The Mistake

Dalia was on her way home on a bus after a gruelling day at work. The city felt cooler than usual that night. Despite the long distance to be travelled, she had resolved not to listen to music during the journey. She was taking all those articles she had read about ear phones damaging one’s ears seriously. She opened her
window to feel the cold air caress her face, when the bus halted. It was yet another bus stop. Contrary to the regular chaos that happens at the entrance of the bus at this stop in the name of boarding, today everything was just peaceful and quiet, probably because there was only one woman waiting to board the bus. She got in. “Did someone just die?”, thought Dalia, on seeing the rather gloomy look the bus stop wore. She missed the bustle. But stopped missing it soon after she noticed the woman who had boarded the bus. She was a large, middle-aged woman with an average height that some might consider tall. She was dark skinned – the kind of complexion that Indians have grown an aversion to, in time. She wore her old pink saree in an unrefined style. She had no jewellery except a silver chain and no bindi either. Her appearance spoke poverty. Her eyes seemed like they had witnessed the vile and horrendous faces of the world too many times to let anyone mess with her. Anybody would think twice before getting into her bad books. Dalia, in her mind’s registers, instantly classified her as an outlaw who probably lived in the slums of the city.

It was then that Dalia noticed a bag in the woman’s hand. A black bag. The kind of bag that jewellery shops gave away to their customers for free, back in the 90’s. The woman was clutching the bag tightly in her hands.

Dalia continued to watch the woman. She didn’t seem to find a better subject of observation in the entire bus. She noticed that something was amiss with that woman. The woman was, in a subtle manner, probing the people around her to see if anyone was watching her. Dalia hadn’t caught her attention since her view of Dalia was blocked by two other people at the front. After some inspection of her immediate surroundings, the woman placed the bag right under her seat.  Two minutes later, the bus halted at the next stop. The woman quickly got off the bus –  without the bag. Dalia was confused. “Why would she do that? she did that on purpose, didn’t she? What did she have in that bag? Did she just kill someone and stuff their body parts into that bag? Or………. is it………….. a bomb….. like they show in the movies?” Dalia was way too intrigued by the woman and her bag to think straight. At one point she considered informing the conductor of the bag. What if it really did have a bomb? But she simply couldn’t get herself to get up and walk towards the conductor.

She lived alone in the city and didn’t want to get herself into unwanted trouble. But, “Innocent lives will be lost!!”, she thought. And that’s when her primordial instincts reminded her ” You shall also die!!”.
She couldn’t hold it in anymore. She walked towards the conductor and informed him of the bag. The conductor walked towards the seat under which the bag lay. He bent his knees and stretched his hands to reach out for the bag, but pulled them back when Dalia warned him ” You don’t know what is in the bag. I suggest you don’t open it yourself.”
An elderly man who was watching all that was happening, suggested the bus be directed to the nearest police station. The driver obliged.

At the police station, Dalia went with the driver and conductor to talk to the cops. Just when the conductor was about to finish saying that there lay an unclaimed bag in the bus, Dalia intervened, “It was left in the bus sir….. by a woman.” The sub inspector, conductor and driver looked at her intently, waiting to hear more from her. “She boarded the bus at Marathalli and got off at the next stop right after she placed the bag under the seat.”, she continued. The three men didn’t know what to say.
The driver gulped some air and felt like he was in a room with no ventilation. “What did she look like?”, he asked Dalia. “Remember that dark, fat woman in a pink saree? She was the one.” The driver was too worried to say anything.

The constable brought the bag from the bus and placed it on the SI’s table. The SI was just about to open it, when Dalia warned him to be careful. “Relax ma’am. It is my job.”, he said with a smile.
He gently pushed away the handles of the bag to open the zib. Everyone looked on anxiously. He opened it gently and with such patience like he was handling a new born baby, scared to upset whatever it is that is inside. And on opening it, everyone’s jaws just dropped. Not quite what anyone had expected.
The SI looked at Dalia with annoyance. “Really?? A bomb?”. The man didn’t know if he was to laugh or yell at the woman who caused so much panic to him and everyone else.

Dalia was visibly embarrassed. This was when she realised people would have been happier had it truly been a bomb. A bomb, after all, means excitement and action, even if it also meant fatal danger. But no. This was not a bomb. Just the regular pictures of Lord Rama, Krishna, Ganesha and Shiva that can be found in any hindu household in the world.

Disappointed at the turn of events, Dalia and the rest of the passengers got into the bus again to head to their destinations. Dalia felt like she had made a fool out of herself. She began thinking. Why would anyone do that? Trying to get rid of photos of gods? why?
In her mind’s eye, Dalia was picturing the woman who had been her subject of observation sometime ago, without realising she was doing so. She was after all the woman who illuminated her stupidity in front of a large crowd. She pictured every detail of her – her dark skin, her chubby cheeks, her broad forehead without the bindi, and the curly hair, her pink saree……” Just then it struck Dalia………. the single detail in that woman, which she had completely ignored and had forgotten all this while “The cross!!! she was wearing the cross!!!”

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