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Waiting for Da




Waiting for Da

I am shaken awake, an urgent whisper: “Da’s coming today.” Mellow rays of waking sun dance patterns on the peeling distemper and illuminate stains on the ceiling. Lizards dart expertly between the beams, angling for dozy flies. I yawn as I put on my best dress, nudging my brother who has the envious ability of sleeping standing up, handy in church when Father Sequeira drones on and on about hellfire and damnation. At least, we are exempt from mass today, which compensates- just- for having to wake at the crack of dawn.

We trudge down the road, trying to keep pace with Ma’s brisk strides. It is empty this early in the morning except for the odd drunk who has spent the night in the ditches. The crippled beggar who has made the bus stop by the hospital his home waves hello groggily as we pass, putting on a suitably pitiful face. Ma scrabbles in her handbag for change.

The buses from Mumbai, which pass through our village as it is on the National Highway 17 route, only stop on the rare occasions when they have to deliver a



passenger. These buses have huge tinted windows and doors that slide open, are air- conditioned and have a television to boot. All in all, very different from the local buses which have holes for doors and rusty iron bars for windows; whose hard iron seats have seen better days.

We wait by the bus stop and soon the sun is a hard burning ball right above our heads. We know from experience that the buses arriving from Mumbai are always late, but Ma never dares leave home later just in case the one day she does the bus arrives on time. I envy Madhu, who is at home frying Koilolis, grinding chutney and heating up the Pork and Boti she prepared last night. She will fill the huge pot in the bathroom with water from the well and stoke a fire under it with twigs we collected yesterday so it is hot and ready in case Da decides to have a wash before breakfast.

There is nowhere to sit. Ma paces up and down while we get hot and tired and restless. Every so often, Ma asks us to ‘stop fighting at once or else,’ the ‘or else’ an unspecified, open ended threat that sounds ominous and checks us briefly, just in case she bans us from the treats Da is sure to bring.

Passersby who know us (and this means practically the whole village) stop to chat.

“Walter’s coming today, is he?” they query.

“The bus was supposed to come at 6:00 am,” Ma sighs.

“These buses are always late. They come such a long way, don’t they? They must be stuck in the Ghats. Sobeen Bai’s daughter, the one in Mumbai said it was raining torrentially there when she called yesterday. The roads must have flooded,” they comment, sagely nodding their heads.

Each person had a different reason as to why the bus is late.

Around 10:00am, Ma shepherds us across the road to the bakery and treats us to ginger soda and vadais. Then, our stomachs warm from the vadais and our throats cool



from the soda, we go back to the unsheltered, sweltering bus stop. Our clean clothes are now stained red with mud and wet with sweat.

Midday, the buses start arriving, and we peruse each hopefully, wishing it is the one that will stop to deliver Da. At long last, one does stop, the doors slide open and Da emerges, looking tired from the journey and older than we remember.

The conductor then begins the tricky process of extracting Da’s luggage from among the various bits and pieces. He finds some of Da’s suitcases in the storage space between the tyres and turns hopefully to him. “Is that all?”

Da sighs, “No, there should be two more suit-cases.”

The conductor stands there, amongst the myriad pieces of luggage, scratching his head as if that will tell him where he has put the other suitcases. Then he heaves a long and mournful sigh. “That means they must be up there,” he announces, pointing to the roof. He looks hopefully at Da again, perhaps wishing he will say, “Oh, I just realised, I don’t need those two suitcases after all.”

Da continues to look a question at him. The conductor scratches his crotch through his lungi and with great reluctance walks up to the bus and pokes his head round the door. “Cut the engine,” he says to the driver, pointing heavenward. “I need to get up there.”

The bus shudders to a jarring halt and the driver jumps out to direct the conductor, who is halfway up the ladder to the roof, on how best to get the luggage down.

By this time, a little group has gathered round the bus, and they cheer as the ropes holding the luggage together came off. The conductor is skilled at doing this while maintaining his hold on the ladder. Next, the khaki tarpaulin covering the luggage is removed revealing a pyramid of suitcases stacked haphazardly defying all of Newton’s laws on the roof rack.



From his precarious position, the conductor yells down to Da, “Can you see your suitcases?” Da points them out once he’s managed to spot them: “That one. No to the left, right a bit, the one above that brown stripy one”. In the end the conductor climbs on to the roof and perches amidst the suitcases, and Da clambers up the ladder himself. When the suitcases are finally identified, the conductor lobs them off the roof, the crowd parting out of the way as one and cheering as the suitcases land with a thud causing a mini avalanche of displaced red dust.

Once the luggage is safely retrieved, Da and all the suitcases make their way home in the auto-rickshaw that Ma has hired. There is no place in the auto for us to fit in. Da just about manages, practically sitting on top of the luggage. Vigil ended, we trudge back home, so busy fantasising about the treats in store in the myriad suitcases that we ignore the sun beating down on our heads, the sweat trickling down our backs and soaking our undergarments.


Discover more about Renita’s full-length novel Monsoon Memories at