an excerpt from The Riot Act
HASHWINI arrived just in time to see a convoy of five buses edging toward the exit. The first bus had to stop and wait for a gap to interject itself into the Serangoon Road traffic flow.
Hashwini dashed to the front entrance of that bus and pounded on the glass panel. The driver tilted his head and stared at her with suspicion. He could see her mouth moving but her words were muffled and indecipherable. The dormitory housed only male workers so she was definitely not part of his bus load. She looked deranged. He decided that it would be a bad idea to let her into the bus. So the driver turned his head towards the main road, spotted a gap and jerked his vehicle into the traffic flow, completely ignoring her.
Hashwini was livid now. She felt a tap on her shoulder. It was Kaustubh.
“How can you run off with my…”
Hashwini did not let Kaustubh finish his sentence. With all the strength she could muster, she shoved him towards the middle of the exit lane and ordered, “Stop the next bus!”
Kaustubh froze like a petrified deer blinded by the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. But the indignant honking of the bus unfroze him and he quickly skipped off the tarmac onto the grass patch. The driver threw vulgarities at him as the bus swerved into the main road.
Disappointed by this useless specimen of a man, Hashwini decided to take things into her own hands. She scouted the immediate vicinity and quickly spotted what she needed. As the third bus inching towards the exit, she raced to a rubbish bin by the road, toppled it and rolled it towards the middle of the lane, creating an effective blockade. The bus driver stared at her with incredulity and began to honk furiously. Hashwini marched to the side of the bus and ascended the steps once the door was opened.
“Siao ah li?” the bus driver shrieked in Hokkien, which translated into “Are you crazy?”
Hashwini held up Kaustubh’s mobile phone like it was a badge and shouted, “Police!” Almost immediately, the impropriety struck her, so she added, “The police are coming. I am doing a search on this bus. Kill the engine!”
The bus driver was intimidated by Hashwini’s forceful command and took it that she was an undercover police officer. He broke out into a cold sweat when he suddenly remembered he was driving his cousin’s bus and that the latter sometimes conducted clandestine operations smuggling in untaxed cartons of cigarettes from neighbouring Johor state. What if there were still a load of contraband in the secret compartment adjoining the engine? He meekly obeyed the undercover police officer when she ordered him to switch on the overhead lights to facilitate her manhunt.
© Epigram Books