Best day of my life!
"I remember that day as if all of this happened just yesterday. I was waiting at the door calling out your great grandmother to get me my lunch box. She came running through the hall passage and handed it over to me. I grabbed it and started running. Now that I think about it, it could have well been like a scene from the Olympic relay races. The stakes were really high. I started running down the stairs while simultaneously placing my lunch box into my school bag with just one hand. I was done with it by the time I reached the ground floor. I started running towards the intersection where your favorite ice cream shop is. I gained pace as I sprinted through the compound. I used to have a rectangular backpack back then, with prints of some cartoon character. A water bottle clinging on to my neck, baggy half pants and a checkered shirt, the sleeves of which ended around my elbow and talcum powder smothered all over my face courtesy of your grandmother. Watching a chubby young lad dressed like that, oiled hair combed to perfection would have been a pretty funny site I imagine. I reached the stop almost out of breath and could see that the school bus had left the stop just a few moments ago. I waved hoping someone would see me and stop the bus but owing to my amazing luck, that wasn’t what happened. Now, the logical thing to do was go back home and have your great grandmother somehow drop me off at the last stop of the bus, via some unknown hidden shortcuts so that I happily reach school in time. However, I hadn’t been the ideal kid she’d want that particular day which meant going back home would have really made things even more worse for me. I had some cash with me, which I had picked up, 'not stolen' from her purse to eat something from the canteen(which she obviously wouldn’t let me had she known). I also knew that some kids from the older batches got to school by public transport. Now now, going back home to get a nice beating or taking the public bus and experience my first solo backpacking trip... I made the rather sane choice, obviously!
The public transport bus stop was just across from my school bus stop. I stood by it meanwhile attempting to catch my breath. It had been a few minutes when I saw one of your great grandmother’s friend walk by. Ducking behind the dustbin besides the bus stop, I somehow managed to remain hidden. Back in the day, these aunties in our society were a terror you’d rather leave at bay. Having realized that waiting at this particular stop is rather risky, I decided to walk to the next stop which was about 15 minutes away, had more frequent buses and after getting a bus it would take another 20 minutes to reach the school. According to my calculations, I’d reach school with 5-10 minutes to spare before the assembly starts. Humming some tunes I started walking in the direction of the bus stop. I was thinking about how the day would go. I had completed the homework for a few classes, still had a few more to go. I was wishing those teachers would not ask for the homework. I was really excited that we had gym class that day and no rain meant we get to play outdoors. Finally, I reached the bus stop, covered in sweat. To my relief there were actually a few kids from my school at the bus stop. This came as a boon as I was clueless about what bus to board and what route it’ll go given this was my first rodeo. I would just get in the bus which my school mates would get into. After a couple of minutes a bus came and I could see a swarm of people with a few in my school uniform trying to get in. I joined the crowd, but could not even reach a two arms distance from the bus door. After a few buses went by, another one came along but I just stood there pondering over my decision. Now, you see.. this was back when I was yet to start cussing so I was out of expressions at that point. All I could do was feel overwhelmed about the task at hand. The afternoon sun was getting ruthless and I just wanted to get to school now without getting a remark for being late and letting my record for having a untainted calendar remain intact. These small things would really make me happy back then. After some time a bus was approaching and I felt; nay, I was certain that it had the same route number as the first one I tried to board. Shockingly this bus was not that crowded and there was no struggle to get in and Oh boy! Happily I boarded it.
I asked for a ticket mentioning my school and the bus conductor handed me a ticket with some spare change. I even asked the conductor to inform me when I was supposed to get down, he agreed. I went ahead and got a seat by the window. The bus was taking the same route as my school bus which was relieving. The bus not being as crowded as the others had me sceptical at the start. Now, looking out of the window, at the familiar shops passing by, lost in thoughts of things I don't remember now and anticipating the turns to school ahead and smiling sheepishly about the fact that in a few hours, I get to play on the school ground, I saw my bus missing the turn my school bus took. I started getting a little anxious and waited for the conductor to inform me when to get down from the bus. 10 minutes went by. I should have reached by now according to what I had calculated. Mustering all the courage I had in store, I went to the conductor and asked him when would the bus reach my school. He estimated about more half an hour. I was really confused and after a lot of explaining and conversation between the two of us, he made me reach the conclusion that I had boarded bus number 39 thinking of it as bus number 31. The 1 and 9 in Marathi were mirror images of each other and I was a little too naive to get that. This bus would travel through the entire market area before dropping me off at the school. In hindsight, this was really stupid of me but then again, I once boarded a wrong bus even when I was 21 years old, a story for another time maybe? Hey, we are not all perfect! I decided not to risk my existing situation more by getting down and remained in my seat. My anxiety increasing after each stop that the bus made. Through all the traffic and about what felt like a thousand stops later, the bus conductor called for my stop and I darted out of the bus.
I raced towards the school gate, and spotted no one. No teacher, no student. It was as though that particular part of the the school was under lock down. Pacing around for a bit, I finally asked a passer by for the time. He said it was 1:30. I was an hour and half late. My sense of time and direction as a kid was worse than someone high as a kite, I guess. I stood there supposed to burst into tears but feeling actually just remorseless, not because I was late but because of the consequences of this incident being reported. What’s about to come next my dear grandchildren, was the first screw it moment of my life. After standing there for what seemed like an eternity, I decided not to enter the school premises believing that I am smart enough to figure out something. What made me sad was that during third class, all my friends would get to play in the ground. My brain started calculating again, maa would leave for work by 2pm as she always used to tell. I could go back home, hoping she really left for work and then wait for mom and dad till the evening and pretend that I've been home for just an hour or so just like every other day. I started to make my way towards the bus stop.
On my way, I heard familiar voices coming from the direction of the school ground which was just adjacent. I sneaked towards the wall and saw my class running about on the ground. I stood there watching them from behind the net and bushes. I knew about a rip in school net which was used by some kids to sneak on the grounds to play after school hours, I spotted it, hid my bag behind a tree and ran towards my class.
They were playing football and stopped after seeing me. They were happy to see me, we exchanged our regular pleasantries and then a few started asking where I was since the assembly! I lied about being in the computer lab, as I had some work for the computer club. Luckily everyone bought it and as kids with tiny attention spans, no one really bothered. I was assigned to a team and we played. At that age playing football was just everyone running behind the ball with no idea or care about rules or formations at all. It was a fun game is all I recollect. The bell rang and everyone had to form a line to go back to class. I went and stood last along with my buddies, avoiding being seen by the teacher, I told my friends I would be going back to the computer lab. As the line ahead walked and our teacher was out of sight, in the pretense of slacking off I stayed back. Soon after that, I started running by the borders of the ground as if doing a lap, went behind the tree picked up my bag, got out and ran like there was no tomorrow towards the bus stop.
This time as every bus approached the stop, I asked someone waiting at the stop or the bus driver whether that bus would drop me home. Finally I got on the correct bus and got home without being seen by anyone, at least not by someone who would rat me out. I used the keys I had and let myself in. I checked all the rooms for signs of mom, changed in a hurry and ate the lunch mom had packed. Now I had a lot of time to kill.
First thing I did was raid the kitchen to my heart's content. I tried all the snacks your great grandmother had hidden away on the top shelves. I also made sure I ate portions small enough that she wouldn't notice something was missing. I also kept everything the way it was where I found it. I was really excited to watch what was on the TV as I had never had the chance to watch TV during these hours before. Keeping the volume to a bare minimum so as not to attract attention if anyone went by, I flipped through all the different shows checking my digital watch regularly. When it showed 6, I knew it was time to turn off the TV as Dad would be home in half hour. Now kids, we had CRT TV back then which would heat up real quick and dad would ask questions if he noticed that the TV had been running for a long time and I wanted the TV to cool off by the time he was home. I wonder if I really was one step ahead of your great grandparents or they always knew what I was upto but never really said anything as long as it seemed harmless. In about half an hour, as expected, Dad came home. I greeted him casually and asked for his permission to go play cricket just I as I did every other day.
I knew this adventure of mine would not be caught as my teacher did not ask for a leave note the next day. I remember how happy I was them. That's the whole story!", the grandfather finally stopped. Sleeping on what he knew was his deathbed, talking to his grandchildren who were probably here to see him the last time before his cancer took him away from them.
"But, why is this the best day of your life dude? You did so much fun stuff all your life, went on so many trips and adventures; we are always hearing so many stories from literally everyone about you”, the eldest granddaughter asked..
Taking a deep breathe he said, "I want you to remember whatever I say now as the last words your grandpa said to you, so listen carefully. I know you would have expected some real adventure or twists and turns in that story I told you. But it was what I told you, nothing more, nothing less happened that day. This particular memory had faded back somewhere until a few years ago, when I suddenly realized that this little escapade was the best day of my life. How much ever I tried later on in my life, I never could really miss the school bus. You guys might be too young to understand this but that day I was not me. I was random and spontaneous, I had no care at all, no responsibilities or worries. For a day I was born again and had a completely different life from what was built up until then or what came next. I wish there was a single day in my whole adult life where I could have had a similar day, completely off the grid and not being the ‘daily’ me. I am not saying being like that is a good thing, you should never run away from anything. But when you grow up to be adults, remember this story vaguely and just for one day, try and miss the metaphorical school bus...."
Thank you, seriously I am really grateful to you if you read through it all. I feel this was a really good concept to write about and could not do justice to it (Bad writing + trying to keep it short). However, I happen to have a star editor who is narcissistic enough to edit this part in bold and red but also prefers to remain anonymous. I hope I can write more soon, get better and never actually stop. Hoping you remembered your childhood and miss your version of the school bus.