This was his first morning and his first journey, the culmination of a more metaphorical journey that had begun, appropriately, with an advertisement in Sakaal. Here he was - in fresh Khaki uniform, polished brass 'Conductor' badge, leather cash bag and aluminium ticket-box – ready to start off on Route No. 25A1, that went from Vashi Depot to Mhape Industrial District. The municipal transport undertaking had wanted bus conductors, of reasonable education and physical fitness. He had applied, waited for the summons, passed through a Kafkaesque ceremony of selection, waited for the results, succeeded, and waited for the appointment letter again.
As he sat waiting for the driver to finish the paperwork at the depot office and get the bus keys, his thoughts summarised his training period. First came the balancing – standing in a moving bus, hands not holding on to anything. A conductor had to learn to balance himself like this, loaded as he would be with ticket-box and cash bag in both hands. Once learnt, it was a stunt to show off to his friends. What admiration he received from them, on their way to a Sunday picnic (instigated by him), when he maintained composure, even as the bus bumped and swerved, tripping up his imitators!
There was a bevy of girls at the bus-stop right outside the depot, perhaps a few would clamber onto the bus. The Sadhubela Girls' College fell on the route, perhaps they were headed that way. Girls are quick to notice and respond to a guy's skills, and a few impressed gasps would be so welcome. What poise, what confidence! That was another thing – nothing to impress a girl like confidence. Not the flashy confidence of a roadside trickster, but the confidence of a job well done.
And there was the other thing that he learnt - the mental jugglery of place names and fares, remembering who was owed what in change, learning every stop in every route, and most of all, to be able to tell a confused passenger how exactly to get somewhere. Now that was something – to be able to know how to get from anywhere to anywhere in the city. He had done well for himself becoming a conductor. Not like his friends who were either office-attendants or motor-mechanics, stuck in one place all the time. But then again, maybe not as lucky as the guy who got into the traffic police.
The driver turned up. He was one of the older guys, grumpy and rude. Perhaps it was as well that one did not put two newbies on the same bus. The bus drove out of the depot, but didn't stop at the bus-stop. He was left looking wistfully at the girls as the bus drove past him. They didn't seem to react.
At the last stop, the driver consoled him.
“It's route 25A that passes the Girls' College. This is a variation that skips it. They never put young conductors on routes with girls!”