One winter morningMany things were on my mind. Some of sadness, some of regret
People watching: An act of observing people and their interactions, usually without their knowledge. It involves picking up idiosyncrasies to try and guess another person’s story. It is one of my favourite passtimes. No, there is nothing malicious about it. Just an innate curiosity about other people. The fact that there are billions of people who have their own struggles and their own unique experiences completely fascinates me.
One of the best places to people-watch in my opinion are bus stops. There's something about the rush of the moment. The white collar workers scrambling by, the groups of children enjoying the simpler things in life, some with the expression of having the weight of the world on their shoulders and some who just radiate happiness and joy. I watch all kinds of people—old, young, happy, sad, depressed, naive. I watch and I imagine. I imagine the sadness behind their fake smiles, the reasons for their genuine happiness, and the facade of their poker faces. I construct an entire story in my mind. But never have I interacted with anyone.
One chilly morning, I was on my way to the bus stop near my home. Winter had settled in cosily. The familiar sound of bird chirpings in the morning was absent. With every breath I exhaled, a weak cloud formed. Up, up and up. It dispersed into the air around me. Many things were occupying my mind. Some of sadness, some of regret. I wanted an escape from reality, even if only for a brief moment. So I headed out for my favourite passtime. By imagining and embracing others’ fictional lives, I was hoping to lose myself.
Since it was a cold winter morning, I was not expecting many people. When I reached the bus stop, I noticed a girl sitting in a corner. She was reading a book. Kafka on the Shore. She was so deeply engrossed in her reading that I wondered if she was even waiting for a bus. I imagined her as the studious types. The ones who escape reality in the pages of a book. I imagined her trying to find a nice, quiet place to read her book and ending up at this bus stop. The more I imagined, a nagging feeling crept up in my heart. I wanted to know more about her. Actually know. Not invent her life in my head. Before I could justify myself to talk to a complete stranger, a sharp question piercing the coldness of the winter morning interrupted my inner monologue.
“Do you often stare at girls at bus stops?”
I was so taken aback that I needed some time to gain my composure. Lost within my inner debate, I did not realise that I had been staring directly at her for quite some time.
“No, no, I am so sorry. I wasn’t trying to be a creep. It’s just that I noticed you reading Murakami’s book and I was just lost in thoughts about the book.”
“Oh. I can’t say I have met many who think about his books. Of course, I know many who have read his books, but very few actually think about them.”
“I can’t say I am a philosophical guru who understands the complexities of his books, but I have made up my own interpretations about them’.”
“Actually, I have already read this book many times, but I still feel as if I don’t completely understand all of it. That there is still something more. So, I am reading it all again.” Her face showed a genuine curiosity. The surrounding winter atmosphere was asserting its presence and her cheeks were turning a rosy colour.
“I feel the same way about his books. You can’t grasp all of it in one reading. However, I don’t read again. I just give my own interpretation to it, and I just live with it.”
“Hmm… then that implies that even if you and I have read the same book, you have taken something completely different from this book than I have. Tell me. What do you think this book is about?”
“I don’t remember the exact details of this book. It was a long time ago that I had read it. All I remember from this book is the feeling of fatalism. The power of fate. That we are just puppets in the grand scheme of things. What is meant to happen will happen.”
Her expression changed and I could see a smile forming on her lips. Aside from the frigid temperature, a blanket of silence quickly hung over the atmosphere. I wondered if I had said something wrong. I tried to imagine the inner workings of her mind. I was lost in my thoughts again when she spoke.
“I thought right. You and I took away something completely different from this book. It’s so interesting that people can have completely different, even contradictory, experiences from the same book, the same story. For you, this book is about the absence of will. The prophecy given in the early stages of the book eventually fulfills itself, even against the constant opposition of the protagonist. For me, it is something else. For me, this is about human nature and behaviour. The arbitrariness of what is wrong and what is right.”
She took a glance at my face. I felt that she could sense that I wanted her to elaborate more.
“I always wondered about morals and ethics. I mean, morals change from person to person, place to place, society to society. Choices determine who we are. But our choices are determined by our circumstances, some of which are beyond our control. I remember a quote: ‘There is no right or wrong only thinking makes it so’.”
“But there are some things that are always constant. Some things like murder or robbery are not only morally wrong but also legally.”
“Sure, murder is wrong. I do not condone mindless violence. However, some murders are done out of necessity. What if you were abused to the point where the only way out was to kill your abuser? What if the only reason you stole a wallet was to feed your starving family on the brink of death? I am not arguing that murder and robbery are right but some times, are they completely wrong?”
I tried to process the things she told me. She saw on my face that I was having a hard time doing so. She smiled again. This time, her cheeks were bright red.
“I am not preaching some grand and complex philosophy about morals. I just believe that people are inherently good. People are good by nature. And when people do bad things, we should take a step back and understand their circumstances and experiences for a while before jumping to conclusions.”
“So you mean that…”
I was cut off by a screeching noise in front. A microbus had come to a sudden halt.
‘Pulchowk, Thapathali, RNAC, Ratnapark.’
The old familiar hymn began again.
“Well, this is my micro. It was nice talking to you.”
A sudden sadness flowed over me. I wanted this conversation to continue a bit more. I wanted to stay in that reality for longer. I didn’t want to return to my fantasies alone like before.
“You know what. You can keep this book. Read it again if you want. Reading a book depends upon you. At different stages of life, you can gain different lessons from the same book.”
Maybe she had sensed my sadness too. I took the book from her hands and she got into the micro. As soon as she stepped into it, the micro zoomed off and I was left with no further choices.
I was back alone with my thoughts and fantasies. As the crowd of people started to grow denser and as the morning gave way to a brighter day, I couldn’t concentrate on my usual past time. I couldn’t people watch and imagine things. I tried to but I was reminded that the things I imagined and the things that were real were completely different. I thought about the brief encounter with the girl. I imagined her as the type who yearns to escape reality like me but she was the type who understood and accepted reality. Shattering my fragile imagination, she gave me a new perspective.
I opened the book and saw a name. Shristi.