The Mystery of Missing Commuters

Prerona Ray Baruah

Every morning, I catch the 8:30 bus to go to office and every day the same bunch of people gather at the bus stop to take the same bus. The old man waddling like a penguin and arriving promptly a minute before the bus arrives, the bespectacled fat lady with short hair who more often than not doesn’t return my smile, the Indian girl who works in my office but is always talking to someone on the phone and has therefore never even looked in my direction, let alone have any form conversation with me, the old lady who seems to be friends with the aforementioned old man and hence converses animatedly with him while puffing on her cigarette, and an occasional young mother with a baby in a pram. Everyone in Germany is punctual. They’re either already positioned at the bus stop before I arrive, making me feel like I’m late or in the rare occasion when I’m early, they arrive with exactly a couple of minutes to spare, making me feel foolish for being too early.

Every once in while, there comes a day when none of these fellow commuters show up and I’m the lone human standing there, waiting for the bus. A myriad of questions run through my mind. Did I miss the bus? I check my watch a few times to make sure. It shows that I’m well in time. Did the bus timings change suddenly overnight? I check the app on my phone to make sure and it shows that the timings haven’t changed. Is it a public holiday today? I try to recall my office calendar or if anyone mentioned anything about a holiday at work the previous day. I don’t recall anything of the sort because I’m always particular about noting down public holidays since I enjoy not having to wake up early in the morning. Are they in cahoots with the bus driver and hence, have some kind of inside knowledge, say about the bus being stuck in traffic? That could be a possibility since this is a small town with a small population and I’ve often observed the bus drivers being friends with many of the passengers. Maybe I should try to get in the gang as well? So far, the only words I exchange with the drivers are basic German greetings for ‘good morning’, ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, ‘please’, a smile or a nod sometimes. What more do I say to be chummy with the burly bus drivers of Wiesloch? I squint down the road to see if the bus is coming or not. Another possible explanation pops into my head. Do they all synchronise their sick leaves or vacation days? And why?

This seems to be one of the biggest mysteries of Wiesloch. Suddenly I feel like one of the The Famous Five or The Secret Seven or The Five Find Outers. They all lived in similar small or even smaller towns in England. All European town are the same. You see and know the usual people or ‘suspects’ and their daily routines, in a way. I know who boards the bus at which bus stop, at what time every day and which at bus stops they get out. Any anomaly in this daily routine appears strange and sometimes a cause for concern. For example, when all suspects are missing in action together, there’s the assurance that it was pre-planned but once in a very blue moon, when just the old man fails to make an appearance, I worry if he injured himself, fell ill or maybe didn’t make it through the night? Is there an equivalent of surly Mr. Goon in the Wiesloch Polizei team?

I could find a bunch of kids and a dog to form my own mystery-solving team to find out the whereabouts of my missing co-passengers. A fun thought but my bus arrives right on time and all these thoughts and ideas disappear with a poof as I greet the driver with a ‘Guten Morgen’ and a smile. The mystery remains for another day!

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