The Loser Is the Winner
by Bertil Falk
Sanjay Tandon was displeased with the state of things. He held his MetroCard in his hand, waiting for bus 104 near the corner of West 120th Street and Broadway. His parents were adamant that he had to go to Bombay and marry a girl he had never seen. To him it was a totally foreign idea. He did not subscribe to the traditions of his family. It was next to impossible for his mother to even get him to attend the Durga puja. He had been a New Yorker since childhood. His idea of women did not include arranged shaadis. After completing his studies, he wanted to be on his own for a while, screwing around, so to speak.
It was drizzling. Fortunately, the bus came and he went aboard. The driver was a woman with keen blue eyes. When she looked at him, he got the feeling that a shutter was released in her eyes and a three-dimensional snapshot of him was forever embedded in her brain. The next moment her eyes turned indifferent. She looked at him without seeing him. The windshield wipers were on. They slowly wiped off the raindrops. Before she drew away from the bus stop, she shut them off.
He sat down on a side bench at the front of the bus. It made it possible for him to survey the vehicle from rear to front. There were only a few fellow passengers. An old lady was sitting just behind the driver. She looked as if she had celebrated her hundredth birthday. She was black. Her face was lined. Like the surface of a strange planet. She would probably die soon.
A girl of about twenty sat opposite him. She was not only white, she looked pale and unhealthy. Her hair was brown and cut short. Her face was sprinkled with freckles. Maybe she had some incurable disease? The idea cheered him up. She was certainly a nominee for eternity. She might even die before that old woman.
That triggered a question: how about the other passengers? He looked around in search for the one who might die first. He found, to his thrill, that even though the passengers were few, he still discerned an abundance of candidates for a final rest.
Killing people was a new game, perfectly designed to kill time while slowly crawling down Broadway, making a stop every two to three blocks. Which passenger would likely be the one to die first?
There was a man speaking Spanish to a small boy. The man was as fat as anything. He was breathing with difficulty. He was most probably due to expire from some kind of dyspnoea. From the way he looked, it could happen at any minute.
Excited by the interesting prospects he had begun to investigate, Sanjay Tandon turned his eyes to the boy. He was a thin thing, skinny and small. He wore thick glasses, and his legs were in splints. One could understand from his countenance that he was in bad condition, just on the verge of extinction.
Pleased, Sanjay turned to the driver. She was sturdy and had a big bosom. Her hair was dyed. Red. Like all bus drivers in New York City, she was a professional, accustomed to all the tricks of the trade. Like a radar installation given human form she avoided pedestrians, taxicabs and street repairmen.
Sanjay turned his attention to a middle-aged woman. She was trying to look as if she were twenty-five. Actually, her looks were too well thought-out to be believed. Sanjay wondered if she was aware of that. Maybe, maybe not. She did not look like someone who was to die soon. He put her at the bottom of his list.
It was at that moment he became aware that he had unknowingly systematized his candidates of death into a list. The pale-faced girl topped his list with the old woman as the runner-up. He had chosen the small boy as number three and his fat father, if the father he was, as number four. He did not even consider the made-up woman as a contender.
Anyhow, he would never find out who would be the loser, or rather the winner. For in this competition the loser was obviously the winner. When he left the bus, it would drive away with his nominees. Their moments of death would forever be wrapped in mystery. He would never know which one was the first to die.
They were approaching Columbus Circle. He prepared himself to get off somewhere at the corner of 59th or 57th or whatever. The traffic was dense. The driver maneuvered her heavy vehicle in a skillful way that reminded him of the dancing hippos in Walt Disney’s Fantasia. She was good. Would he ever be able to handle a bus or a truck or even a small car like that?
The bus came to a standstill by the curb. The old woman, the one who was a hundred years old, alighted. So did he. The traffic did not seem to be as dense any more. Sanjay walked down the sidewalk and then went out on Broadway in front of the bus. He saw the driver turning the wheel and the bus began to move out from the curb at a very slow pace. He looked straight into her blue eyes. They were filled with an expression of empty terror. It puzzled him. She was driving straight at him, but at no pace at all and he would be able to make it to the other side of Broadway before anyone could say Donald Duck.
At that moment a big truck passed by and cut him off. He was trapped. And he knew in a flash of sudden clear-sightedness that he himself would be the first of the passengers to die.
The bumper of the bus hit him in his side. He fell headlong behind the passing truck. The screaming brakes of a yellow cab filled the air. The taxi stopped just a few inches from Sanjay Tandon’s head. His whole world was set spinning. The houses seemed to revolve around him.
He fell into unconsciousness.
When he came to, he heard the sound of emergency vehicles. His head was resting on the knee of an unknown man. The face of the old black woman from the bus hovered over his face. Her hand was at his throat. He felt one of her fingers on his carotid artery.
“His pulse is fine,” she said. “Take care of him till the ambulance comes.”
“Are you a doctor?” the man asked.
“You bet I am,” she replied.
Sanjay came to his feet with the assistance of willing hands. He staggered back to the sidewalk. When he raised his eyes he realized the extent of the disaster. The bus had crossed Broadway diagonally and crashed into a display window. He saw an ambulance crew lifting out a body and placing it on a stretcher.
“The driver was probably stricken by sudden heart failure,” he heard someone say. “She must have died instantly.”
Copyright © 2009 by Bertil Falk