It has been six years now and he has been with this city bus for the past three years. When he came, he found some job, which didn’t pay him well. Even then, he continued and finally graduated to his present job as a bus conductor. Apart from the salary, he saw the practicality of making a saving on the sly, for which he obviously has no regrets. He wanted to earn whatever money he could, make his own living and send some home to help run his family. His father and mother were both ill and on medication. His elder brother worked in their fields producing a meagre amount of rice, apart from running his small shop. Two of his sisters had been married off, thanks largely to this job that got him the money. He had plans to make enough money to one day return to the village and start a grocery shop.
He sat up and felt for the packet again inside the box below and took it out. In the light coming through the windows from the streetlights glowing above the bus, Diganta began sifting through the documents again. He found the application pinned to the newspaper clip. The application bore his name and address. The newspaper clip was an advertisement for a marketing position in a local company. Hussain’s address said he lived in Guwahati’s Jalukbari area. All his certificates were from institutions in Dhubri, which is in all probability his hometown, and they bore very good marks. “He definitely is a bright student. Possibly, Hussain, too, like him, had come to Guwahati in search of employment to help his family come out of financial problems. “He definitely is a bright student, and would definitely get a much better job with such excellent degrees. At least, he would not be spending his nights inside a bus like me as a bus conductor, having to suffer the abuses regularly, being paid a meagre salary for the day in the bus, and being able to do precious little for the family, which looks up to me and waits for my fortunes to turn. Or maybe, this man has no worries at all. Maybe, his family is quite well-to-do and his father wants him just to get into some job rather than loiter around with friends. Anything is possible,” his thoughts wandered on. He wondered if he had studied further, whether life would have been different, possibly better? Or maybe, it would not. He carried on thinking for some time but soon realised how useless it was now. So, he gave up in favour of the better reasoning that he had to catch some sleep before starting another day early in the morning. However, he knew one thing for sure, how anxious Ainul must be as he had lost his all-important documents, for he knew how difficult it was to search for a lost thing in a big city like Guwahati. Suddenly, to his own disbelief, he felt an unusual urge growing in him to help Ainul Hussain out of his misery.
It was the handyman Raju’s duty to get up early in the morning to give the bus a wash. Diganta followed soon, and after a bath, he used to light some incense sticks before the framed photograph of Lord Vishwakarma kept in the cabin of the bus. It was a similar morning the next day. Diganta took the packet out and glanced at the address again, and flung it back into the cabin where it settled with a thud towards the front seat. So, the bus began its daily trips. It was lunchtime when the bus arrived at Adabari bus stop. As usual, Barman and Raju got ready to head to the shanty hotel at the bus stand, where they used to go for lunch regularly. Diganta also went along every day, but not today. He instead took the packet and hurried towards Raju. He told him he was going to Jalukbari to return the packet, and if somebody, meanwhile, were to come to collect it or the police were to inquire about it, then he was to say that the conductor had gone to return it to the owner Ainul Hussain, and if he did not find him, then he would bring it back with him. Raju felt quite amused at Diganta’s unusual behaviour, though he didn’t make any comment.
Diganta dashed out, crossed the road and jumped into a Jalukbari-bound bus in the characteristic manner of people in his profession. He hurried, as he had to be back on time as the bus was to resume the trip again on its route in an hour. He reached Katiadalang, the place that Ainul Hussain had mentioned in his application form – C/o Mohd Rafik Ali, Near AT Road, Katiadalang, Jalukbari, Guwahati. After brief enquiries, he was able to locate the house of Md Rafik Ali. The house was a moderately sized one. From the entrance gate, he noticed a middle-aged man reading a newspaper, sitting on the steps leading to the front door. The door was open and a fan was on in the room behind him. The curtains fluttered with the gushes of air produced by the fan. The man, with tamul and pan in his mouth, was probably relaxing after his lunch with the newspaper and seemed uninterested on seeing Diganta approach him. Diganta’s rugged blue bus uniform further failed to arouse any interest in him. He gave a stare appearing something like a frown and then went back to the newspaper. Diganta had no time to take notice of anything, as he was already late, so he came straight to the point. He held out the packet to him and said, “I came to return this to Ainul Hussain. I guess this is where he lives? Well, I am the conductor of the bus where he had dropped the packet yesterday.” He was quick to add the packet was already open, so he had looked into the contents and since it contained his certificates, he felt he must return them as soon as possible. The man who had earlier kept on reading his paper without looking at Diganta, suddenly glanced up and gave a very blank look, as if Diganta had cast a spell on him. He folded the paper and got up on his feet. Holding the folds of his lungi into his hands, he said in a choked voice trying to hold the tamul in his mouth, “Well, Ainul used to be my tenant, but he is not available here any longer.” The man then took the packet, almost snatching it from Diganta’s hands, and looked into the contents blankly. Then, suddenly, with intense grief in his face, he looked straight into Diganta’s eyes and said, “I am sorry to say, Ainul has died!!”
Diganta was shocked. The man now stepped down the stairs to meet Diganta and continued, “Ainul was staying in my house for one year now. He had come from his home in Dhubri in search of a job in Guwahati. He got a petty job in a private firm, and he felt with his qualifications and experience, a good job would come his way. He was not from a very well-to-do family. So, he desperately needed a better paying job. Sadly, nothing came his way. He was jobless for a month, as the company he had worked for had laid him off. He used to be very depressed. I don’t know what other problems the boy had.” Then, as if sick with grief, he sat down again on the steps and said bitterly, “Yesterday evening, he took his own life”, spitting out as if with intense anger, the red liquid that had almost filled his mouth. “His body was found on the railway tracks near Saraighat bridge by local people. His head was severed under the locomotive’s wheels. All day, the police was here, making enquiries,” he ended. The man looked at the packet again. He then went inside and came out almost immediately with a pen in his hand. He took down Diganta’s name, address and bus number on the packet itself. He said he would make sure the packet reached Hussain’s home in Dhubri. Diganta said nothing. He turned back and started walking, as if in a trance, to the bus stand to catch a bus back to Adabari. He took out the packet of sadha, and, as he crushed the tobacco in his hand, he could hear the noise of each bit of the blackened dried leaves being crushed and mixed with every drop of lime. He could neither hear the bus that roared past him on its way... honking its loud stereophonic horn, nor was he aware that he had left the bus stop way behind.