The bus halted at a food mall. It was a relief! The bus had commenced its journey from Mumbai and was on its way to Pune. It had run without a break for over an hour and had now halted near the food mall at Lonavala for a brief stopover to allow the passengers to stretch their legs.
It was a welcome stopover! Having had remained sitting in one position for so long I was feeling cramped and desperately wanted to get up and walk so as to wake up the circulatory system. Then there was an urgent need to rush to the washroom. Therefore, when the bus stopped at the food mall, it was pure bliss!
No sooner had the bus stopped I was out in a jiffy making a 100-metre dash for the washroom. Now for a steaming cup of tea! After drinking the tea I paid another visit to the washroom just as a precautionary measure - Pune was still an hour's run; once the bus resumed its journey I would have to stay put for another hour.
The driver had forewarned that the bus would resume its journey after a 20-minute wait; passengers were advised to return back to their seats within 20 minutes, or else face the prospect of being left behind.
After soaking up the sunlight for 15 minutes, I decided to return. The other passengers had also started returning, and they appeared vaguely unfamiliar. This did not bother me because I had kept my eyes closed during the first half of the journey in a bid to sleep off the tedium. So, barring my immediate neighbour, I had not taken a close look at the others.
I located my seat from the seat number mentioned on the ticket and plumped down. As an afterthought I raised my eyes to the overhead luggage rack to check whether my bag needed to be rearranged. There was no bag!
My heart jumped into my throat. I had a digital camera and few other things of personal value in the bag - nothing substantial, yet things which I would not have liked to lose at any cost. The camera was an old one but I had not discarded and it had become my constant companion.
I was disheartened and could not for the world think what to do next. Minutes were ticking away and the other passengers had started taking their seats. My next-seat neighbour too arrived; he gave me an amused look but said nothing. I was also befuddled - he was defintely not the person who had sat by my side during the first half of the journey.
Shortly another person came up; he appeared surprised to see me. He looked around as though to make sure he had boarded the right bus. Having satisfied himself, he addressed me, "I think you have taken the wrong seat. This seat belongs to me."
I too looked around and, surprisingly, found myself surrounded by complete strangers. Although I had catnapped through the first half of the journey, I still had certain hazy recollections of my co-passengers; for instance, there was certainly someone who had been wearing a bright red shirt; then there was a wailing baby. Where were they? There was some mistake! It suddenly dawned upon me that I had boarded the wrong bus. I apologised to the person and made another 100-metre dash for the door.
Another bus stood some distance away and its driver was honking the horn to alert delinquent passengers to return as it was getting late. That was my bus! I leaped inside and the other passengers glared at me for delaying the departure. The driver muttered something about some people, although educated, not being able to read the time. I found my seat. I looked up at the rack, and found my bag happily slumbering there. I heaved a sigh of relief.
There was a reason why I made the mistake; admittedly it was only I who had made the mistake. Now, these state corporation buses all look identical - they are painted in the same colour. After our bus had halted at the food mall, another bus too had arrived and parked by its side. Upon returning, I had just got into the bus that seemed to be right and, of course, it was wrong. I have never made the same mistake again; I always jot down the bus number. Catch me boarding a wrong bus again!