. He felt the smell entering his veins from the lungs. He felt the smell entering his body cells. He felt he himself is stinking and unknowingly shuddered. The bus had moved and was already nearing Corporation. Some people tried to get down and Rajesh pushed aside that boy and rushed to the door to get down. He heard people scolding him.
He sat down on a bench under the bus shelter. It was dark and there were very few people around. He felt the same odour around him. He tried to close his nostrils and suddenly he took back his hand as he felt his hand was foul smelling. He remembered he had pushed that boy aside with the same hand. The churning in the stomach was unbearable and his body started to sweat. He got up and went near the fence of the Corporation building and he felt as if his guts were violently strained and he could bear it no longer, he vomitted. It was sudden and so powerful vomit made its way through his nostrils also. He took out his water bottle from his bag and found that it was empty. He desperately wanted to clean his mouth. He felt as if that boy in the bus is still hugging him. He felt as if the stinking odour of the boy has enveloped his body. He could feel that smell in his nostrils and now in his mouth also. Rajesh felt dizzy and thought he will not be able to catch another bus for his travel. He hired an auto. He has been travelling in these buses for so many years. He never had a smelly experience like this before.
Auto driver was humming a song. Suddenly he stopping humming turned back and had a quick glance at Rajesh. Rajesh felt uneasy. He wanted to reach home early and wanted to clean himself and wanted to clean the smell of that boy which was still clinging to him. Auto driver rubbed his nose looked at both sides of the road and said ‘Dirty smell!’ Rajesh moved to a corner of the seat. He felt the driver must have found out the source of the bad odour. Was it coming from his mouth? Or from his body? Rajesh pursed his lips tight and slowed his breathing as if to keep it away from the Auto driver. He got down near his house and paid the money. Auto driver took the money in his finger tips and hurriedly left the place rubbing his nose.
There was no one at the home. His son Kirti must have gone for tutions and his wife must be in neighbour’s house. He opened the door with his keys, threw the bag on the sofa and rushed to the bath room.
He never had such a refreshing bath in his life or he thought so. But the strange and stinking smell of that boy was still in his nostrils. He blew his nose, used abundant after shave, but it was still hovering around Rajesh. He sat down and switched on the TV. He wanted to forget everything. The door bell rang.
Rajesh’s wife Anjana came inside with a vegetable bag. She had gone to neighbourhood vegetable shop. She kept her shopping bag on the dining table and apologised for returning late from the shop. She looked at Rajesh and asked him,
‘Are not you feeling well? Whats the matter with you? Why you look so dull?’
Rajesh was hesitant to tell about the stinking smelly boy and his gut churning experience on the way. ‘Oh, nothing’ he said, ‘I am just tired’.
Rajesh indeed was tired. After dinner he sat in front of the TV. The image of the dirty boy with his long dirt filled nails and huge hardened secretions in the eyes came to his mind. That peculiar, unexplainable stinking odour started to fill his nostrils. Again his guts started to churn. He pulled back his head and closed his eyes. He wanted to forget everything. He forcibly tried to rope in some pleasant thoughts in to his mind. His wife came to sat next to him. She too was watching TV. After some time she rubbed her nose and complained of the smell from the gutter. She got up and closed the windows. Rajesh felt uneasy. Is it the smell of the gutter or the odour from his body? He felt feverish. He did not go to bedroom to sleep because he was afraid that she would find out the source of the smell. He lied down on the sofa.
It was a strange dream. All these years his dreams were only images. But today his dreams consisted of odours. He saw an image approaching him. He was the same boy, the boy who was adjacent to him in the bus, the boy with the stinking odour. Rajesh wanted to turn away and close his eyes. But he could not move. That boy came nearer and nearer. He could see his dirty mangled hair, face with tar like dirt, thick swollen lips and saliva dripping from it. Suddenly the stinking odour engulfed him. Rajesh wanted to shout, but no voice came out from his throat. That boy came still nearer put his hand on the shoulder of Rajesh. As if out of a jolt Rajesh woke up. He was sweating profusely. He saw his son Kirti standing in front of him with his hand on the shoulder. Kirti rubbed his nose and murmured something about the smell. Kirti called his mother. Rajesh had high fever. He was given a crocin. He told his wife he will sleep on the sofa itself as it is much comfortable. The whole night Rajesh did not sleep a wink. Whenever he tried to sleep, he would get those stinking dreams.
Next morning he could not get up as he felt weak. His wife advised him to apply leave for a week and take rest for which he obediently obliged. He was no mood to travel in those buses.
One week passed like a flash. During the leave period he completed many of the house hold chores and minor repairs. He almost forgot the boy with the stinking odour. Next Monday he left to his office as usual. He caught his usual bus. There were many vacant seats. He was in a cheerful mood. As bus moved by, the crowd in the bus increased. There were many people standing and he was surprised to find that seat adjacent to him was vacant. No body sat next to him. The people who were standing were looking at Rajesh with twitched faces and they were rubbing their noses. He saw as if in a dream people moving away from him.
Wow.. I loved your short story!! It was awesome!
Smile, it makes (y)our day!
Nice story J Balakrishna
We stink, but, we call others stinking! Story is simple... But, the message is strong.... A good attempt...! Best wishes....
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