Kathmandu

The alarm goes off. But I don’t want to wake up yet. I go back to sleep.

“It’s already five! You’re definitely going to be late today.”, I hear my sister.

Five? Wasn’t it like four-thirty seconds ago?

I reluctantly wake up and jump to shower. The water is so cold that it feels like they’ve just pumped it up from Antarctica. Nah, I’ll shower tomorrow- I promise this time.

I get dressed and go to my sister to say goodbye. While she’s busy applying kohl to one of her eyes, she gives a quick look from the corner of her other eye.

“I didn’t know you had a black jeans. That seems a little baggy to me.”

Done with her kohl, she walks to me and touches my left shoulder.

“You look good. Good luck for the day.”

She wishes me luck everyday.

“Touch me on the right shoulder too.”

I feel uneasy if someone breaks symmetry. I force my sister to restore the world’s balance.

As I leave my apartment, I cannot help but give a sudden shiver. I’ve never felt so cold before and it’s getting worse everyday.

As I reach the street after a short walk across a trail, I’m shocked to see how thick the fog is- anything beyond thirty feet is barely visible. It’s bone-crushing cold and yet there doesn’t seem to be any decline in the number of people around. This is exactly what I love about this city- everyone’s so busy with their own story.

As I reach the bus-stop, I notice the same old woman sitting on a low, iron, stool- red with rust it has accumulated all these years. She always sits on the same spot on the sidewalk, right next to the buses selling tea and biscuits. She has a young son who always does his homework sitting next to her on a red mat so dirty that it’s almost black these days. I don’t see him today. Maybe he finished his homework last night. Maybe I should try her tea one of these days.

I get on the bus. Full of hope, I look around to see if there’s any seat left. There’s one at the last row but I don’t want to sit there. Vijay told me last week that the last two rows are where the most number of pickpocketing incidents happen.

I stand near the middle of the aisle. It won’t be long before the conductor asks me to move to the very back because “there’s so much space behind me and we should all go together”.

Baneshwor, Seto Pool, Raato Pool, Gaushala, Gopikrishna!”, you can clearly see his breath as the bus conductor recites the names of the places the bus will go to in his torn jeans, gray jacket and yellow woolen cap. He is perhaps five to six years younger than me. I wonder if he’s ever been to school.

The driver shouts, “Let’s go, the other bus is already here.”

Three buses compete for the same passengers and once the fourth one comes back from its trip, each one of the three wants to get out as fast as possible, trying their best to collect the passengers on the way- each passenger adding fifteen rupees to their fortune.

The bus gives a violent jerk as it starts to move. I quickly grab the handrail with my left hand. It’s painfully cold but the bus moves so violently that I’ve got no choice. I feel uneasy as I’m holding the rod with just my left hand. I retract my left hand and grab it with my right hand. Because I’ll be using my left hand for the rest of the journey, I remove my right hand, grab it again and then switch to left.

“Using a forged student ID to get a student concession is a shameful deed.”, the bright red letters above the door are screaming to me. I don’t know how to react as the last time I was in school was five months ago but I still want concessions.

I wonder how much savings will I be left with once I’m done with all my jobs. I have twenty-seven thousand in the bank, I make forty a month; if I save twenty-five out of that, I’ll have one hundred twenty-five after another five months. The school still needs to pay me thirty. So all in all, I’ll have hundred eighty two in the end. Deep down, I know it’d be a wonder if I save half of that.

I’d never thought of getting a job before I got one. I applied to US colleges last year. After getting rejected from all, I had nothing better to do as I reapplied. Someone asked me if I could tutor his sister and then, suddenly, I was tutoring five and teaching two classes in a school. I think about when I’ll get back home and realizing how dark it gets at around eight these days, my heart sinks a little.

The bus stops at Raato Pool and a really girl enters. She’s wearing a tight, blue jeans and a brown overcoat that’s competing with her black leather boots to reach her knees. She has a dark, hair that falls over her shoulder. The conductor asks her to keep going back. She reaches near me and stops. My heart starts to race.

“Hi!”, she smiles at me.

This is probably the first time a stranger of opposite gender has said hi to me. This is probably the last time too. I curse myself for not combing my hair this morning.

“Hello!” I smile back at her.

“Where you going? College?”

“Umm no. I tutor over at Gopikrishna. What about you?”

“MBBS preparation.”

Ah, so she wants to be a doctor then. A pretty, little doctor.

“You’re just out of high school, right?”

Damn! do I look so old?

“Yes. I just felt like working for a while.”

That was true. My family’s strong enough to sustain me without me working but I like the independent feel I get with my jobs. Also, I get to spend money on random things I like.

“Good for you.”

“What about you? Where did you go to high school?”

“Lincoln.”

“Wow! Do you know Pranav?”

“Of course! So you’re Pranav’s friend, huh?”

“Facebook friend. I’ve never met him.”

She smiled at that. She has a smile to die for.

Gaushala”, the conductor spoils it all.

“My stop is here. Gotta go now. It was great talking to you.”

“Bye.”

I hadn’t noticed that the bus was already pretty crowded at this point. She had a pretty hard time getting out of the bus. And then there are the sickos who grab a woman’s body when she has to squeeze in to get out. I just hope there’s no one like that here.

A lot of people get off at this stop and it’s a little better now. The bus moves on.

Wait, I should have asked for her number. Nah, that would have been awkward. Shit, I should have at least asked her name. I could have searched her over in Facebook that way. Ahhhhhh!

“Hey, why are you trying to get your hands in my bag?” I hear an angry woman’s voice from near the very back of the bus. Damn, another one of the pickpockets.

“Because I want to.”

Now that’s a bold pickpocket.

“How dare you try to steal my purse and say that!” I like the confidence in the woman’s voice. I like these sort of conversations- I usually get to hear one every month.

Everyone’s eyes are on the two. I turn back.

The guy looks down. Maybe he’s finally ashamed of himself.

He kneels down and out of nowhere, there’s a switchblade in his hand. People try to clear around the two.

“I hope this doesn’t turn ugly”, I hear someone whisper.

“Now shut the fuck up and give me that purse.”

I feel helpless. I feel bad. A woman is being mugged in broad daylight in a bus full of people. And the people all around are silent. No one dares to raise a voice. No one has any fucking balls to do anything about this. What are all these people afraid of? One tiny little knife? Where is all the humanity shit now?

The woman obliges.

I want to do something. I want to shout. I want to scream. I want to help the woman. I want the mugger beaten up. I want to teach him a lesson. I want him dead.

I take my hands of the handrail.

“Now that ring too. Oh yes and that pendant.”

I try to move towards the two but my legs refuse.

I’ve never been in a fight. And I don’t want to get into one. I’m just a short, chubby guy who barely has any strength in him. I cannot stop a football kicked towards me. I have never ever beaten a soul in arm wrestling and I want to fight this thug with a knife? I don’t want to get hurt. I don’t want to die.

“Leave the lady alone. Don’t you think can get away with this robbery.”

A man, probably in his fifties, moves towards the robber. My heart starts racing but it’s happy that someone finally raises his voice. I want other people to chime in. I want everyone to get together and beat up this guy.

What’s happening? Why isn’t anyone saying anything? Bunch of fucking cowards.

“This is none of your business old man.”

“This is my business. This is all of our business.”

Exactly people. Let’s get together. Today, this woman is getting mugged, tomorrow it could be you. Get up now and get hold of him.

I make way for the old man to move towards the mugger.

All of a sudden, I hear a loud, sharp cry. It takes me a few seconds to realize what just happened. I see blood pouring through the old man’s shoulder. The thief just plunged his knife into the old man’s shoulder. He rushes towards the door with the woman’s belongings.

Thank god I didn’t speak up. I don’t want to get hurt like that. I don’t even know that woman. Why should I care about her more than myself? What do I care what happens to her?

But a part of me feels terrible. I feel sorry for the old man howling with pain, asking the driver to stop the bus. But more than that, I admire him. I admire that he spoke up. I respect him. I respect him that he took an action. My conscience condemns me for being so passive.

It was me who was supposed me do all that. I want to be in the old man’s place. I want to be the one who was hit with that knife. I want to be the one who spoke up, the one who raised his voice. I want to be the one who has a trace of humanity still left somewhere down there.

I know that I’ll never be able to do what he just did.

Gopikrishna.

That’s my stop.

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