MIDWAY : Moment of truth

Rajan Raj Acharya

When I was a student of the Tribhuvan University I used to take the bus from the Old Bus Park. Dire financial constraints meant I seldom had any money to spare, not even to pay the bus fare. I had to cough up an extra four rupees a day if I took the bus to and fro. Trivial a sum as it now appears, it was nonetheless unaffordable back then. While I almost regularly skipped breakfast. The pinch of the pocket was most painful when I had to take my lady companion for a lunch, once in a while.

This difficulty forced me to devise ways to travel without fare. I made friends with a bus conductor, who had nevertheless doubts about our newfound camaraderie. He gradually came to understand my pitiful state and he never bothered to ask for the fare. I was more than happy to take the bus for free. But he always added the fares to my account. He might have misconstrued that he was dealing with a gentleman and I would pay the entire amount as soon as I had it. But my intention was otherwise. My idea was to complete the academic year and give a damn about such a weird stuff, when there were matters pressing needs to attend to. But I was not completely at home with this adventure. I knew that meant heading for trouble sooner or later. One day, just as I had a mounting suspicion of facing a difficult situation soon, the conductor flashed a strange smile at me. Misconstruing this as his fore-act to demand the dues, I could but only turn chalk white.

Unable to meet his gaze, I turned away from him. When I looked back a minute later, he had disappeared, to my relief. I could not get into that bus now on, nor had I money to pay the dues. There was also no alternative travel arrangement. The only other way out was to walk the distance. And for that I moved heaven and earth but at the end I failed to frisk the distance on foot. Agonised after a few days, I shamelessly decided to resume my free bus ride. No sooner had I stepped into the bus the conductor came running. "Where have you been?" he asked as if he sorely missed my absence."I fell ill," I lied. Thinking that he would talk the fare next, I added that I will pay him shortly. "I never meant to ask for the dues. I was only concerned about your well-being." This made me realise I was running from him. The burden of betrayal was too much to bear. I later handed him the fare after keeping my engagement ring as a collateral for a tiny sum that I loaned from a pawn broker.