There Was No One at the Bus Stop
The twelve hours that pass in this slim novella are some of the slowest and hardest ever—both in the lives of the characters and for the reader as well. Set on one day in the lives of two people in a not-so-secret affair, There Was No One at the Bus Stop builds the strained context of their lonely lives, takes you to a point of emotional climax, and then holds you there just a few pages too long, leaving you tired and frustrated. But that’s the price you’re going to have to pay for a deepened understanding of human relationships, it seems.
The form of the novella works well to create, in very few pages, the story of Trina and Debashish. It explores the reasons for the dissatisfaction in their lives, their growing loneliness, and an inability to limit their relationship to one corner of their brittle lives. Debashish’s young son expresses a wish to live with his aunt after his mother’s death, and we witness Trina’s painful alienation from her entire family. To make the decision to live together, to take comfort in the love they have found, seems like the simplest and most obvious yet, at the same time, most difficult thing to do. Over the day, we see their actions, hear their thoughts, and watch them tremulously step over boundaries created by society and themselves. We are frustrated by them, saddened, and made to feel oppressed by the walls closing in, even when they try to escape from within them.
It’s not entirely clear if something in the story is lost in translation (from the original Bengali), but the characterisation in the book—especially of Trina—prevents it from working, entirely. I felt a strongly misogynist undertone, despite efforts to understand what was going on in her mind. Trina appears to us in bits and starts, first as an attractive, vivacious, and intelligent woman, strikingly drawn against her background of middle-class ennui. Before you know it, however, this image shifts to one that is sad, guilt-ridden, and self pitying, the object of impatience and revulsion of her family. Since we remain mostly at the realm of the emotional throughout the short narrative, we don’t have much in the way of explanation as to how her personality changes, or why most responses to Trina are so extreme.
This portrayal of Trina as so self loathing and whinging takes away from the insight the author seems to be making about the complexity human relationships, and it grossly overplays the guilt and shame of a woman who has found love outside of what seems to be a cruel and intolerable family. What we end up with in There Was No One at the Bus Stop is a very disturbing sense that, although cracks and loneliness there may be, there are no good reasons to step out of the all-powerful institution of marriage.