Numbers. 13.14. Looked at the guy on the bed, looked back at the number.
Pausing for a few seconds, I tried to make sense of it.
Was I supposed to share this small cabin, a bed so small I could not stretch fully myself, with another complete stranger??
…….and for the next 14 hours of the journey?!
Things work differently around here, I guess? I had paid 800 Rupees, or ($20) for a Sleeper Cabin in the non-air conditioned Bus from Goa to Mumbai. The previous night, I paid 250 rupees ($6) for a Huge room, even with my own toilet.
It was just 8 in the evening. Lights were immediately turned off, leaving only 3 dim coloured bulbs- the kind you see on roadblocks, or police cars in green, orange and blue.
If I needed a travel buddy, this would preferably be a good time.
All the reminders from family and friends, the stories from strangers and locals on how things get stolen in trains and buses kept playing in my head, just like the incessant horns in the city’s traffic. How people get mugged and all that. Determined not to be the next victim, I thought, hey if I build trust with this complete stranger, there would be a small chance he’d think of doing anything.
“Hi, how are you? Were you calling your mum or girlfriend?””, I picked up some clues as he was on the phone for the longest time, he must have been a family guy, he seemed very contemplative.
“Hi, I’m good. Ha, yes that was my girlfriend”, he spoke in perfect English.
The ice was broken. Sham was a roman catholic living in Goa, who had to travel to Mumbai for a week’s long training in his new company, LG. He has a bachelor of finance, but the previous bank job took him 120 kms 2 ways everyday. That was too much after 6 months. Goa was a Portuguese colony, with their streets lined with catholic churches, biblical quotes painted on buses, and possibly one of the few places where cows get slaughtered for food in the ‘cow worshipped land”.
The most interesting fact? All locals of Goa could receive a Portuguese passport which allows them to live and work in Europe for a fee given to the government.
The tense muscles in my body eased. Even in that confined space that didn’t allow a single twist or stretch, I was comfortable with my new friend. This was also Sham’s first time sitting in a shared sleeper bus. In his 21 years, he’d not traveled much. He must have felt as uneasy as I was in the cabin.
We all have perceptions of things, stereotypes Bad ones tend to be the first that come out of our minds and mouths. I’ve learnt that it is never what it seems sometimes, and the world is a genuinely good place, with sincere people. I’ve now gained a little more confidence for the next sleeper trip. India is a vast vast place, and many of the locals from other states are as unfamiliar and unsettled as we are. Lets throw out generalizations and stereotypes, the human spirit is the only accurate representation of who the ‘other guy’ is!