There exists an awkward time of the evening in places of communal transit and accommodation (cheap hostels, for example. Also – dorms, trains without private coupes, red-eye flights, weddings of spouse’s friends) when people with inadequate acquaintance between each other make tentative gestures and use phrases that indicate an overwhelming need to retire â€“ e.g.: a yawn slightly louder than necessary, a cursory rifling through a bag at their feet for some mystery-item that never materializes, opening the window and peeking through the rushing air into complete darkness.
As this time approached on the bus, the men seated on his berth had vanished, reaching their destinations at one of the innumerable small towns the bus stopped at. The woman still firmly held her foothold, her two sturdy legs reaching and resting from the other side of a metal pole, almost touching his own feet. Almost.
When it was time to sleep, the woman brought out a threadbare, leaf-patterned, pink shawl, and draped it on her feet. She made sure the edges were tucked under, and that no part of the shawl touched his. She sank down some more on her seat, and closed her eyes. She still didnâ€™t take too much of his space, he reasoned with himself as he drifted off.
Death is the great leveller, but Sleep is one too, in its own literal sense. In a couple more hours, she sagged further down in her seat until they were almost side by side up to their waists; him stretched out as much as he could on the berth, her angled inward and abruptly cut off at the waist by the cold, hard metal. Space had finally run out, and his own legs were resting against hers, through the thin shawl that she had carefully positioned. No harm, no foul.
Close to midnight, the bus stopped at another nameless, sizeless town. He was awakened by the commotion and he saw an old man enter and walk towards them looking for vacant seats at the back of the bus. The old man saw them, torsos in separate seats, but their legs entwined, as if the warning signals of propriety their brains had sent hadnâ€™t traveled all the way down their bodies. The old man didnâ€™t understand the tableaux, but neither did he.