A Nightmare

Parshu Shrestha

When Pratibha realized her handbag was missing, it was already too late. The bus was too crowded for searching.

“Oh my God!” Pratibha screamed, “Where’s my handbag?”

She looked at her husband, who was standing with her in the crowd. Then, she started searching for her handbag. It was gone. Inside the minibus, it was so dark that she could hardly see her husband’s face. Moreover, more people were pushing the couple toward the rear of the minibus.

Pratibha started whimpering and searching for her handbag. She asked somebody standing near her. No one replied. No one said they had seen or found her handbag. The bus continued moving slowly and had arrived a reasonable distance away from its previous stop.

Pratibha got off the bus crying and ran towards the fruit vendor’s stall where she had bought apples. When she left, Pranaya also got off the bus, following her, unable to think properly about what to do. He looked around but could not see Pratibha. The dusk had grown very thick, and Pratibha was gone. He remained clueless for a moment. He did not know what to do or where to find his spouse. She was nowhere around. However, Pratibha came back, running.

When she met him, she asked in a whimpering tone, “Did you find my handbag?”

Pranaya hadn’t. So, he shook his head. No words came out of his mouth. He wished it all had been a dream, but it wasn’t.

Pratibha seemed to have lost her mind. She started asking everyone she met if they had seen her handbag. They all looked at her as if she were a circus joker. Someone giggled and remarked, “Who would return her bag even if anyone found it?”

Now, the couple were worried because they might miss even the last bus on the route. They were helpless and miserable because they had lost a handbag with a handsome amount of cash and a mobile phone. Pratibha had carried a one-hundred-thousand-rupee bundle for shopping in the wholesale market in Kathmandu for her retail readymade wear shop back in her town. The couple had planned to visit various places in the valley before returning to their hometown. But now, everything was gone! Their whole plan that they had designed and embroidered so wholeheartedly had been ruined by this single fateful incident, which took just a few seconds to unfold. They were shocked and sorry. It all happened so quickly! As if they had had a nightmare.

“Thankot … Thankot … Thankot …”

The bus helper was yelling again to call more passengers. He was not satisfied yet, although the bus was already overcrowded. It was the last bus on that route. So, the couple had no other option but to get on the bus again. They kept eyeing the passengers around them warily and painfully. Both maintained sobriety.

The street and traffic lights were shining bright against the darkness. The driver was stopping the bus frequently here and there. The other passengers were busy with their own affairs. A lady nearby was talking on her phone with somebody about her recent purchase of IPOs of a certain hydropower company. Two middle-aged men sitting in front were drunk and pungent-smelling. Both were fuzzy-haired and shabbily dressed. One man leaned on the other’s shoulder. The other’s head rested on the back of the seat. Both were snoring. The din inside the minibus was high. It felt as if everybody was talking to everybody. The unrhythmic sounds of the horns were ear-piercing. The poor couple were clutching the iron pole in the aisle of the minibus.

Pranaya was trying to cover Pratibha with his body against any ill-intentioned man attempting a bad touch. He was also worried about her agony of losing her handbag with cash and a new mobile phone. He himself was going through an ordeal, which added to the load on his backpack. The whole journey was going to be too long to reach their destination.

Some people laughed at the couple’s plight. Somebody expressed pity on them, with some mockery. Pratibha was trying to explain to everyone around what had happened. Pranaya felt irritated at this and kept jerking her up from time to time to stop her.

The couple had gotten off a local bus at Ratna Park at around six that evening. Earlier, they had arrived at Koteshwor at around 4 by a day bus. The sun had already gone down the hills in the west, and the daylight had already lost its brightness. So, they were in a hurry to reach their destination, Thankot, as quickly as possible.

At Koteshwor, someone had advised them to catch a bus to Ratna Park and then from Ratna Park to Thankot. When they arrived at Ratna Park, the bus helper told them to get off. Pranaya looked around and saw the Bir Hospital building on his left. Since the Old Bus Park in Kathmandu was undergoing renovation, Khulamunch had been used by the local minibuses as the temporary bus station.

Pranaya told Pratibha to hurry up because the dusk was growing thicker every other minute, and the street lights had already come on. They had to cross the road and go across the overhead bridge to catch the bus to their destination. Since it was their first experience riding a bus along that route, the couple were a little worried. Pranaya walked ahead, and Pratibha followed him. She remembered to buy some apples from a fruit vendor standing at the side of the road. The apples would be good for gifting her maternal grandparents.

Pranaya put the plastic bag with apples into his rucksack. Pratibha paid the money to the fruit vendor from her purse, which she kept in her handbag. Then, they hurried to the bus stand where they found several minibuses with their helpers yelling at the passengers to call them. They had to find the bus to Thankot; therefore, Pranaya asked some men about the route number of the bus they were supposed to catch. They had to run wildly here and there for some time. Finally, they heard a bus helper screaming: “Thankot … Thankot … Thankot.”

The minibus was almost empty at first. But a crowd of people gathered soon around the door of the minibus, which was moving ahead in slow motion. Pranaya was alert that there might be pickpockets in such a crowd. Therefore, he told Pratibha to hide the gold chain around her neck under her kurta-collar. She also hid her earrings under the shawl that she used for covering her head and shoulders. She was carrying her peach-colored handbag, hanging down from her right shoulder. She held her handbag firmly under her right armpit while climbing up the minibus.

But at the door of the minibus, people were pushing and pulling each other to get on board. It was the last bus to Thankot, so the people were competing with each other in a do-or-die situation. Pranaya was cautious of the possibility of thugs around him, so he caught both side-handles of the bus door firmly and pushed Pratibha up with his chest using all his might. Pratibha, with a great effort, finally succeeded in getting on the bus.

The experience in itself was like winning a wrestling match. The crowd pushed them further away from the door. In a while, they found themselves in the middle part of the minibus. It was very narrow and dark inside, but more and more people were gushing in. Somebody pushed Pranaya’s rucksack so hard that his right shoulder suddenly felt the weight of the whole Earth on it. He dropped his heavy bag to the bus floor for a while to give his shoulder some rest. It was then that Pratibha realized she had already lost her precious handbag.

Pranaya was clueless at first about what to do. He took out his mobile phone and dialed Pratibha’s saved number. The ring went on for a while and then disconnected. He repeated this action while both he and his spouse listened keenly for the ringtone inside the minibus. But they did not hear it. The minibus had by now arrived at Tripureshwor, far away from the place where Pratibha had lost her handbag.

Pranaya kept dialing Pratibha’s phone number. Though by now the couple had lost hope, Pranaya’s heart did not accept defeat. He kept dialing all along the journey until it said, “The mobile you dialed is switched off,” when they had arrived at Satungal. It was already 9:00 p.m. when they reached their destination, with sunken hearts, defeated.