It was just 4 o’clock in the morning when the bus skidded to a stop at the nearly deserted Gorhoripur bus stand. A few sleepy eyes struggled open to see the new passengers and immediately closed after registering their commonplace appearances.
There were just two of them. A man, not as tall as he was stout, with a well oiled moustache. Dressed in a brightly printed shirt and shiny trousers, he was the very epitome of a poor man’s idea of prosperity and well being. The boy with him was thin, with large liquid eyes. He looked young and somehow desperate to please. He had worn his best clothes for the trip – a shirt the colour of fresh marigolds and his good “jean pant”. His worldly possessions were in a small tattered bag which he held close as he nudged himself into the very narrow space between the window and his uncle.
As the bus moved away from the familiar bus stand, Piklu felt his eyes well up. This was the first time that he was travelling without his mother or sister. The first time he would be staying away from them, god knows for how long and where. He was going for his first job and that too in a big city. His uncle had promised him work at a fine “restaurant”, where he would not just get enough to eat but also save money for his sister’s marriage.
Piklu‘s head reeled with thoughts of big city lights, the monstrous buildings, honking cars and the icy sweetness of the “heemcream” he’d had on a visit with his father in happier times. The strange pandemonium and the crowds were so very different from home.
His mind snapped back to his village. He was, in a way, glad to be rid of school, but he would miss the stories that his favourite teacher told everyday. He thought of his sister and the packet of achar that she had lovingly packed for him. He thought of his best friend and the football games that he would be missing. He thought again of his Ma. The boy slowly nodded off to sleep.
His uncle thought of his shabby ‘bhaater hotel’ near Sealdah, which was no more a fine restaurant than a scrap of tin balanced on three poles and a kadhai boiling furiously on a sputtering stove. He looked at the boy and suddenly felt a flash of pity.