In his early 20s, slim with raven black hair and a ready smile, a young guy slung the bag holding cash and tickets over himself. He was now ready to embark on a journey — his first day at work as a bus conductor. With a handful of ticket bunches and paper notes cleverly tucked between his fingers, he moved around the passengers, collecting the fee and giving them tickets.
After a few stops, the bus came to a halt at a stop. He saw three or four children, smartly dressed in their school uniforms, boarding the bus along with their parents. The bus till now silent, was suddenly filled with laughter, movement, some cries and a lot of activity.
The bus conductor looked on with interest. There was one who was restless, one that was silent, a timid one and lastly the most beautiful sleeping beauty with the thumb in the mouth. He realised that it was their first day too as rapid introductions were flying while at the same time the mums and dads try to keep the kids under control.
The bus conductor felt a tug at his heart. All of them were at the first step of a journey in life together. He kept a watch full eye on each. The next bus stop, the next and the next, brought in more kids and fresh introductions. No one included the conductor as a part of the group, but he already felt himself to be a part of them.
Adorable little tots
He could not hide his smile. “Oh! such adorable little tots!!,” he thought. The journey to the school was around half an hour. Upon reaching the school bus stop, the conductor got down first and personally helped the parents and the cherubs. He waved them bye and got blank stares from some and byes from some. Happily, he boarded the bus and continued his work as a conductor.
Around noon when the bus was passing by the school, to his delight, all the kids who had boarded in the morning were on the bus, returning home. The conductor was so happy. Now the kids were not so jovial. Some were fast asleep, some cranky. Mothers were trying to control them and felt hassled.
The conductor came forward. With his hand filled tickets, he made a sound “KRRR” and said “Ticket, ticket, who wants a ticket?” and immediately all the kids turned to him.
“Ticket Uncle”, they crowned him. And he gave each of them a ticket as the mothers paid him. They smiled at him and he smiled back. In his mind he was so glad — from the next day he would always look out for these two trips.
He mentally tried to name each of them. They were 10 in all. Two or three he named them Miss Smarties as they seemed competent.
One was demanding, two or three he named them Dreamers, as the moment they were in the bus they kept looking out of the windows, so as not to miss anything. Then there was the timid one, a bit shy too. One was reserved and finally Sleeping Beauty of course.
Days, months and years passed by. The conductor by now was “Conductor Uncle”. There was a rail bridge that they had to cross. And once on the bridge the kids used to sing in unison, “Train train, goes chop chop chop”. The conductor sang with them too.
Time, it is said, waits for no man. The kids came and went alone now — parents were confident — but they also requested the conductor — familiar now after so many years of travelling together — to keep an eye. That he did almost zealously. Even his raven black hair had touches of salt in them.
He helped the kids who no longer were so little, with their heavy bags and felt sorry for them. “What do you have in your bags?” he often asked. And he got smiles from all. “Bricks, Uncle”, set the cheeky one. And he laughed, nodding his head.
Finally, one day, the bus conductor was surprised. “Train train goes chop, chop, chop” came a chorus from a group of ladylike ladies. “Why’s that?” asked the conductor. “Our last day, Conductor Uncle, of school”.
While the entire bus smiled, the conductor struggled to hide his tears. He realised a part of him had just ended. There were and will be fresh school goers every year. But this group whom he had seen grow in front of his eyes and grown with them too, would be gone for good. He sighed and then he smiled wishing them all good luck!
Mamata Bandyopadhyay is a homemaker based in Dubai.