The last rays burst through the clouds to cast long shadows as the Route 81 double-decker bus towards Haji Ali screamed to a halt at the Dadar TT bus stop, scattering the half-drenched motley group waiting impatiently. Amongst the bunch of black umbrellas that rushed towards the door were twins Rahul and Rohan, Class XII students on their way back from Agrawal Classes. As always, elbowing their way through the impatience of the crowd, the seventeen-year olds settled on the last seat at the lower level with relative ease and proceeded to survey the rest as they filled in the gaps.
But, unlike other days, today Rahul and Rohan did not stare and giggle in unison at the red salwar or the white top. Today, they did not wrestle with each other to rush up the stairs to capture the window seat and the spectacular view it offered of plunging necklines crossing the street. Today, they sat stone-faced, rigid, eyes to the front, backs stiff with tension. For, today, barely 10 minutes earlier, Rahul had slipped while crossing the road and Rohan had not stopped to rescue him.
As the bus lurched into second gear, Rohan looked askance at Rahul’s torn navy blue tee, a reminder of his guilt. He felt ashamed. At the instant when Rahul had fallen, Rohan had been a couple of steps ahead, a black SUV hurtling towards him at speed. As Rahul cried out in anguish, Rohan had sped forth in haste, skipping on to the footpath before turning to check on his brother. His pulse quickened as he recalled the look of sheer betrayal in Rahul’s eyes – a look he was sure he would never forget. Now, Rohan could only see Rahul’s eyes fixed in the distance, expressionless. No number of inane questions about the bruises he may have sustained were to bring Rohan’s brother back to him. Not during this ride, at least.
That evening, their parents marveled at their sons’ unexpected solemnity, their utter lack of complaint at the rather plain fare at dinner, their retiring to their room without a tantrum.
Rohan hovered next to Rahul’s bed for a while, hoping that Rahul would turn his way, that he would say something.
But, Rahul did not turn. His eyes still expressionless, his silence unrelenting, his heart continued to beat its unearthly rhythm. How could Vishal have been so callous? He had done everything – stayed behind Rohan while crossing the road, tripped himself at just the right instant, everything! And the idiot Vishal, for all his bravado, could not even run his car over the curse of his life, the one who had snatched Visakha from his grasp.