I think gravity does not exist….
And humans are bolted down, by the weight of their burdens.
At times we think all lessons have been learnt and all questions have been answered. That is exactly when life, secretly, cunningly, oils its mighty whip, lurks in ambush, ready to kneel us back into humility.
It had been a long, exhausting day. The sun had handed over its reins to the night. Last-minute commuters at the bus station, a curious mixture of agitated and bored, summoned their final ounces of energy to catch departing rides. I stood in queue at the ticket counter, observing this commotion with a visual time lapse as my eyes flickered to a halt. A wave of tiredness washed over me and I sealed them shut in exhaustion, realizing I was still two hours away from home.
Ticket in hand, I scurried to the vehicle and reached just in time. As the last passenger to board, I heard the whoosh of a door behind me as the engine purred to life. Walking down the narrow aisle, barely keeping my balance, I tried to locate my seat. A few fellow travelers feigned sleep, the elderly read newspapers under poor light, some worked on laptops, but most of them were glued to their smart phones – the addiction of our age. Towards the end of the bus, I spotted a vacancy.
That is when I heard a scream.
Deafening, raw and intense.
Like pain stitched into the air.
A scream beckoning anyone who could help end it.
The raven- haired boy couldn’t be more than four years old. Beet red in the face, streaming tears, banging his fists into a lady, presumably his mother. The sheer effort of the shriek made his head wobble like it was loosely attached to his neck, not under his control. The frazzled mother tried to soothe him, but he kept wriggling out of her grasp like a slippery snail. She had a helpless, resigned look on her face, telling me these tantrums were a common occurrence.
Even though there were no empty slots on the bus, hoping against hope I rechecked the ticket. My heart sank as I read the dreaded number. Bowing helplessly before the cruelty of lady luck, I released a heavy sigh. A sigh so defeated and so quiet, that it went unnoticed. Its sound and heave dissipated into the vastness of the universe and evaporated into nothingness.
My fate was sealed.
This wailing four-year-old was my neighbor for the next two hours.
I forced a polite smile and slid into the empty seat, occupying the least amount of space possible. Trying to avoid being on the receiving end of his kicks and punches, conscious of the unflattering attention on the mother/son duo and consequently on me. Everyone turned to witness the spectacle. Heads shook in disbelief, judgments were muttered under breaths, verdicts of parental incompetence were passed while the child kept on screaming like the devil. The mother, with unwavering patience, continued to pacify the child, failing miserably.
Just then, a middle-aged gentleman, who decided to become everyone’s unchosen spokesperson, cleared his throat. Rising from a cramped window seat, he was forced to twist and bend to be visible. This odd posture and his brimming fury made him look like an old-fashioned kettle – Full of steam and about to explode. Once in position, he began delivering his toxic sermon:
“Why do you bring small kids on the bus when you can’t handle them? What kind of a mother are you? Make him stop or get off the bus.”
Unable to defend the onslaught, the mother turned to her son. The child’s face buckled and he raised his hands to protect himself, squirming as if to lessen the impact of the expected blow. But instead of venting her anger, she scooped him up and pressed him firmly against her chest, shielding him from a hateful world. Shallow irate breaths turned to a panting gasp as he sucked in the air like it had suddenly become thick and was almost too difficult to draw in. His muscles relaxed as the mother cooed a lullaby in his ear. Finally giving in, less out of submission and more out of exhaustion, his eyes began the downward spiral to slumber.
The inconsolable fiend…. was finally asleep.
The mother ran her fingers through his tousled hair, framing them around his forehead, entranced by the rhythm of this breath. Dim streaks of a streetlight rippled in through the window, almost water-like and fell on the child’s flaccid body. On each arm there were fresh purple bruises that would only deepen over the coming week. My horrified expression asked the question for me. The mother, with more courage than I ever hope to have, touched the bruises with the tip of her finger and said:
“He had his first chemo today. They couldn’t find the vein.”
In that split second, the bubble I had been living in, burst. Feeling hollow, I fell back into my seat as the world around me spun a little too fast. Ashamed to be sharing oxygen with cowards who attacked a helpless boy, a distraught exclamation escaped my lips:
“Why didn’t you tell them? Why didn’t you tell all those men to shut up?”
She smiled, a slanted crooked smile, like a child who is determined not to weep.
Looking into my eyes with the wisdom of sages, she said: “Because their disease…..is incurable.”