Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Train Story - 2

It was past midnight. We had hit Coimbatore late by an hour. I was trying to transcend from the coma my mind was in.
“Is there a problem? We are here for more than what it normally takes” I told Mr. Dad who seemed the only other soul in my compartment, awake. He shrugged and returned to his magazine. Mr Dhoti took the upper birth. The kids were buried in blankets. Their mom amused herself with some nicely orchestrated snoring. I checked the time and hoped for an arrival no later than 10:00 in the morning. After fifteen more mystifying minutes, the train started rolling much to my relief.

There wasn’t any sleep hinting to rise by me. For the hundredth time, I squinted on my watch which adamantly went at its own pace. My eyes took a ride around as much as they could see. Mr. Dhoti’s birth was left alone to a blanket. I immediately checked on his luggage. Gone. He couldn’t have left, was here last station. I climbed down to stretch my legs and made way as I saw Mr.Dhoti walk by. He walked erratically, holding the edges of the seats and concentrating on his feet. I waited to ask him if he had moved his baggage but he climbed upto his birth and diligently slid inside the blanket, never attempting to throw a glance anywhere else. I peeped down the lower seat again and there was no loosely knotted bag of his.

Some noise aimed my way took me out of the thoughts about Mr Dhoti’s baggage. It was the ticket collector. Why is he wandering about at 2:00? “Do you have a problem?”, he frowned at me.
“uhh, no, no, I am fine.”, I insisted though whatever happening that night in the train seemed of questionable diligence.
“Why is the train stopped here?” I threw back one at him.
The TTR lifted his gaze from the papers and went “We have some problem. I don’t want anybody outside the seats till morning.”
The calmness with which he spoke left me at a loss for words. But I just went up one step anyways “Why, what’s wrong?”

Though his appearance presented friendliness and his tone floated within what anybody would call calm, the force with which he had thrown his second glance convinced me it was time to go.
I turned to the seat when he came close and said ”We have a report of some smugglers sneaking in. That shouldn’t worry you. Everything is in control”.

Everything is in control? You are telling me there is a gang of muggers in the train and you are telling me not to worry!! I was about to pass out. I pulled my trembling knees together and hid myself under, well under what, that thin translucent blanket.

The ticket collector stood there, as if to make sure I didn’t pass the news. I didn’t feel up to any conversation. In fact, I didn’t feel up to anything. The train was on the move again.After what seemed like an era, five minutes crept out and this thought suddenly yanked me out of seat again. Mr. Dhoti’s bag!

“Ssshh, Hello”, my voice was feeble with fear but I couldn’t get away with the news just like that.
With great effort I pulled myself down again and tapped on the feet of Mr. Dhoti. He didn’t seem asleep and responded promptly to my call.
“Uhh, just that, umm, did you move your luggage? It’s not there under the seat. Just wanted to let you know.”

“It’s there”.
“Uh. No, it’s not. Actually, I..”

“It’s there. I mean the bag”, he cut me across “but what was inside has gone. Somebody stole it or it has gone on its own will.”

“What? Gone on its own will?” Was he nuts!? I am telling him his bag has gone missing and he is responding as though it would return from an errand at the toilet.

“Well, you could report it to the ticket collector. Actually you know”, I couldn’t resist the urge. "there are some burglars in the train. You just need to be careful.”

Mr. Dhoti decided to stay with silence. For a moment I grew suspicious of his looks. Could he be the real burglar? If so, would he harm me because I knew? He would. As if the night wasn’t enough with surprises, his looks gave me the chill, the freezing, numbing chill from my throat to spine. My tongue did some favor momentarily.

“Ok, just thought of telling you. Things are in control.” And I let out a silly grin as though to convince him.

He looked at me for one more time and buried his face in the pillow. His looks carried some reproach which threw me back to the seat and I finished some water left in my bottle in one swallow.
In desperation of needing some sound, I almost cried when I heard a boy’s voice from outside chanting ”chai, coffee, chai..” It’s morning!!!! A part of me screamed. I wanted to break open the window glass and throw my head for some air but more than anything, I wanted to use the toilet. For the fear of so many things my imagination warned of, however, I still clung to the seat. My watch showed 4:50. There was an aged couple from the other box collecting their toothbrushes. Nobody from my compartment seemed to care for a tea. With fear clutching my throat, I checked on Mr. Dhoti. He wasn’t there, nor his blanket, nor his pillow. He had left. That was a relief. How many more minutes for the day to break?

The world seemed normal a few minutes later and everyone was up and talking and laughing in the slowly piercing daylight. May be it was a dream. I am just a silly girl. I treated myself to a cup of garmagaram coffee and looked over the top birth. Even if Mr. Dhoti was a smuggler, he is gone anyways and I should soon be out of this. The mom complained how little sleep she had and for the first time, she seemed more funny than annoying when I thought about the non-stop snore which was the only sound that rang around my ears the whole night.
She smiled at me and went on to her kid, “Get up Ammu, we are getting down in the next station. Pack your things. See, you left the bag open after taking your snacks. She zipped it up; sat next to me and hopped onto a conversation. “Are you getting down at Raichur?”

“No, Chikmagalur”, I smiled

She kept talking for the next ten minutes. As her destination was declared arrived, they left amidst what I felt like a thunder of noise. Most of the passengers from that compartment got down at that station.

There weren’t more than a handful of people in the whole boggie. An hour to go. I was almost drowning in the summer tales of Calvin when he takes Hobbes for a fishing afternoon.

“Good Morning.” The ticket collector planted himself in the seat. He was gifted with a smile that no one could leave unattended.
“Good Morning. So everything fine now?”

“We cannot say anything yet. But considering we had a smooth night, things shouldn’t bother anymore.”, he sounded positive.
After my watch promised fifteen more minutes to arrival, I said, ”whatever.I am gone in fifteen minutes.”

He returned a smile and got up to leave.

Some things in life bring great depth of joy even if you don’t get anything out of it. It was such a moment when the train slowed down to stop at Chikmagalur. I picked my bag and as I was about to hop, the ticket collector wished me a great stay.

“Thanks”, the spirits were up and alive again and that prompted me to ask “hey you never told me what the smugglers were doing here?”

With a tone that lacked expression, he went on looking straight in my eyes, “Ohh, it was those jungle rogues again. They sneaked in a dangerous cobra. Of course, cobras go for a million bucks in the hidden markets.” And then he sighed. “Those assholes. They will pay for it one day.”

I thought I didn’t hear it right and then I thought it meant something else. My knees pushed me to just flee but my brain automatically threw words at him “you mean, a cobra?? A snake?”

He nodded mildly and continued “Yea, it’s really huge.You would have seen it only on Discovery”. Garnished it with a smile.

He didn’t have to say anything more. My heart had stopped functioning or it functioned beyond a healthy rate that it was hard to feel. Like a tray of well served wine, it all ran thru’ my eyes - The man, his bag, his empty bag, , the mom’s bag that lay open all night, she had zipped it up and taken it home and stronger than all of this, his words, “it would have gone on its own..."

I thought I would faint. Everything around me felt like creeping. More than anything else the double shouldered bag that weighed down my back seemed to vigorously crawl thru’ my spine.

I dropped the bag and picked some life to move forward. I could. Great. I could move. I didn’t dare stop. Every human being in the railway station that day appeared like crawling, creeping, poisonous creatures we called snakes. I ran out of the station to find a friend waiting for me.
“You are late.” He said, looking behind my back to see if there was someone else.”Where are your bags?”
“Let’s go.” I said.
We boarded his car and he started on one these silly pranks they played last night. I didn’t hear anything more. Well, there was one thing that kept ringing loud enough to deafen the world,
“it could have gone on its own...”.


s4n705h said...

I can surely say.. lucky you..

readersdais said...

had an anxiety throughout,good one!

PurpleHeart said...

Santosh, You can bet on that !

Readerdais, Thanks for being here and thanks for the comment. :)

ARUNA said...

yeah lucky you!!!!!!!!! I loved your write-up.....there was so much tension!!!!

Ocean Girl said...

Hi, I visited Moonlight Rendezvous and followed you home.

You are a good writer, I enjoyed it. Do wonder if the story is a real-life story or a fiction..

Will be back for more. Ocean Girl

PurpleHeart said...

am happy u liked it.

Ocean Girl,

Thanks for hopping on. Well, what do you think? Doesn't it seem real enough? :) Hey, do come again.

Uncle Lee said...

Hello Purpleheart, love the story. And of course your stylish eloquence. Good you have paragraph breaks too, easy on the eyes.

Your style of writing reminds me of Dr. Han Suyin, author of 'And the rain my drink, Love is a many splendored thing'. Its the way how you narrate and describe events.
Wayyyyy to go, Purpleheart.
Have a great week, Lee.

PurpleHeart said...

That was a great line to read. Well, I haven't tried Dr. Han Suyin. But I'm sure that meant something. Will get a copy of the book. :)