It was when she reached the front of the queue that she realized she was short of cash. The ticket was 450. She had 400.
“Is there an ATM around?” she asked the guy manning the ticket counter. He looked at her with an impatient disdain that a girl usually reserves for her boyfriend who cheated on her.
“No, could you please step aside and let people, who do have money, buy the ticket.”
“Sure, but you could learn to be a little more poli…”
“I’ll pay for you.” she heard someone say from behind her. She turned around. It was a guy her age. Tall, fair and handsome.
“Umm… are you sure? I’m 50 bucks short.” she said.
“Yea it’s not a problem. Let me buy the ticket. The bus leaves in 20 minutes. You can look for an ATM till then.”
“Awesome. Thanks!” She stepped aside and let him buy the tickets. She asked around for an ATM but turned out the nearest one was not so nearby.
“It’s just 50 bucks. Chill.”
She couldn’t. It wasn’t an ideal situation to be in. Cashless and indebted to a stranger. She could already imagine her mother’s reaction if she ever told her. But she’d stopped caring about her mother’s reactions long time back.
“Hello, let’s head. The bus is gonna leave soon.” he snapped her back from her thoughts.
They settled down in their seats. She was still not completely assured. How could she be? All her childhood she had been warned not to accept favors from strangers, however exceptionally good looking they may be. She glanced sideways, she could see his profile; the curve of his nose, the slightly overgrown stubble, the mole on his neck right under his ear. He was looking out of the window and humming to himself.
“Hi, I’m Maya.” After what he’d done for her, least she could do is hold a decent conversation.
“So is everything else.” he replied. She smiled. It wasn’t the first time someone had cracked that line.
“I’m Zeus. And before you ask, yes it’s an unusual name especially for a Hindu, but my father is a Greek mythology enthusiast.”
“Well your mother must be really kind to have agreed,” she said. He laughed, a clear and confident laugh. She liked the sound of it.
They fell quiet. She took out her book and started reading.
“Couldn’t have pegged you as a bookworm.” he said.
“Really? Why so?”
“You’re way too pretty.”
“That’s a really awful assumption to make. Who said pretty girls don’t read, or girls who read are ugly.”
He shrugged. “It’s just logic. Pretty requires maintenance, time. Book lovers would rather just read.”
“Flawed logic.” she said.
“May be.” he said with a smile she found highly annoying and yet endearing at the same time.
“I’m dying of hunger. Hope the bus stops soon.” she said. “Oh look, you should have wished for something better.” he said as the bus slowed down near a small food joint.
She got down and made her way to the counter to place her order. For the second time tonight, she realized she had no money whatsoever and for the second time tonight Zeus said from behind her, “Let me pay for you.”
“No I’m good. I suddenly don’t feel like eating at all. It’s motion sickness I think.”
“Don’t be stupid. You just said you were dying of hunger.”
“I changed my mind, my stomach changed its mind actually.”
“Please, consider it my birthday treat.”
“It’s your birthday?”
He held out his driving license. It really was his birthday.
“What are you doing in a bus on your birthday?”
“Going home to visit dad. Since mom passed away when I was 10, I’m all he has.”
“Sorry about your mom. But, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Let’s eat.” she said as she thought about all the times she wished she didn’t have to spend her birthday with her family.
They boarded the bus again. She fell asleep eventually and woke up just as they were nearing her stop. She collected her stuff and started to walk to the front of the bus.
“Thanks for everything.”
“No problem. You were good company.”
Right before she was about to get down, she smiled as she asked him, “What’s your full name? I’ll look you up on Facebook. I need to return your money anyway.”
“Don’t want my number?”
“Nah, too mainstream.”
He smiled. “Zeus Shah.”
It was an easy name to remember and it was only his profile that popped up when she entered the name. Sitting on her bed, way past midnight, she was surprised to find herself excited as his profile loaded. The excitement drained out of her the second she read the first post on his wall.
The post was dated exactly a year back.
“RIP Zeus, still can’t believe you are no more with us.”
She scrolled down, her hands shaking.
“You deserved a long and happy life more than anyone else. We’ll take care of uncle for you.”
“You always loved the road. Accident on the highway that too on your birthday. I know you are laughing at the irony, wherever you are. RIP.”
As her breathing slowly returned to normal, she smiled. “He was indeed too good to be real.”