The window seatFrom the window seat of her school bus, Ashika watched the world pass by.
The clock displayed 9:00 am, and as usual, Ashika stepped out of her room to catch her school bus. Soon after she got outside her gate, the bus arrived and she boarded it.
She occupied her usual window seat. From her window seat, she would never miss catching the sight of the things happening outside the bus. She would sense celebration, anxiety, tears, and happiness each time when she observed the life of people from the window. Over time, she had come to know that life is not only a bed of roses but a pathway of thorns too. From the bus window, she had seen people happy and sad. In gist, it would not be wrong to say Ashika had learned a shady and vibrant side of human life from the window seat of her school bus.
The driver halted the bus at the fuel station. Ashika, as always, was looking out of the window and not paying attention to what the other kids were talking about. She noticed a boy of her age being ordered to fill her school bus’ fuel tank with diesel.
“Kumar, go and fill in 100 litres,” the old man sitting at the cash counter of the fuel station had instructed the young boy.
The boy, whose face was coated with agony and misery appeared to look older than his age. Yet, observing his physical structure, Ashika could guess that he was no older than her. The boy followed the instruction of his master and the bus sped off in no time once the fuel was refilled. But a tinge of sorrow along with curiosity filled Ashika even after she reached her classroom.
“Why he is not going to school?” she wondered.
“Why does he look unhappy?” she mumbled to herself.
Such questions played in Ashika’s mind, and the entire day, she kept thinking of the boy and wasn’t able to concentrate on her studies. While returning home from school on the bus, she stole a glance at the fuel station where in the morning she had seen that young boy working. This time, too, the boy was holding a fuel pipe in his hands. Her curiosity to know about the boy doubled. She questioned herself, “At a school-going age, why is the boy working?”
After she finished her homework, she decided to tell her father, who had just come home after long hours at the office, about the boy.
“Good evening, dad,” she smiled at her father.
“Good evening, princess. Have you finished your homework?” her father asked her.
“Yes, dad,” she replied and sat on her father’s lap.
“So how was your day?” he asked.
“It went normal. But I have something to say. I saw a young boy of my age working at the fuel station. It shocked me how someone as young as me can work there,” she said and turned to look at her father.
Her father, at first, smiled in response. But the curiosity of her daughter couldn’t resist him from speaking on that matter.
“Ashika, our life is very comfortable. Many people in this town don’t even get to eat two meals a day. Many kids in this town are unable to go to school because of financial reasons,” her father replied in a serious tone.
Ashika’s eyes were glued to her father.
“I know that, dad. I know life is hard for many,” she said. “But what makes that young boy work so hard that he doesn’t even have time for school. I think he works there all day,” she added.
“How can I tell it, beta? There are compulsions in everyone’s life. His situation might be such that he has no option but to work at the fuel station,” he said.
“I also think the same,” she said and headed to her room.
Before she entered the room, her father stopped her and asked, “Which fuel station does he work at?”
“Rainbow fuel station,” she said before walking into her room
The next day, Ashika decided to walk to school so she could stop by the fuel station and talk to the boy.
“Hey, boy,” she called out to the boy when she reached the fuel station. The boy, unable to utter a single word, stood with an amazed expression. His face was taut and cheerless. Ashika approached the boy hoping to strike a conversation.
“Don’t you go to school?” she asked the boy.
“No,” he replied immediately.
“Why?” she asked.
“I used to go but when my parents left me, I couldn’t manage anything alone. We lived in a rented room. I was compelled to leave school, and now I work here to earn food for a living,” he replied hesitantly.
“Why did your parents get separated? Did they divorce?” she asked.
“My father eloped with some other girl when I was very young. A couple of years later, my mother also left me and I don’t know where she is now,” he replied with a heavy heart. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he revealed the harsh reality of his life. Ashika’s eyes got moist. She looked at him with pity and extended her right hand to Kumar and said, “Friends?”
It had been ages since someone shook his hands. How could he deny this offer? His dark face changed and a smile appeared on his face. He shook hands with her and asked, “Where do you study?”
“In Motherland Secondary School,” she answered and promised to meet him daily and she left.
Around noon that day, a luxurious silver-coloured car stopped by the fuel station where Kumar worked. Kumar went near the car to ask if the car was running short of fuel. But it was not the case. Inside the car was Ashika’s father. Her father inquired about Kumar and learned about his desire to study. It was Kumar’s fate that had kept him away from his desire. After knowing this, Ashika’s father told Kumar that he will provide education and a home for him to stay.
Days and weeks passed and Ashika continued to find Kumar working at the fuel station. Sometimes, she would walk to school just to meet Kumar. Over time, the two became close friends. Kumar never told Ashika that he had met her father. Ashika’s father never told her he had met Kumar.
One day, the driver of Ashika’s school bus stopped the bus at Rainbow fuel station. From the window seat, Ashika looked for Kumar. She was so busy looking for Kumar that she didn’t even realise someone had joined her seat until she heard a familiar voice greeting her. She turned to look who greeted her. It was Kumar in a school uniform sitting beside her.