At 1 am, the bus broke down at an unknown place. All the passengers were asked to alight and wait for the next bus. There were no more buses on our route. Most passengers started walking ahead but I chose to stay near the broken bus. Everything seemed okay until I heard one of the remaining passengers say, "Fine night, this."
I was about to sit myself down on a nearby rock and I was surprised she could see me from where she sat. I turned towards the woman who spoke. She was cross legged on the ground and was looking up at the sky. She was right, the stars were clearer, away from the city lights. I nodded with a smile and she looked back at me. She looked tired, maybe it had been a long journey.
"Where were you travelling to?" I asked moving to sit with her.
"Into the city. My daughter moved there quite recently, and I finally had the time to visit her."
When she spoke of her daughter, there was hardly any trace of the tiredness in her voice or her face. So much fondness, that I couldn't help but be smile.
"There will be no buses coming, the driver said. Will you walk back?" she asked.
"Maybe not all the way. There's a friend who lives halfway from here" I answer, and she hesitates as if to ask a question. However, she just lies down on the ground, arms tucked under her head and sighs as she across the sky.
I lie down too, eased by her comfort.
"You see, it has been long since I saw the stars. Been long since I've been outside, to be honest" she starts. She seems like someone who talks well. Which was perfect for me, because I talked very little. I was a good listener though and I loved stories, most of all. So I just raise my eyebrow at her sudden question signalling her to continue.
"I have never been outside in the night, I mean. Husband came home too drunk everyday and I had little time to look at the sky when I needed to take care of him and then me. Thank goodness I was able to send Rani away. When she called and asked me to come to her, I booked a bus ticket right after. Just my purse and me. Didn't even change my sari" she said, pulling her pallu from underneath her and showing the gold border to me. It was faded and torn at the edges.
"Happens to be my best sari too. All the others are too torn from that bastard's beatings and burnings. This one, Kamal, that neighbour's son, he gave it to me. Said he got it from his mother's locker and she was going to throw it away anyway. I love the design", she looks away from the sky and at herself. Then she looks at me and there are tears in her eyes. She smiles through them and then goes back to her stargazing, shooing me away with her hand gesture and not even a look. I sigh and get up, leaving her to her alone time.
I walk up to the bus in repair, the driver and conductor still busy at the front. I climb in and walk to seat 24b, and look at her. Her head tilted upwards, eyes wide open, and the gold border of her pallu glinting in starlight.
"At least I got to see the stars. At least I died in my favourite sari" she said, standing right beside me, looking at her body lying lifeless on the seat. I hold my hand out to her
"Is it painful, where you will be taking me? More beatings?" a little timidly she asks.
"Only stars await you, amma, and a sari with gold border if you wish for it."
We are, all of a sudden out of the bus that was supposed to be her ticket to a new life, which ended up being her hearse.
"Not a bad place then" she says, placing her hand in mine and then we are gone.