The Man on the Bus (Writing Nepal, 1st place winner)

Pooja Poudel | February 4, 2022

The bus is packed like a can of sardines when it arrives at her stop. She elbows her way through. After almost two years of the same commute to work, it feels mechanical now. She stuffs herself beside a seat and holds onto a grab handle. She has gotten used to the warmth of sweat, the slight odour of worn out seat covers and several simultaneous chit-chats about nothing and everything. She used to listen to music on her earphones before she developed a familiarity to this brief journey. Now, she enjoys the view of shops passing by; the rattling of the seats adds music to it, and sometimes she can’t help eavesdropping on fellow passengers. Once she overheard two aunties talk about the growing numbers of vehicles on the roads of Kathmandu. ‛The street looks like a colony of ants. The cars are the big ants and the motorbikes are smaller ants and they run a never-ending marathon,’ one of them had said. Other times, the driver plays loud remix songs with questionable lyrics. Somehow in this stuffy, noisy metal box, she feels the time move differently. This is the only place surrounded with people where she can space out without it being weird. 

Suddenly, she feels something heavy against her left leg. It is another leg, bigger and clad in black trousers. It belongs to a slightly heavily built man who appears to be in his late thirties. This isn’t the first time she has encountered a man trying to feel her up on a moving bus but she knows it is not always intentional. The bus is too crowded. She takes a step back. 

After a few seconds, the leg has reappeared and it is almost wrapping over her leg. She turns around and looks at the man who immediately recoils and diverts his eyes towards the window. She notices a newly vacant aisle seat behind her and approaches it before anyone can claim it. Within a few minutes, the man appears at her side. He stands close to her, his crotch inches away from her. In sync with the movement of the bus, he starts thrusting his lower body towards her. The hairs on her arms stand up. Should she scream and ask for help? She can’t seem to think. The hardness of this man’s perversion is propped up against her bare shoulder. Was this the best day to be wearing a sleeveless dress? A jacket surely wouldn’t have helped. She frantically gets up and makes her way towards the door. She is trembling with anger and disgust. She doesn’t get off but tries to process what has just happened. She has been a vocal feminist most of her life, always among the first to call out discrimination and sexism against women yet she is speechless today. She feels frail and powerless. 

The bus arrives at Jamal and she sees the man get off. As the bus is about to leave, she gets off at the last second. She decides to follow the man, keeping her distance by a few metres. After several minutes of walking, the man enters a bank. She follows him inside although she doesn’t have a plan. When inside, she loses sight of him and starts scanning the big room full of people. Not being able to spot him, she thinks of leaving. As she turns around, she finds the man walking directly towards her. Her heart drops to her stomach. She gathers herself and decides to confront him. However, he walks right past her. He appears to be in a hurry. She could bet he had glanced at her but apparently, he doesn’t remember her. 

She stays for a while in the waiting area as she watches him do his job behind the teller counter. He smiles at his customers and sometimes even engages in friendly banter. She decides to leave for work. At her desk, she thinks about the incident all day, the things she could have done differently. She leaves early today at 4:30, half an hour before the bank closes. She takes the bus, gets off at Jamal and goes to the bank. Unlike earlier, she finds a bench and waits outside. People start leaving. She keeps her eyes peeled for the man. He emerges through the gate with the same dark grey bag strapped across his torso that he had on this morning. 

She follows him to the bus stop and gets on the same bus as him. The bus is crowded with people complaining about how crowded it is. She finds a spot beside the door where it is impossible to lose him. He is somewhere in the back. She wonders if he has found another shoulder to molest. Thinking about this morning’s event makes her shudder. Several stops go by and almost half the passengers have gotten off. The man comes to the door and pays his fare. The next stop is probably his. She gets ready to leave too. They both get off. He still doesn’t seem to be aware of her presence. He takes a left and makes his way towards an alleyway with her following not far behind. It is a small path, about six feet wide, in between a long bricked wall and a row of houses painted with tasteless bright colours. There are a few people passing by but it is mostly quiet. He stops soon after and rings the bell at a small house on the right. A woman in her early thirties opens the door with a smile and lets him in. It never crossed her mind that this man might have a wife or a family. The thought of him being a husband to anyone makes her sick to her stomach.

She leaves early from work the next day as well. She goes to the bank before realising it’s Friday and the bank has already closed at 2 pm. Disappointed, she goes home. Early the next morning, she packs herself a couple of apples and a bottle of water. She arrives at the entrance of the alley that leads to the man’s house. She walks into a nearby roadside café and grabs a seat where she has a clear view of the alley. She orders a milk tea with cardamom and a donut. The tea is too sweet. Good thing it will be a long time before she finishes it. 

She has been sitting there for almost an hour now. She doesn’t know if the man will emerge. She is not even sure if it is the man’s place or if he was just visiting someone on Thursday. 

Half past noon, she notices the man walk towards the main street. He is accompanied by the woman who had opened the door for him. They wait for the bus and right before it arrives, she pays her bills and joins the passenger line. On the bus, she takes the seat right behind them. She listens to them talk about their shopping list and decide where they are going for lunch. Judging by the woman’s demeanour, she appears to be happy and oblivious of her husband’s tendencies. The couple gets off near New Road and she decides to go back home.

On Sunday, she cannot wait to leave early from work. She is starting to enjoy this little window into his life. It is enthrallingly intrusive and sometimes, it even feels like she has power over him. Although there’s always this lingering fear that he might get suspicious and confront her, this only excites her. She arrives at the bank on time. Like a routine, she follows him to the bus stop. The bus isn’t that crowded today. On these journeys, she doesn’t pay any attention to the people around, their conversations or the bustling traffic outside. 

The bus comes to a halt and the man gets off. She is caught off-guard because this isn’t his usual stop. She hurries and gets off right before the bus is about to leave. He walks for a few minutes and enters a bar. She watches him get a table and give his orders to a waiter. She gets herself a table in a dimly lit corner with his back towards her. He has ordered a whiskey and a plate of salted peanuts. She wonders if other people will be joining him. It is going to be a while here. She orders herself a tall glass of chilled beer. He orders another drink and then another. The place is noisy but she appreciates the fact that there is no music. She hates places that foster loud people-noises coupled with ear-splitting music. It feels too chaotic and arrhythmic. It has been more than an hour and the man is still binge-drinking by himself. She orders a big bowl of jhol momo. She could be here all night. 

It is half past ten when the man finally gets up to leave. She stays right behind him. Outside, the city has just gone to sleep and the street is quieter than a graveyard. Twenty feet ahead of her, the man walks slowly, struggling to keep his balance. It must be an almost fifteen minutes walk to his home. She stays in the shadows behind him. He is about to take the turn into the alley when he becomes aware of someone following him. He looks back with a terrified expression on his face which immediately transforms into a confused one. It’s just some woman he must be thinking, before he continues walking. 

Out of nowhere, he hears a pair of boots running towards him and he turns around. Her fist lands right on the slope of his nose and he feels like he cannot breathe for a moment. He tries to strike her but instead loses his balance and falls to the ground. She takes off one of her boots and gets on top of him. She holds the boot tightly in her right hand and aims the two inch pencil heeled bottom at his face. They both don’t move for a few seconds until he grabs her by her neck. He immediately feels a sharp blow to his right temple and warm blood starts gushing out. He groans in anger and pain. He starts throwing his legs and arms around aimlessly in an attempt to defend himself. She vigorously smacks at his crotch with the boot. It doesn’t hit anything hard like it had felt that day on the bus. Everything feels weak and limp. She keeps hitting repeatedly while he cries in pain. Each strike feels exhilarating and rewarding. 

She finally stops. She has never been violent all her life but in this moment, she feels an overpowering strength take over her. She could kill him if she didn’t stop. She gets up and watches as the man tries to crawl away towards his home. He looks so small and feeble as his blood trails behind him. She gets back into her boot, now stained with his blood, which makes her feel taller than ever. The adrenaline starts to plummet and she feels the cold breeze on her sore knuckles. She takes one last look at the fleeing man and turns around. Several dogs are barking somewhere close but otherwise, the street is nice and quiet. She notices that the sky has cleared after weeks.

She walks briskly to the main street and looks for a taxi. There’s none to be found. If she had stopped scrolling through the endless pit of newsfeed on Instagram while at the bar, her phone would not be dead right now. It is a long way home and the only option is to walk. A feeling of dread starts to creep in and becomes more prominent with her every step until it completely envelops her. The sound of her own footsteps startles her. She keeps looking back. The shadows in front of her appear menacing. Every dark corner feels like it shelters something that will pounce on her at any moment. It is almost midnight. There will be men out in the streets and she is a lone woman walking.


Photo by Plato Terentev/Pexels

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