It was the day after my husband’s birthday. We were lounging about in the living room. There was no dinner that needed to be made. We had plenty of leftovers from his birthday dinner (I had cooked three of his favourite Indian styled veggies or shaak as we call it. Thinly sliced ladies’ fingers cooked with equally thinly sliced onions, bottle gourd and split chickpeas curry, and an onion-mushroom-carrot and capsicum semi-dry curry cooked in tomatoes, soy sauce, vinegar and Maggi hot and sweet ketchup.)
We made ourselves a cup of tea. Again Indian styled – tea leaves and milk allowed to brew in a saucepan of boiling water. And as we sat down, something started happening in the sky outside. It started bursting with colours, like a leaked pipe that had swallowed a rainbow. At first, there was a pink underbelly to the clouds, then it turned purple, and yellow and orange. Then all the colours seemed to dance together – like little girls in tutus and fluttering angel wings.
I sat and stared. We have an WhatsApp group for the apartment blocks we live in. I quickly took a couple of pictures and sent them on to the group; I didn’t want anyone to miss out on what was on display. A neighbour who owns a penthouse and has access to incredible views, sent a photograph back – she too had been stunned by what the sky was doing and was out in the balcony.
Eventually, the purple, pink and yellow gave way to a blazing orange and then, the orange bowed down to a deep blue and gradually to a black.
The evening brought back memories of Malta. That day in Malta, we had taken a long bus journey from our Airbnb in Birkirkara to Gozo. We had taken a ferry and spent the entire day on the island, taking a bus and going up and down its scenic hills, visiting the Azure window, taking in the several chapels and churches, having coffee and five ice creams. We have had a beautiful day and at the end of it a long journey back home awaited us. We had to take the ferry back to Cirkewwa to be back in time to take the last bus home.
We were on a tight lease. When we alighted from the ferry, the crowds at the bus stops were swarming. They seemed to grow and like a murmuring, changed shapes and directions as people ran after an incoming bus only to find out it was the wrong one and then ran back again to reclaim their spot in the crowd awaiting the next bus. Fathers held their little sons and daughters on their shoulders, women jostled and elbowed to make way for their families and friends to follow them.
It was a desperate situation. As the last few buses started sauntering in, people tried everything they could to get a seat. And then suddenly, my husband went insane or so it seemed at that time. He asked me to abandon the precious footing we had got in the crowd – one that would ensure us a place in the next bus.
Look, he said. Look at the sky! It was nearing sunset and the sky had turned up the magic. Over the sea, the oranges and reds and yellows floated and merged into one another. They teased the sea – here, we are ready to dive in, wait, we have changed our minds!
It was truly beautiful. But we had no time for it. Because if we missed the bus, we would have to take a taxi home and it would have cost us over 100 Euros at the very least.
No, I said. We can’t leave our spot. But, Prerna, he said, we can’t come so far to Malta and turn our backs on such a gorgeous sunset because we fear missing our last bus home. I didn’t know what to say. And then, he was running across the road. I found myself running after him. As we took in the sunset, two buses came and went. My heart sank. When we went back to the bus stop, there was only one other person apart from us.
There was no telling if there was to be a next bus. Or if it would go where we wanted it to. Apparently the last two buses made a stop at Sliema, and that’s where most of the (now disappeared) crowds were headed to.
We waited. It had grown dark. And silent. All the young noisy girls and boys had left on the previous buses, and so had the children and their parents. I missed them, I missed the comfort of the crowd, of knowing that there were other people like us.
Finally a bus came. We asked the driver if it would go to our stop. He said it would. We got on to the bus. And so did the other person.
He got off a few stops after. Then it was just us and the driver. We laughed. I was relieved we had caught the last bus home. We had caught the sunset too. The only tiny problem was that by the time we reached Birkirkara, all the restaurants had almost closed down and were past the time of taking their last orders. We needed dinner. We found a McDonalds. A dirty McDonalds at that with the floor littered with fries, and bits of paper and food.
That was the only downside to the day. We had to break our rule of not eating at a fast food joint while on a holiday. But the trade in was the best sunset of our trip in Malta. And having the public transport bus all to ourselves.