The strange well-wisher

This tale is about our humble bus driver during our schools days. As our home was in the developing part of the city, the bus services were erratic at best and few in number. Hence, my friend and I happened to take the same bus all six days a week.

Looking back, I wonder if he ever had a weekly off, maybe it was Sundays or he probably worked overtime. We were grateful to him as he waited for us if we were running late. Even when we cut across a vacant plot of land running over brambles to catch the bus, his wry smile and a "careful" gave us a feeling of an older brother caring for his younger siblings.

Soon we outgrew the uniforms and the grades. The vacant land disappeared and houses sprouted, yet the bus service remained. The frequency increased, but it was the same bus and the same driver who took us to school every day.

We also noticed that this man was always well turned out, wearing neatly pressed uniform unlike his many other colleagues. He also wore sports shoes instead of chappals. Moreover, he was well-spoken and his request to the standing passengers blocking the doorway was made in polite language. His manner of dealing with eve-teasers for his young charge like us was also very matter of fact and generally brooked no argument.

The driver and we students became quite pally. He enquired about our classes and our grades. He knew about our performance though we 'doctored' it a bit. During examination, we not only travelled by his bus but managed our return journey before his shift ended. His interest in our academic performance was a novelty for it was the not-so-educated who became bus drivers and conductors, or so we thought. It was considered a lowly profession by us school children who somehow missed out on the gruelling shift of the drivers, while coping with the heat and the surly passengers.

Finally, the day arrived when we entered the final year of our school life. The tenth grade was considered a milestone and we were reminded of the same from all quarters. We listened to innumerable advice reminding us that "it was the most important period of your life, a turning point." We were quite simply
put off by all the euphemisms used for the most torturous period of one's life. We were perfectly happy drifting along.

That day, we had gone to collect our preparatory marks and hall tickets from school. On our return journey in the friendly neighbourhood bus, the driver asked us about our performance in flawless English. We were aghast. He smiled and continued, "My father and brother are both managers. I tried to cheat in my tenth board and the flying squad caught me red-handed. I was debarred for six years, and now I am a bus driver." We did not know how to react. "Opportunities are not meant to be misused," he said, beaming his usual cheerful smile.

Among all the advice, his stood out. Yes, we worked hard and we did make something of our life.

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