A little girl and her father boarded the bus. The father was tall with an angular jaw and dressed in a plaid Ralph Lauren button up. The little girl was wide-eyed, pigtailed, and dressed in a fuscia lehenga with a bright orange choli. Cute to the max.
In India, or, at least, on most busses in Bangalore, the women sit in the front and the men sit in the back. This father made his way to the middle of the bus, where he stood, and tried to have his daughter tuck herself into the seat in front of me. This was further away from him than she seemed to like, and she desperately looked for an option closer to him. I scooted towards the open window, offering the space in between me and the 12-year-old girl beside me. “Ba,” I said, patting the space beside me. She looked up at her father, he nodded, and she scrambled between us, sitting on the edge of the seat, gripping the bar on the seat ahead of her, and craning her head to look at me. I smiled, said hello, but she was silent, staring.
My seat was the last in the “women’s” section, so her father stood next to our seat. When the bus hit a bump in the road, he leaned down, placed her back firmly on the seat, and instructed his daughter to continue holding on to the bar in front of her. While she enjoyed looking back at me and peering out the window, every once in awhile she would turn the other way and make sure her daddy was still there. He was.
The bus started filling up.
More women, some speaking angrily, boarded the bus. The little girl’s father got pushed further from us, towards the back of the bus. The girl turned, worried. Her father smiled, nodded at her. He was still there. People continued to board; the bus was overflowing with people. She turned towards me, anxious, and I said, “Ah, Appa idde.” She turned to the other side, eyes searching frantically, and, sure enough, although there were rows of people between them, Daddy was still there, and his eyes hadn’t left his little girl.
As we drove, she glanced back about once every two minutes, and I found myself looking with her. His body was mostly hidden by sareed women and he was no longer close enough to readjust her after a bump in the road, but Daddy was still watching. Smiling. Reassuring. She couldn’t feel him, and she could barely see him, but he was there. In the midst of the chaos, of the panic of people, even if she felt alone and helpless, all she needed to do was look. And she would see that he had never stopped watching her. That he was proud of her for sitting on her own. That he wasn’t going to leave without her, and that he would make sure she made it to her destinations afely. This one look was enough to reassure her; to give her the peace to make it through the next two minutes. Until the bus got a little more crowded, a little more loud. Until it hit a bump in the road and she became unsure. Until it was time to look back and double check that Daddy was still there.
And he always was.