Karthik slipped into the seat with a visible sigh of thankfulness. It was the peak hour of the day when the bus was always crowded and he had strategically stood in the gap separating two rows of seats so that his probability of finding a seat doubled. So much for his math as a struggling chartered accountant.
He peered out of the window, more for fresh air, than to enjoy the passing Madras scenery. He always noticed the names of the shops, however. Though, the names of the roads, he had no idea. ' Taj Tea Stal' , with a hand painted three stars, he knew, would be near the little Shiva temple in front of which an old woman always sat threading flowers into neat strands of worship. And he would always smile at ' Diamond Motors'. What was the owner of the shop thinking? That his motors were as precious, or shiny as diamonds? Or, as his astute friend had once pointed out that the owner's wife's name must be Diamond. Yes, Diamond Kuppuswamy, she must be. And they had laughed all the way through the journey.
And the bus screeched to a stop near the Oxford School, and the smell of fresh paint indicated its arrival. And he also knew this was the stop in which she got on. As she entered with a basket of vegetables, he was immediately conscious of himself and looked away, outside the window, lest she thought he was one of those types. She was young and frail, and not certainly what one would call pretty. But she had this charm about her, an air which seemed crisp, like her neatly tucked sari. She entered the bus, obviously tired after her day of selling greens to people who always bargained just for the pleasure of the gamble. And she always made them think they won. Otherwise, they never came back, she knew.
She must be called Kayal, thought Karthik, just like he thought everyday. With her fish-like kohl lined eyes, no other name suited her better. But today, he noticed, the happiness that danced in her eyes usually had taken back stage. And she had this vacant stare, as if she had lost something that can't be replaced. What must be her problem? Drinking husband? But no, he had never seen any toe ring. And as his mind was racing with possibilities and solutions, ' Thomas Church' came, which meant she would get down.
And as she did, a friend called out to her from below.