I was on a bus in India, staring back at a little girl with the blackest eyes.
Not black like death, but abyssal; pools of deep wonder staring back at me. Nothing else. These black pools belonged to a small round face, which had a flat, round button for a nose, and a rose bud for a mouth. Black tendrils of corkscrew curls framed this orbital face. She looked no older than five. Her kurta, so tiny it looked like she had worn her doll’s dress, was red and faded as the earth.
Her curls bounced up and down and so did her tiny ball of a head as our bus—this rickety pile of metal and wood with a 3rd-hand engine and four wheels—bounced and rocked its way down a #####-mile highway of rocks and pebbles. Her eyes though, those abyssal black pools, remained as steady and fixed on me as a placid lake. A tiny thumb was lodged inside her tiny mouth, like it belonged there.
The bus screeched to a halt, throwing most of us forward. I squeezed my eyes shut for a few seconds and blinked them a few more times. I glanced outside the window, my gaze lost out into the dark nothingness of night. I tried to peer through the thick clouds of smog, the dark layers of night, for any mere indication of current location. My watch said 4:30 in the morning, which meant I had been riding through Hindustan for over five hours now.
An infant, the round-eyed little girl’s sibling, started to cry.
What am I doing here?
The question blared at me for the tenth time since I plopped on that torn seat. It was a literal question and less of an existential one, though I knew there would be no escaping the latter for long.
Our driver, this frail little man with three layers of clothes on, jumped out to inspect the engine, muttering words I’d never understand. The baby’s crying grew into full-on wailing. The person behind me was kicking my seat, restless. My temples began to throb.