It was winter, so the windows were closed. Not that it helped much. A stray stream of air slipped through the cracks in the glass that the riveted-on piece of plexi-glass was not able to stop. But the bus was crowded, so it wasn’t so cold. That was good. It was surprising how cold Pakistani nights could get. Never below freezing, of course. But chilly enough to wish that vehicles and houses had heaters.
The bus was like any other. Every square inch was decorated with gaudy colors and hangings. Lights flashed all over the inside and out whenever the driver touched the brakes, which, mercifully, was not often. The plastic seats were all ripped up and barely fixed with mismatched scraps of coloured plastic. The floors were sticky with spilled drinks and candy wrappers. Yep, just another normal bus.
I was lucky to still have my seat. Most of the other men were forced to stand while the women claimed seats. That was nice, I thought. In a country that was not exactly known for gender equality at least women were guaranteed a seat on a bus.
That bus was special for me. While I sat on it I looked around and built a clumsy narrative in my mind. I paid special note of the windows, the seats, the ancient Hindi music screeching from faulty speakers. When I arrived home I sat at the computer and wrote it all out. It was even clumsier on paper. But in my eyes I saw something. A tiny whisper rose from the scratchy writing: ‘Are you a writer?’
The paragraph grew and I added characters. They took on roles and emotions and generated a plot. The next thing I knew I had the first draft to a 100k-word novel. I held it in my hands after printing it off for the first time. ‘Am I a writer?’
Nothing ever came of the novel. And I’m okay with that. Because it was the first step. It was practice. I’ve left it behind and I press forward. But it’s funny to think back to that bus. That clunky bus scene never even made it into the final product. But that’s okay. Because it served a role. It got me to write a novel.
That novel was only ever read by a handful of people. And that’s okay, too. It served a role. It was practice. It told me to write. And I’m still writing because of it. It’s amazing to think about the things that made you move forward, isn’t it?
I love Pakistani buses. They represent something very precious for me. They represent the pursuit of creation. Do you have anything like that?