The second sip of the piping hot, sweet, milky tea seemed to do the trick, conveying a much-welcome warmth to all my extremities and giving me some respite from the strong, chilled, moisture laden breeze that Monday morning. As I took yet another eager sip from the simple ‘tapri’ glass, Babush brought forth his battered, blackened, aluminium tea kettle to top up my glass, which I accepted with an appreciative smile. Babush was a short, portly, genial, balding, middle-aged, always clad in a green or blue chequered dhoti and white sleeveless vest simpleton. His only worldly possession – besides his black, rickety, timeworn Atlas cycle – was the small, square, ramshackle, brick-walled and tin-roofed tea stall from whence he doled out scores of cups of tea throughout the day.
The sole probable reason for his somewhat rollicking business was that the tea stall was positioned bang opposite the “Don Khamb” (literally two pillars) bus stop where the locals and tourists alike while awaiting the bus to take them to Ponda city sauntered over to the stall for a quick cuppa and the odd packet of glucose biscuits or potato chips or if they were in luck, undo, kakon or poie (local varieties of bread), a few pieces of which the ‘poder’ delivered to his stall as per the time of the day. My routine at Babush’s was a quick sip around 8 am on my way home from my morning walk and then a leisurely poie or two and tea around 5 pm when I would sit on his ancient, wobbly, wooden bench generally soaking in the crisp, wet, fragrant monsoon air of Goa, listening to whatever titbits of hot gossip and local news that Babush thought were worthy of enriching my general knowledge with.
The bus stop in itself made for an interesting study, it being the hub for quite a plethora of activities throughout the day. To think back, it was the original reason why I started spending so much time at Babush’s. The earliest to arrive at the bus stop were the tribals selling the fruits of the forest – chunks of honey combs dripping with honey, various fresh berries, wild mushrooms, headily fragrant wild flowers, a variety of marrows and gourds, bunches of fresh leafy vegetables, all of which were laid out in small, neat piles. And even before the first buses would start arriving to commence their duties, the homemakers would trickle in for the pick of the day. Shortly after the tribals wound up shop rushing off to attend to their day job, the local fish monger would set up camp causing virtually a stampede of locals eager to grab the choicest fresh catch. By this time the school children would start arriving, a riot of eager uniforms, raising the decibel level a hundred times! As the day progressed, tourists would outnumber locals at the stop, the ratio slowly reversing as the evening drew up. Rarely would you find the bus stop deserted during the day – if nothing, the village sweeper would be found stretched out on the concrete seat post his fish curry-rice lunch and in his absence lethargic stray dogs took over the lounge. By early evening the cattle would mostly outnumber the humans at the stop, some settling inside the bus stop shelter to ruminate before heading home while some hopefuls waited on the opposite side of the road for the school children returning home, anticipating a leftover piece of chapati from a half-eaten tiffin. Late evening – by which time the buses would be deep in slumber in their depots – a few village elders would gather together to discuss topics as wide ranging as significant panchayat matters to how-Pandu-pocketed-an-extra-five-bucks-while-selling-the-sarpanch’s-harvest-of-coconuts.
There it was again. As I drained my tea, politely refusing yet another refill, I could see the dog walk up the road from Betalwada. It was two weeks into my annual holiday there and every single day I would see this lean, grizzled, sad-looking dog walk up the road to the bus stop around the same time that most children would be walking in to catch the bus to school. It would stand among the kids, tail wagging, till the bus arrived and departed with the gaggle, and then, with one last wag of its tail and a remorseful bark at the disappearing bus, would walk into the bus stop shelter and lie down in one corner on the concrete seat. That day I decided to try and befriend it. Picking up a packet of biscuits off the shelf of the tea stall I walked over to the bus stop and sat next to the dog. I ripped open the packet and offered a couple of biscuits to the dog but it simply looked up at me through its melancholic eyes and went back to tuck its head below one foreleg. Concerted efforts of gentle coaxing failed to raise its interest in befriending me. Babush had been watching me all along and as I walked back to the tea stall to pay for the tea and biscuits he shook his head with a smile, “That’s Balya’s dog. It will eat only what Balya feeds it”. Just then a few tourists walked up to the stall and Babush got busy tending to their tea and I thought it best to make my way home.
I woke up with a start. The Goan siesta did not agree well with me and I quickly made a beeline for Babush’s stall to clear my head of my ‘noonmares’ if they could be called that. The dog was still there, not having moved too much from its original place of rest – it seemed to take the Goan ‘susegaad’ way of life quite seriously. I did not bother to try and feed it my poie dipped in hot tea since I thought, as Babush had remarked that morning – let Balya, whoever he was, do the honours. Then, as if by magic, the dog’s ears perked up and it came sauntering down, crossing the road. As if on cue a bus arrived and offloaded a boisterous bunch of school kids who quickly began dispersing down the various roads leading to their homes. The dog too, wagging its tail, walked down the road towards Betalwada – alone.
Adding some crushed ginger into the boiling tea Babush looked up at me. Seeing the puzzled look on my face he spoke up with a straight face, “Balya is back from school; he will feed the dog now”. I turned around just in time to see the dog turn off the road to amble down a narrow path – a shortcut leading to the crematorium.
– Narendra Nayak © 2018
“The Bus Stop” is my ninth short story as part of the series “Add Salt to Taste”.