The New Driver

Mene Mene Terkel, and Parsin…

I had woken up to the call of a feminine voice. It was a soft voice, like that I had read in Romeo and Juliet, or to be more practical, like Maria’s voice when first she called my name. At this point, my readers, I know that you will proceed to have me explain to you who this Maria is, or was and, of course, pour before you all the blunt ends of my life with her. This I will not do, or will perhaps accidentally do, for the hand, like the mouth, is often guided by the sentiments over the rigors of the past. And talking about the rigors of the past, merged with the tribulations of the present, can one avoid brooding over the loved ones? Well, let my tale tell its own story. She had woken me up, or rather startled me, this young lady, with a gentle tap on my shoulder, and a soft whisper:

“Would you mind, sir?”

I pushed to the window seat, and she sat next to me, hands gently folded in her laps. Such tender laps! One would wonder how she survived the frequent changing of these new old buses. enroute

And this idea of changing buses on a short journey, it is always sickening. More sickening is the idea of having to face new drivers, and new conductors in the same old robes like the predecessors. I looked at my beautiful neighbor, and without thinking much about it, took her hand in mine, and asked her:

“How many buses have you changed?”

“mmmm this is the fifth one”

“You are enjoying the ride?”

“I feel like spitting my life out…it is all sickening!”

At this point the bus jerked, the engine mourned, followed by a loud wailing from the womenfolk. The rear wheel had span off while the bus was in motion. We all went numb as if thunder stricken, and more frightened was my beautiful and tender neighbor. She clung on to my sleeves, trembling. This whipped away all my fears, and instead a will to protect engulfed me. I gathered her in my arms. The bus had come to a violent stop. We all walked out, down into an uncertain future. There, the passengers were gathered around the driver, listening. He was holding a beer in his hand, and was muttering something to the effect that all would be alright, that the repairing was progressing, and that we were bound to reach our destination soon.

“Look people, we are doing all we can, and I hope we are heading home soon!” he gulped down the remaining bear.

“Heading home? Is your head alright Mr Driver? Is this what you call heading home?” I chipped in furiously, partly fuelled by my beautiful neighbor, and partly by the fatigue of long travel with no glimpse of my destination.

“You think we are so gullible, and mindless too, that we can just swallow whatever rhetoric you devise to convince us. You think our eyes cannot see that we are heading to doom, that we are bound to be at this place for eternity? This is the fifth bus since we embarked on this journey, but nothing has changed, you are always the same, as if you inherited the genes of your predecessors. Look at the passengers around you, they are afraid, uncertainty has eaten their hearts, they don’t know what to expect, and worse still what not to expect…”

I paused. I looked at the faces around me, they all looked up to me as their savior, their spokesperson in this troubled time. My beautiful and tender neighbor sat quietly on a broken a rock on the roadside, looking at me, my Andromeda, and oh the fear in those eyes! You can agree with me my readers that the eyes of a woman in this state can remove a big chunk of flesh out of you, and that’s what those eyes did to me. Here I had to play Perseus, and secure my Andromeda from this sea monster. I am not a man given much to women, but this was a different case, for a monster was involved, and the main issue was rescue here, the romance might come later, just like the Perseus-Andromeda complex. I do not believe in myths, but I can be at liberty, as far as literature is concerned, to draw my motivation from them. And I hope you get me my readers, for I respect you, and I know you have no time for triviality. This matter here was no way trivial, for the driver now, drunk and merry, began throwing insults at me.

“You son of a bitch, how dare you talk to me like that?! Don’t you know here I have your life in my hands, and by the way, all of your lives? You stand there before me, and hurl your useless heroic speech in my face, like Martin Luther Jr, but don’t you think it is all useless? Come to think of it, this here is a better bus. Didn’t you have several breakdowns in the previous bus? And how many hours did you have to wait for it to be fixed? Eternity! The bus company had no money, it had to depend on well-wishers, and you know we do not breed men like that anymore today. Now here I tell you that we will be home soon, and the engineers are already at it, then you dare throw your insults at me. You people will never appreciate!”

He threw the bottle down in a manner that looked like anger, but which, upon close scrutiny, was agony, the agony he felt due to the fact that he had been weighed, and found wanting. This was registered not by an invisible hand on any wall, but by the desolate faces of the passengers around him. These faces, they seemed to write on his conscious:

Mene mene terkel, and parsin

Mene! Mene!

Terkel! Terkel!

And Parsin!….hurrah for Ndata!

There was deep agony in his spirit. This is the agony that had killed his brother who used to drive the same bus. Human voices are more dangerous than any weapon, they kill slowly, but sure. One proceeds from defensive rhetoric, to radical biting, then, when the voices reach the peak, relapses into complete numbness, then the heart failure. From within the agitated crowd a voice rose. It was a piercing voice, full of sound and fury.

“YOU WILL PERISH LIKE YOUR BROTHER!”

Silence reigned. We all braced ourselves for what would come out of this.

The driver simply went away, into a nearby shop, and bought himself a second bear. Seeing that the conductor and the mechanics were not pleased, he called them, buying a whole crate for them. They made merry, while we waited on the road side. He shouted, on top of his voice:

‘I will not die soon!’

Now come to think of it my dear readers, this business of merry-making while the people under your wings are desperate, it is a funny business, and amusing too. You see that you are not a good leader after all, and you will never be, so you just buy yourself, and those that pretend to sympathize with you, some good time. At this time you just close your ears, for you know you will never manage to help those desperate voices. But human voices my readers, human voices are dangerous.

We were still by the road side, and the mechanics were completely drunk that they couldn’t do any work. So we were stuck. I went over to my beautiful and silent neighbor. She was trembling with fear, fear of the unknown, for the sun had set, and darkness was swiftly creeping in. I removed my jacket, just like any man could have done, and wrapped it around her vulnerable figure. She muttered something to me, something I had not heard a woman mutter to me for decades:

“You are a caring man, Tisu”

I froze. I had never mentioned my name to this lady, but here she was, spelling it out in its short form like the way Maria used to utter it. Tisu my hope. Tisu my energy. Tisu my world. Tisu, Tisu, Tisu, Tisu.

“You are surprised that I know your name?”

“Not at all”, I lied.

“I used to know her, Maria, she was my best friend. I do not know where she is now though, it has been a long time”

“How did you know me then?”

“She used to paste your pictures on the wall in her hostel”.

I was lost. I completely forgot about the idea that we were stuck. This was the only escape from the harsh reality of the circumstance. And believe me, to think about the loved one is the only escape from the harsh moments, especially the loved one who is gone and will never come back.

“I loved her, and she loved me too. The love was too strong that it always broke our hearts, and so she left, fearing that she would kill me. I tried to stop her, but she feared for my heart. I hear she is with a man now, whom she does not love. You see my dear lady, you do not need love to survive in this world, all you need is an art of parasitism. Romeo-Juliet myth does not happen in real world, and besides, all that Shakespeare was trying to teach is that true love can kill, and should not be allowed to exist. If you see it emerging, kill it as soon as possible”….

“Wow, you speak by the books”.

I looked at her face, she was bathed in tears. My heart melted too.

“Tisu, true love never kills!”

“It threatened to kill her, and I am glad she left. But at times, in my brooding, when playing Don Williams while in my bed, or reading Wordsworth’s Lucia poems, I see her stretching her hands to me, but alas me, I fall short, and let her slip into the abyss”

“That is so like Poetry, you know”, she laughed.

We sat there silent, the moon just emerging from the lake below. Our heartbeats mingled into one rhythm. I took her shoulders into my solitary arms, and whispered to her.

“When you fall into the deep pit of love, ”

“Ha ha ha…but here now, what are we going to do? We are stuck”.

“I guess we have to wait for a revolution, but that is not now. We are a God fearing nation, you know that”.

Silence. Loud and noisy silence among the neglected passengers.

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