Shahana wrapped the dupatta even more tightly around her small frame as she waited. Beads of perspiration tickled her forehead as she adjusted her dark shades against the burning sun. She sighed as she looked at her watch. It was twenty minutes ago when she had reached the bus stop. In the heat she remembered the toast she had left uneaten on the breakfast table, the cup of tea she had guzzled in two big gulps and the unpaid electricity bills she had forgotten on her bedside table. She sighed again. Why did she have to go through this everyday? Why did the bus never come on time? Why did she have to be the only female in throngs of males day after day?

She narrowed her eyes as she saw the top of a blue and red coloured bus coming up the dilapidated road. She immediately stuck out her arm and waved frantically, signalling the bus to stop. As always, the bus driver paid no heed and drove forward. Had it not been for the conductor dangling from the door of the females’ compartment, this bus would have left Shahana too. It stopped a good ten feet away from where she stood. She trotted towards it and clasped the handle for support. She had barely placed one foot on the platform when the driver slammed his foot on the accelerator, forcing Shahana into violent contact with the iron bars on her right. She winced but held on to the handle for dear life. She somehow managed to place her other foot in the bus and pull herself up. Luck really was not with her. Half the females’ cubicle was already occupied with irritated, frowning women. The other half was, to her horror, hogged by men. Shahana grabbed the door and stood fixed near it as the bus bumped along the road.

With intense disgust, Shahana eyed the man sitting on the seat facing her. Catching her watching him the man gave her a crimson-toothed sneer full of effrontery. With his uneven, red teeth he looked like some vampire to her who had been sucking on human blood. But it was actually years of chewing cheap beetle-nut that had left its mark on his smile. Shuddering Shahana averted her gaze and rummaged through her purse for a five rupee note. Just then the conductor appeared like an apparition in the small door and shoved his hand in front of her. She handed him a ten rupee note and waited. The conductor was about to scamper off again when she demanded her five rupee change. With extreme reluctance, he handed her the change just when the bus came to an abrupt halt, pushing Shahana off balance. Another man sitting on the seat (purportedly for women) got off the bus.

It was almost an hour now since Shahana had parted with her uneaten breakfast. Her empty stomach and lethargy reminded her of it intermittently. A woman seated next to her pushed her on the seat the man had just vacated. Wrapping her arms around her bag, Shahana curled herself into a small human ball. She was loath to being here: The red-toothed man’s continuous sniggering; the stench coming from her hands from clutching the door too long; the odious, vulgar songs; the constant buzz of men squeezing between the two front seats one of which was hers – everything was excruciatingly detestable to her. She remembered the number of times this feeling had washed over her before; her umpteen pledges of rather walking to work than going through this ordeal raced through her mind. Shahana pressed her hand to her forehead and stared out the window. There was nothing she could do about it.

There are countless females like Shahana in our city of Karachi who experience this feeling of helplessness daily. They surmount the obstacles at home and come out to make a life for themselves and their families and this is the way the world treats them. In the stead of the acme of respect and courtesy, such women are challenged by such insolence and disregard that would make any upright human boil with contempt. Indeed God helps those who help themselves but