‘Let’s go for Fair Travels,’ I suggested, for no other reason than that we had to ‘go’ for something!
So we stood in the Fair Travels line, but when our turn came we discovered they did not have the kind of seats we wanted. We moved over to the Care Travels queue, where our luck proved to be better.
The bus would leave an hour later.
We ate a light lunch at a small restaurant and looked around that part of the charming town.
Then it was time to catch the bus, and as we neared the station, a bus company tout flung a forefinger in our direction and demanded:
Tusharpur? Paprihat? Kokonar?’
Thanks, we’ve already bought our tickets,’ I informed him. ‘Paprihat?’
‘Which counter?’ he persisted.
‘Fair Travels,’ I answered.
‘No, Care Travels,’ Rajeev corrected me. ‘Just check the tickets!’
‘I don’t need to check the tickets!’ I retorted with some asperity. ‘I know!’
‘That is the bus!’ the tout remarked, pointing to a red-and-yellow mini-bus that was three-fourths full.
‘Thanks!’ I told him, and we went and took our seats, tallying the numbers on our tickets with the numbers at the back of the seats. Rajeev was still looking somewhat uncertain. I regretfully admit that I have always bullied him a little, and he did not dare to speak up.
It was a rather cramped arrangement inside the bus. We had trouble placing our backpacks, but we managed to squeeze them underneath our seats. The driver got into position, sounded his horn, and we were off. For some time, the bus went down a straight road and then we entered the hills.
‘Tickets!’ the conductor asked.
I fished them out of my shirt pocket.
The conductor reacted peculiarly.
‘Tickets, can’t you see?’
‘Yeah, of course they are tickets, but they’re not for this bus. You’ve got Care Travels tickets—this is Fair Travels!’
‘I told you!’ Rajeev remarked indignantly.
‘There should be a law against such names,’ I tried to joke. ‘Anyway, what’s done’s done.’
I told the conductor. ‘I’ll pay you your fare—this bus is going to Tusharpur, isn’t it?’
‘Yeah. But it’s funny—these tickets were sold out!’
I paid up, and things were settled.
Five hours later we reached Tusharpur. Dusk was falling. As we stepped out of the bus, we saw clusters of people discussing something in sombre tones.
‘Has something happened?’ I asked one man.
‘There’s been an accident.’
But now our bus conductor was hailing us.
‘By God, you’re lucky! The Care Travels bus you had tickets for fell down the mountain side. Doesn’t look like there’ll be too many survivors.’
We stared at him and then looked at each other, speechless.
‘If ever there’s been a fortunate mistake!’ I whispered, feeling like I was living in a dream. I hoped that the persons who had originally bought tickets for our seats had not made the same mistake as we had.