THE BUS DRIVER’S NIGHT
By FELICITY CHONG
Mr. Ravi didn’t earn much. His pay cheques were always undersized, especially these days where people rarely take the bus anymore. But Mr. Ravi worked diligently every day. He drives the bus everyday but doesn’t even have a vehicle of his own. Fortunately, Mr. Kong, his best buddy is always ready to lend a helping hand and a ride home.
As Mr. Ravi waited for Kong to drive the car round, he noticed a little old lady sitting alone at the bus station. She looked like she needed help, so Mr. Ravi walked over to her.
“Good evening, madam. It’s very late. Do you need help? Do you want me to call someone for you?” Mr. Ravi asked kindly.
“No, thank you. I’m waiting for the bus. I need to go to Taman Sungai Mas”, she replied.
“It’s already late. The buses aren’t running anymore. What if I call you a taxi instead?” Mr. Ravi said, still helpful.
“No. I must take the bus. I will wait here until a bus comes”, she answered.
“Where is your house? My friend could give you a ride home. You shouldn’t stay here”, Mr. Ravi suggested.
“No, I must take the bus”, she said firmly. Mr. Ravi was puzzled by the woman’s behaviour. Why did she need to take the bus so badly? He glanced at the woman who looked average. She was old and dressed poorly. She was holding on to a big bag, it looked like a travelling bag, but it didn’t look expensive.
Mr. Ravi couldn’t decide what to do, so he asked Mr. Kong for his advice. After a while, both of them decided that there was nothing else to do but give her that ride on the bus.
Mr. Kong was a manager of the bus station, so he had the keys to the buses. He handed the keys for the bus to Mr. Ravi. Mr. Ravi started the engine and they went together.
They drove out of the Taiping bus station and proceeded to pass the Taiping Mosque and the Legend Inn Hotel. Mr. Ravi drove slower than usual, as there was no rush to stay on schedule. The town was particularly quiet and peaceful at night. Since they built Taiping Central, the youngsters seldom come to Taiping town to hang out. At night, the town almost looked like a ghost town.
Mr. Ravi was enjoying the serenity and silence. Looking at the night lights and the stars, breathing in the cool night air, all his worries seemed to have been blown away by the wind. He didn’t worry about the fact that he couldn’t make ends meet. Things would have been better if Mr. Muthu, Mr. Ravi’s father had not disappeared with the family’s savings and left him to take over the bus driver job. It didn’t matter. The town of everlasting peace was all Mr. Ravi was thinking about.
In the rear-view mirror, Mr. Ravi could see the old woman enjoying the night scene too. Mr. Kong was already fast asleep.
“It’s quiet”, she murmured. Mr. Ravi didn’t say a word, he just smiled. He was sure the old lady could see his face in the reflection of the mirror.
“I’ve never been on such an empty bus”, she continued, “I wish he was here. I wish we could take this ride together. You know, I met him right here on this bus. It was early Tuesday morning. I was working as a part-timer at a restaurant.” Mr. Ravi kept quiet and listened to her story.
“The bus was packed, but I could see empty seats at the back. He stood up and offered me his seat. I told him there was no need, but he insisted.” She gave a small laugh and continued, “What a strange man he was. I had never seen anyone as tall as him in my life. He got up and gave me his seat. I thought he was going to sit at the back. But no, he sat down at the seat just behind the seat that he was sitting in before. I had to laugh. He laughed too. And that was how we met”.
She shook her head and smiled. It must have been a very pleasant memory, Mr. Ravi thought. Her most treasured memory.
“After that, I kept seeing him each time I got on the bus. If it was pure coincidence, I thank God. Though I don’t think it was. Our whole life revolved around rides on these buses, back and forth this route. We even took a bus to our marriage ceremony.” She laughed and Mr. Ravi laughed as well.
Then, she paused.
“It was raining heavily. It was difficult to see through the thick rain. The driver was too fast and he didn’t see the man waving in the rain for the bus to stop. It did stop – right on top of my husband”, she grimaced.
“He died”, she said, her voice only a whisper.
No one spoke after that. Suddenly, there was a familiar buzzing sound. It was the bus bell. Mr. Ravi pulled the bus to a stop. He looked around and realised that they were right in front of the Malay graveyard beside the Pengkalan Aur Mosque.
“Here, take this”, she passed her entire bag to Mr. Ravi.
“I can’t take this. It’s all right, this ride is on the house”, Mr. Ravi said quickly.
“No, please take it”, she left the bag on the seat and climbed down the bus.
“I love the bus. Always have and always will”, and she disappeared into the darkness.
Mr. Ravi opened the bag and saw that it was filled completely with money. Inside there was a note, saying:
“To Mr. Muthu,
Thank you for wanting to pay for my husband’s funeral expenses. What happened to my husband was an accident. It was nobody’s fault. I had already forgiven myself. You should do the same. Please take your money back.”