She had seventeen miles of bus journey unfinished.
Seventeen miles can be very long when you are travelling by bus through dark places and when the television in the bus is on mute.
She had a queer bored ache in her. There was little to do and no light to do it by. Bunching her body against the window, she pressed her mouth to the glass watching it blush with steam. Then she extended her tongue, tracing wetness.
Her cousin would speak of the eggs that were planted on bus windows by flies, about how they hatched in the comfort of saliva and how we should never ever ever lick the windowpanes, no matter how cold or dark the bus was. Sometimes the cousin would twist her ear while she grimaced in pain, and say ‘This is how the flies in your stomach know they are not wanted.’
The route to the University was long, scarred by the myriad interruptions of lone telegraph poles, highway villages and water pumps with gatherings of bony women. She usually liked the route; she liked looking out of the window as faces and scenes lopped off into epic and meaningless movie reels.
But that night, it was black. Brassiere black. Black, mind you, and not pink or grey or brown as dusty village evenings sometimes are. And there was nothing to do.
And suddenly, as if sponsored by her stretch of want, there was light just beyond, across the street. It was a marriage function, and an elaborate procession had stalled outside an arbitrarily gaudy hall. She saw cymbals, electric lights, drums, men in white and green, women in every colour, angry wailing children and old old people with dry eyes, wet mouths.
But as the bus passed this, as it passed this brazen piss of light, her eyes changed focus in the way that eyes do when they sense that something around them has altered. Her sight turned instead to the reflection on the pane of her window. And she saw that the man on the seat across the aisle was staring. She had not looked at him before this, as she was in the habit of not looking at men she didn’t know. But she had heard his shrill peacock voice as he asked the bus fare. It had changed the air somehow, that voice. And after, he had sung a familiar Urdu song, one that they would sing at morning assemblies in school.
And the staring transported her back to the time in boarding school when she was brushing her hair in the room, standing across from the mirror, watching appalled as ratty brown strands snapped and fell to the ground. That time when the boy had entered from behind, the little boy who walked up to the mirror, licked at her image, licked the neck and the face and kissed the hair. She, looking up, had only noticed the saliva, thinking of the fly eggs that must have penetrated his blood and hatched in his stomach.