I was alone. Sitting on a granite slab next to the school gate, tapping my feet on the slab, my gaze fixed on the road outside the school’s gate. I scanned the road for as far as I could see, to spot a known face.
It was 11 a.m on a Friday. I remember it because I was aged 11 and was in the 6th standard in the first week of my new school in a new city. My classmates had all gone home. I had failed to notice in the time-table that school closed early for me on Friday. At 11 a.m, instead of 12:30 p.m. So, I sat there waiting.
My school in Hyderabad, where I lived earlier, was 300 metres from home. This new one, in Bombay, was 7 kilometres away. My father used to drop me and my elder brother at school in the morning on our scooter – a white Kinetic Honda. And my mother would come in the afternoon to take us home. My brother’s class that Friday continued till 12:30. We all overlooked the time table at home and mother would only come at 12:30. Brother and I never had been given money while in school, we weren’t allowed to wear wrist watches, and mobile phones were not even heard of. While I sat there two things struck me. First was that miserable devil called boredom. I, a hyperactive kid, couldn’t sit still for 10 minutes, let alone 90. Second thing that struck was an idea – “What if I ran home now?”
My father used to drop me and my elder brother at school in the morning, on our scooter – a white Kinetic Honda.
I used to stand in the front of our white Kinetic Honda, while my brother sat at the back. I didn’t mind. I could see the road, feel the wind on my face and let my imagination loose as I watched the road. I was a fan of Street Hawk – a TV show where a biker fought crime while racing his bike at more than 300 kmph. I imagined the Kinetic Honda to be that bike. My father, on the other hand, used to drive extremely slowly. Every vehicle on the road would overtake us and its rider would get to see my grumpy stare. It used to take my dad 20 minutes to get us to school. So when the idea struck me, it was followed by the thought – “If it takes 20 minutes for dad, it will take me 15 minutes to get home if I run, and I will get home before mom starts.”
I was a fan of Street Hawk – a TV show where a biker fought crime while racing his bike at more than 300 kmph. I imagined the Kinetic Honda to be that bike.
And so I started running. Reached the first corner, turned around and then it began raining. The legendary Bombay monsoon. Once it starts, it pours. I waited outside a shop. But I was wasting time, so I ran anyway. It must have taken me 10 minutes to realise I wasn’t as quick as I gave myself credit for. I was nowhere near home.
I stopped at a bus stand and waited there. Peered into every bus that stopped there to see if mom was in any of them. Then I ran again to the next bus stop and peeped again in a few buses. No luck. Must have been 30 minutes before I realised how fruitless this process was, but I had to keep looking for mom, to alert her that I might not be at school if she got there.
I began memorising the bus numbers. 348, 398, 225, 224, 80 … I had to remember which one went to our home, which one she would be in. When I look back now, it amazes me how I remembered a route so precisely even though I’d been on it just 4 times before, on our Kinetic Honda. But I did, and I kept running in the rain. A kid, in a school uniform, running in the rain would have been a weird sight in Hyderabad, but nothing is weird in Bombay. No one ever stopped to ask me what I was doing. I still stopped at the bus stops, memorised the name of the stop, the numbers of the buses I spotted. Still no luck with finding mom.
A kid, in a school uniform, running in the rain, would have been a weird sight in Hyderabad, but nothing is weird in Bombay.
After a long time had passed – an hour or two or more, I couldn’t tell – I realised I was close to home and picked up speed for the final burst of pace. I got home and it was locked. Not knowing what to do, I came out and looked for a shade from the rain. There it was, standing by itself on the side. I looked at it with new admiration. Put my bag in front and sat on my white Kinetic Honda. Dad really drove fast, didn’t he?
After another hour must have passed, mom and brother finally came home and saw me perched on the Kinetic Honda. The door was opened, a shower and lunch was had, followed by an afternoon nap. When we got older, Mom told us how she cried looking for me at school. She and brother searched a lot of streets and asked a lot of questions. Someone suggested I must be at home and she didn’t believe it. I had no money and home was 7 kms away. Having exhausted all options, she finally came home.
That day changed a lot of things. For the first time, brother and I got money to take to school. We were given the freedom to travel by ourselves for the first time. It led to bigger things, more freedom,more adventures, and the possibilities of it all excited us. We were given more responsibilities. We felt like we got admission into the adult’s club. And that was also the day I stopped telling dad how slowly he drove the white Kinetic Honda.