I was six years old. Yes, six. A lot of this story has much to do with my age which is six.
I hated school. I had just started it, by the way. But I knew I was going to hate it. Forever.
Every morning a big green bus would come for me. I would be at the bus stand with my mother and would burst into tears just looking at it. I didn’t really know what I hated more–the school or the school bus.
I would get into the noisy bus and be squashed into a seat with two other children dressed identically in blue—like me. I didn’t really like them.
I would swallow my tears and be brave. Some days I wouldn’t bother and would cry unselfconsciously. Howling at the top of my lungs would be a better description.
This particular day I decided to follow the latter course. The usual scene followed. The other two identically dressed children would cover their ears. And then the conductor would come and talk to me. First, he would console me, be nice to me. And then when his patience ran out, he would raise his voice and ask me to shut up.
A nice woman traveled in the bus. She was a teacher and a friend of my mother’s. When I entered the bus after yet another dreadful day at school, she would smile at me. I liked her smile. Her name was Evelyn.
This particular morning, she was not sitting very far from where I was sitting .And in a few minutes she enquired what chaos was all about. I guess someone told her.
She came up to my seat. She sent the identically dressed blue clones to her seat and then smiled at me.
“How are you doing today?” she asked. I didn’t oblige and bawled away, oblivious. She tried for a while and I started to talk a bit. And I stopped crying.
I was hiccuping tremendously by now and explaining to her that I hated my school and also my mother (her so-called friend) for sending me there. She agreed and said that school was a bad place to go to.
“How old are you?” she asked me. “Four,” I replied promptly.
I was six years old, mind you. But I told her that I was four. I had suddenly felt very embarrassed about crying in front of everyone. Six year olds didn’t cry. It was shameful! Four year olds were allowed to cry.
And so I told her that I was four.
I sat in silence after that. She continued talking to me. But I hardly heard what she was saying. I was consumed with guilt. Tremendous guilt.
Did she know I was lying? Sure, I was small made and everyone usually found it hard to believe I was six anyway. But did she know? My mother may have told her that I was a big girl. A big six year old girl. Did Evelyn aunty know my deep, dark dreadful secret?
For the first time in my life, I was glad to see the school approaching through the window. I smiled and said goodbye. And rushed into the school, relieved.
All day I thought of nothing else. Four years old. Would she believe me? How would I go back home in the same bus? What if she called up my mother to find out if I was really four years old? Would she tell that dreadful conductor? Maybe she would even tell the girls who sat with me. I imagined them laughing at me. “She thinks she’s four years old. She’s actually six!” I imagined Blue Girl One saying. “Six year olds don’t cry!” I imagined Blue Girl Two saying.
The day passed by too fast. And it was time to step into the bus again.
I mustered all my courage and raced into the bus not looking at the place where Evelyn sat. She was there all right. I could see her yellow sari from the corner of my eye. The job was done!
If I didn’t make eye contact, I wouldn’t have to converse with her again.
The next day, I did the same thing. I didn’t look at the place where she sat. In fact, I didn’t look there throughout the bus journey just in case she was turning around looking for me. I almost cried in relief when I reached my bus stop.
I did the same thing the next day. And the next. And then the next.
Crying in the bus was strictly out of the question. I didn’t want to attract attention to myself!
Months passed. One day I somehow mustered up the courage to look at the seat where she sat—just a peek.
I didn’t see her.
This time I peeled my eyes to look for her, not only around her seat but all around the bus in case she was sitting somewhere else. I couldn’t find her.
That evening I asked my mother why Evelyn Aunty hadn’t come in the bus. Was she sick?
Oh no, my mother explained. Her husband had been transferred two weeks ago and she had gone with him.
“Where?”I asked. “To Leh,” my mother said. Was that far away? Yes, very far. Was she coming back? No, she wasn’t.
The next day I howled in the bus as loudly as I could, much to the amazement of a very bewildered conductor and to the annoyance of the Blue Clones.