The road twisted now – broken here and there. It was narrow with wide expanses of dirt and bare earth on either side. But it was well shaded with branches of densely grown trees hanging over it.
Shaded as it was, it was pleasantly cool and comforting. He walked along, a tall lean man, his boots leaving imprints on the powdery, padded dust.
His eyes roamed the road ahead, but it was bare and devoid of any human form.
Somewhere ahead, in the distance, lay the mountains.
On either side of the road, between the trees, could be seen expanses of planted fields interspersed with thickets and lines of trees. Hidden from sight, a water pump worked; its regular monotonous sound hanging in the air.
There were squirrels on the road, nibbling and then taking quick flight as he came near. He could hear the birds on the trees around and see them swirling over the fields on either side.
He took out his water flask and drank long and deep.
It was a moment seeping into his consciousness and he wished it to prolong.
As he walked ahead, however; suddenly, with a tinge of disappointment, he saw a human figure sitting on the right side of the road on something that looked like a big stone or boulder. The figure was clad in white and, as he drew near, he saw that it was an old man, wearing glasses, with a walking stick lying on the ground by his side.
The old man was looking contemplatively straight ahead towards the fields on the other side of the road and didn’t seem to be aware of his approaching presence.
Slowly he continued walking up the road.
He drew close to the old man and thought of passing him by. Just then, the old man turned his head, looked at him and smiled. He stopped.
“Lovely day”, he said, smiling back at the old man.
The old man nodded his head.
“Yes, especially this time of the year when the fields are planted and the weather is turning cool, it becomes quite beautiful,” the old man replied, lifting his head to look up at the sky where scattered tufts of clouds lay.
He put his hands in his pocket, looking around.
“The road perhaps could be in a better condition,” he said after a while.
The old man shifted slightly on his seat and looked up and down the road.
“Further on, it gets much worse. Till this point, it’s still not all that bad”, the old man replied.
He stood there, not knowing what more to say and thought of moving on; when behind him, on the road, he heard the sound of an approaching vehicle. He turned sideways, watching the road behind.
“It’s the bus. It passes through around this time of the day. It’s a little late today,” the old man said, bending forward to look down the road.
The bus was now in sight as it turned the bend.
As they watched, the bus reached them.
On an impulse, he lifted his hand for the bus to stop.
The bus stopped on the side of the road.
“I think it’s better to get on the bus,” he told the old man.
The old man smiled and nodded.
He walked rapidly towards the bus and climbed into it.
The bus was largely empty. A couple of persons were sitting in the front, their back to him.
A bearded, thickset man of indefinite years, wearing something like a uniform was sitting on the back seat. Probably the conductor, he thought; which was confirmed when the fellow took out a whistle and blew it. The bus started forward with a jerk.
He sat down.
After sometime, he noted that the road – if it could be called a road anymore – had become much more broken. The bus lurched from side to side as it tediously negotiated the broken stretches. He bumped and swayed hard on his seat.
He tried looking out the window. The planted crops were much less now and it was more of a growing wilderness. He felt uncomfortable.
He had never come this far on the road.
As the bus bumped hard into a pothole again, he regretted getting on the bus. For some time he sat undecided and then, finally making up his mind, stood up and walked down the bus to the conductor.
“I’m sorry, but I would like to get down. Could you please get the driver to stop the bus,” he told the conductor, a little apologetically.
The bearded fellow looked up at him, scratched his chin and took out the whistle again – blowing it sharply.
The bus slowed down and stopped on the side of the road.
He got down and took out the water flask and drank deeply.
The bus started and moved on slowly up the road, finally disappearing from sight.
He turned around and started walking down the road towards where he had come from.
After some time, he felt he was close to the spot where he had seen the old man sitting. He walked slowly and quietly now, trying to avoid being sighted if the old man was still there.
Then suddenly his saw the spot where he had got on the bus and – with relief – noted that the old man was no longer sitting there.
He walked rapidly down the road now, crossing the spot where he had met the old man. It was getting on towards evening and the fields on the either side were golden with the evening sun.
As he slowly disappeared down the road; the old man, hidden by a tree, watched him going back as he himself had done many years ago; looking so much the same…….
Standing there silently, the old man wondered if he could still catch the bus – the bus which went to the mountains.