Dulhan Bus and Quarantines and sleepy anterior cingulate cortex
It’s a rickety bus, seats covered with cheap faux leather, splinters of twisted metal frame, prodding the buttocks from underneath the worn-out leather, clutching the foam like there is no tomorrow. The four-wheeled liability is headed towards heritage site in the country. It is called the Dulhan Bus (the bride bus) because it is decorated like a bride, with all its frills and fillies. Bright paint and intricate glass work also commonly found on fabrics and cultural outfits, hide the weariness of the bus chassis. The many years of coughing out diesel are apparent on the pipes protruding from beneath the bus, like an old maiden, who knew many lovers and yet adorned like a virgin. There are seats in the front row for women only- typical of any public transport in the Islami Jamhuria of Pakistan.
She chose to sit in a corner in the front row for all she wanted to do was, get to the destination. The smell of diesel caustically making her nauseous. The leather seats making her sit up straight on the edge, mindful not to let the metal bits dig in too deep on the hind. Arms crossed, looking straight into her book without any acknowledgement of human being around her, everything in her posture, reeked of the sense that she wanted to speak to no one. She crouched on the edge of her seat, hoping that no one sat next to her so she can wallow and roll over the messy mud in her mind and soak in the earthiness of being lowly in thoughts. Her aversion to human company was not because of any disgust with human beings but with herself, for existing below the normal decency of human existence. The convoluted thoughts she was capable of, of wronging all that is good and of redeeming all that is evil, baseness her mind can conjure, repel her. She wants to not be touched nor seen nor felt lest she infects someone with the restlessness of the mind and soul. She wants to quarantine her being so she can keep those who are enjoying the bliss that comes with less convoluted thoughts, clear from the curse. She is even more careful since the last time she had found another infected being. She felt she can be around him for he is already affected. She could let him inside the quarantine she had built around her. But he did not want to come out of his quarantine. He felt his was more toxic than her’s. The same disgust not from people or her but from his own mind and its charcoal gray darkness. Through a glass door they saw each other, waved and smiled, but a dark look came upon both when they saw that between the glass doors there is a chasm, an endless pit of earth and mud. Crossing over to the other’s glass door is impossible, for there will be wallowing and rolling over in the mud and there will be no end to it. They remained behind their glass doors until she turned away from hers, walked in the opposite direction, where she could move cautiously among those that had no glass doors or muddy floors beneath. And yet once in a while she wanted a recluse to indulge herself the company of her thoughts away from the untouched people. A price had to be paid. The vertigo that comes with the meandering roads to the hermitage of silence of worldly sounds. Bracing herself for the ride, like Sita’s walking on fire towards a greater reward, she had just made herself in the container of self.
And there he was, entering the bus from the back door and spotting her, beamed full throttle, his joy half hidden in his controlled demeanour. She felt her body tighten and dread filled her, for her walls had just been able to dry in the heat of hatred. She could not allow that wetness of the soil emerge again and dampen the resolve she had so carefully reconstructed. And yet all her will and force of mind could not stop him from taking the seat right next to her. His face still lit up from the amusement his mind offered upon seeing her recoil as he put his arm in the back of her seat. The more he smiled, the more she felt the heat scorch the walls she had wrapped around her now. She smiled inwardly, congratulating herself for not melting away at the lack of distance between them.
She returned to her book, after glaring at him long enough to convey that she no longer wants to look through the glass door and smile, from near or far. No glare could wipe away that smirk and it made her blood boil but she took a deep breath and continued to go deeper into her own muddy little pool. He tapped her shoulder with two fingers. Another deep breath before she slowly but menacingly looked up at the tapper. Still the full beam and a pleading look in the eyes. Rolling her eyes, she returned to her book. Another tap. This time she chose to ignore. The bus began to cough and roar, a cringe worthy crackle resounding loud within, scratching the layers of its passengers’ sanity. Midst this commotion, she did not realize his arm slip from the back of her seat to her shoulders. Once the rock- a- bye bus had settled into a stable sputter, she became conscious of the arm gently clutching her to the side of the man she had been glaring at to keep him from extending any bodily contact. Slowly, a furious heat began to rise from her core, something she could not immediately decipher as anger. Her walls began to crack under the heat so she regulated the thermostat to a cooler degree. The regulator in her, her anterior cingulate cortex, must be top of the range, for the subsequent glare in his direction was full of ice and shivers. His arm quickly returned to the back of the seat. The glare continued and the arm moved from the back to the front; the front of his big, muscular chest. He folded his arms, but the circumference of his existence was too big for the smallish seats of the bus. His arm sat snuggly next to hers. This was more torturous than the ‘back-of-the-seat’ position. The only thing that kept up the quarantine was the fabric of her muslin white blouse and his chocolate brown Khaddar (thick cotton fabric from south of Punjab worn in summers) Kamiz (long shirt worn by men and women over trousers). She knew it won’t last but like a mighty warrior she will put up a fight as long as she could.
Her chief of army, her anterior cingulate cortex was slowly beginning to tire, as minutes turned into hours and hours extended into late afternoon, with the sun peaking at its hottest. The mud wallowing had to give way to the magnificence of the universe that came to life as some parts of the brain factory shut down, spurred on by the giving away of the body. Careful to not to give away her exhausted warriors, she leaned against the window of the Dulhan bus as she put herself in the safest quarantined position to sleep.
As the bus chortled onwards, her prefrontal cortex in all its entirety shut down. And in those moments of un-guardedness, the tiny thief behind her walls let the trap door open. Her head bobbed up and down as the bus made its way to the solace of silent mountains. In its bobbing, it landed on his sturdy shoulder. His tired beam returned. His weary eyes struggling to keep away slumber were finally rewarded. His quarantine was porous. He did not want her to mix the black dead earth with her red, fertile mud. And yet there was very little of his roots that were alive in the thickened, charred ground of his core, that he could possibly offer. But the moisture of her being had made tiny roots sprout somewhere in the hardened ground he had stopped nurturing. He could not let her see the charred roots just yet. Her rich redness was just so pure and raw. He did not have it in him to infect her just yet. He put his arm around her so her head did not bob up and down so much, not for her sake to secure her slumber so her mind and body could rest, but for his sake. For in her prefrontal cortex’s unguarded moments, he could bask in the richness of her soil without contaminating it. He gently kissed her forehead, careful to not wake her up. Sliding down a bit in his own seat for head to find a place to rest without having to bend, he settled into a position where the two could rest in peace.