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Short Story by Lakshmi Menon

He waited patiently at the main bus stand for the bus which would take him to his son's house, which was about 8 kms away.  He had been waiting there since seven in the evening holding his slightly dilapidated umbrella with a curved handle and a small bag in his hand. It was first day of the month. His anxiety grew further with the setting sun. His son would return home by eight in the night and he wanted to be there at the gate when he arrived. 

Many buses came and dropped the passengers at the bus stand and within minutes went again with the next lot of passengers, both young and old, who were eagerly awaiting there. Each time a bus arrived the old man looked at the name board enthusiastically and soon turned his face off disappointedly. He looked at his watch again for the fifth time within the last thirty minutes and heaved a deep sigh.  The weather was not so pleasant, with the slight drizzle and the lightening and occasional thunders, thus making it all the more inconvenient to the passengers.

At last the long awaited bus arrived with a jerk. The passengers were in a great hurry to get out of the bus and soon after it became empty. Within seconds,  the new passengers boarded the bus pushing each other and conveniently ignoring the Q system. The old man too managed to get in and stood in the crowd, unable even to hold on to the strap provided for the purpose.  Though there were seats demarcated for the senior citizens they were occupied by those who got inside first, irrespective of their age. He looked around hopefully at the decently dressed co-passengers for some kind hearted soul to get up and give him some place to sit understanding an old man's plight, but his hopes were in vain. 

While he was disappointedly trying to cope with his plight he heard a gentle voice at his back, 
"Sir, please take my seat".  The old man turned to see an illiterate young lad,  clad in an old dhothi and a dusty shirt, offering him his seat.  His face was unshaven and the smell of his sweat pierced through the old man's nostrils. He thanked him for his kind offer  and sat there squeezing himself into the seat which was also occupied by a fellow passenger who was sitting there as if the whole seat was meant for him.  And his fellow passenger in the next seat threw a dirty look at him as if he was an intruder.

After ten minutes or so,  the overcrowded  bus moved with a jerk. Then the conductor, with his brown bag, squeezed himself in between the ladies and gents who were struggling to find a little space to  keep their feet steady, Then he continued to issue the tickets to the passengers.  

The old man was sitting thinking of his son and his family. All of a sudden,  his attention was diverted to a well-dressed young man in a white long sleeved shirt, who was standing about ten feet away, behaving  a bit peculiarly.  His hand was slowly moving towards another young person, dressed in a light blue shirt, who stood in front of him. Within minutes the old man noticed that the hand of the man with the white shirt, rested on the other man’s pocket . He looked about thirty plus. While in the process of his pick pocketing, he looked around to make sure no one was watching his act.  Unexpectedly, however, his eyes met the old man's as he was seriously watching his actions.  Realising this, the young man slowly took away his hand  from the other person's pocket and kept it in his own pocket, as though nothing had happened.  After a few minutes he tried  his tactics again hoping that this time no one was watching him. 
Some intuition made him feel that someone was watching his action and slowly he tilted his head to confirm it. Alas! Again, he found that the old man was watching him like a policeman. This made him expertly take away his hand and put it back in his own pocket.  The old man had  half a mind to grab his stealing hand with the curved handle of his umbrella, but he suppressed his irritation and bit his lips staring at him.

The bus continued its untiring mundane journey through the crowded roads with the neon lights. It kept dropping and picking up many passengers on the way.

The young lad  in white shirt looking like a gentleman  conveniently changed his standing position, moving one foot sideways so that his action would not be noticed by the vigilant old man who had taken upon himself the task of watching him constantly. Thinking he was safe at least this time, the youth slowly moved his hand towards his co-passenger's pocket, which he had been repeatedly trying unsuccessfully to pickpocket since the time he had got into the bus. Cleverly he managed to pull the thick wallet  from his victim's pant pocket and was trying to put it into his own pant pocket with great pleasure and a cunning smile on his face. However, when he turned around he saw that the vigilant old man was still watching him. It was obvious that he had not expected this. The old man bit his lips again. Blood from the youth’s face drained off and became like a white flower. He wouldn’t have thought that the old man too was smart enough to change his position by then. He was tilting his head to focus his attention completely on the youth. Apparently, the old man's annoyed look conveyed to the youth that his act had been noticed and he would raise an alarm so that the fellow passengers would know about the pick pocketing.  Panic stricken, he slowly took out the purse from his own pocket and put it back in despair into the same pocket from where he had stolen it moments earlier.

When the bus stopped in each stop the old man wished that either the vicious youth or the innocent man whose purse had been the target, would get down there, but sadly neither of them alighted from the bus.

Cursing the old man for being the cause of his repeated unsuccessful attempts, the youth shifted his position slightly to avoid the attention of his new found enemy.  He tried three more unsuccessful attempts, and each time he cursed the old man, who stubbornly refused to move away his vigilant look from him. 

After an hour long journey, the bus stopped at a junction.  The anxiety of the old man grew as the bus reached his destination and he had to alight there.  "What is the use of me safeguarding the other man's purse all this time? Being the pay day of the month, the poor fellow would reach home with an empty pocket. Now no one is there to stop the vicious youth in his attempt of pick pocketing. The poor man will lose his whole month’s salary at any moment now," thought the old man regretfully and got up from his seat. 

As he moved towards the entrance his eyes brightened when he saw that the young man in white shirt too was getting down there. He thanked God for His silent intervention in preventing a theft and walked home!