I begrudgingly got off the Mumbai to Bangalore AC Sleeper bus that night, I was so plagued with sleep as I often am when sad or lost that had it not been for the inconvenience of having a limited bladder I would have stayed in that coffin like sleeper berth and waited for the bus to start again.. It was past ten ‘o clock and we had halted for dinner at an exaggeratedly fake Rajasthani Restaurant named Rajgadh Palace, somewhere along the National Highway still within the Maharashtra State border, while other buses and trucks whooshed past us. A tiny frail woman caught my attention. She was draped in a Saree that looked so heavy for her that she moved with a trepidation that made you feel like she will slip any minute now. I was sitting on this six-seater table on one corner, as all lone travellers do resigned to the fate that a whole table to themselves is asking for way too much. I was groggy with sleep and my mouth held that strange feeling that comes with not speaking for hours at a stretch. Seated on one of the chairs on the opposite side was a rather impatient man travelling on the same bus as me, his hair shaped funnily in the shape of his pillow, threatening the waiter every five minutes to hurry up with the food or the bus is going to leave without him. The waiter fruitlessly assured him that the bus will wait for at least another twenty minutes but in vain. The man was stubborn. When his food finally did arrive, he asked for rotis one at a time as one does when being fed at home with all the ladies of the household waiting on us. He rested his left elbow on the adjacent empty chair and reclined with an apparent sense of entitlement and an implied difficulty to please.
Midway through my own meal of piping hot and fiery sabzi so red that it stained the tips of my fingers with its redness, this tiny woman who caught my eye came and occupied a seat on the same table accompanied by her rather squarish and stout husband. He wore the traditional Marwari red flower earring in his left earlobe and the amount of jewellery she wore corroborated the recentness of their wedding. They did not exchange a single word after joining the table and the husband ordered food for the both of them. They managed to spend the ten minutes that the food took to arrive without giving each other any eye contact. I imagined a muffled loneliness emanating from her and it tousled my sulking sadness. The food came and the husband sprung forward to fill up his plate and then the wife’s who showed no movement or expression. He poured all the rice onto his plate and with barely some left as an almost afterthought he tilted it towards his wife and asked, “You won’t have any of this right?”
She nodded politely and I looked at her shrinking frame and fought the urge to ask her if she was okay. I unwillingly imagined her petite frame crouching under this man double her bodyweight, in the darkness of the night and I hoped against all evidence that at least there she has a voice.
I worried about this little woman whose name I did not know and because I couldn’t pull her aside and ask her questions about her life till I was convinced she was safe, I sighed and dodged the green pea on my plate. When her husband wasn’t looking, I gently pushed a glass of water to her side and she smiled as she lifted the glass to her lips and I swear for that moment she looked like a friend I met back in Mumbai, ranting about the unfairness of being female over a few fruity cocktails.