J.S. Raghavan relives an idyllic autumn day in New Jersey, when he walked his granddaughter to the school bus and back.

Woodbridge Town Center in New Jersey. Under the canopy of a sprawling cherry blossom tree, I stand holding my frisky granddaughter Shreya’s little hand, braving a cold draught. Shreya’s wearing a navy blue denim cargo and toffee-brown jersey worn over a star-spangled orange T-shirt and carries a Dora back-pack. Her round eye are riveted on the direction from which the yellow-coloured school bus will appear. She intones short prayers in Sanskrit in an outlandish Indo-American accent, beseeching select gods of the Hindu pantheon to shower their blessings.

Robins, sparrows, sandpipers, goldfinches, woodpeckers and many other birds cheerfully toot, tweet and twitter, ostensibly celebrating the absence of the rigmarole of attending school. Their chorus suddenly reaches a crescendo, like an avian flourish to announce an important arrival. Yes, the yellow bus has turned the corner, its well-tuned engine growling healthily. All school buses are, as a rule, painted yellow — the colour believed to be associated with Jupiter and learning in India.

Dona is handling the big bus today. Her bobbed head is erect; on her face an expression that seems to suggest that she can handle such a huge bus with one eye closed. In fact, both her eyes are open, fixed on Shreya to make sure she is safely in and that her deputy Rebecca, superintending the tots, had fastened the new entrant’s seatbelt.

The three cars that pulled up behind the bus, wait patiently for the bus to move — as if the President of the United States of America is in it — even though there is  room on the drive for them to bypass and proceed comfortably. Once boarding is complete, Dona flashes a smile at me and off they go. A squirrel that had hopped down with a smirk crosses the road after the cavalcade disappears from the scene.

Before one could chant ‘Montessori’ 108 times, it is time for Shreya to return. Back under the colourful canopy of the cherry blossom tree, I try counting the number of the transient flowers that parachute down, some landing on my deerstalker cap like a botanical benediction from Mother Nature. A plump brown-grey sparrow, perched on a marble birdbath of an adjoining house, takes a hurried bath, flapping its tiny wings. Peace reigns supreme  as all the feathered creatures seem to have given their voices momentary rest — till one alert parrot gives out a lusty call, a signal that the yellow bus has been spotted.

A school-soiled but jubilant Shreya hops down, her broad smile speaking volumes of her pride in completing yet another day of learning. “Shreya didn’t eat her cupcake and cookies to-day,” Rebecca reports, returning the plastic lunch box, “but don’t worry, she shared what Cindy brought with her.” Cindy giggles and nods from the bus. Dona makes sure Shreya is back in her grandpa’s custody and drives away with a wave. The bus revs up and seems to travel faster, in sharp contrast to its sedate speed in the morning. Understandable, as world over, children walk to school, but run back home. Should their school buses behave differently?