It is 1900 hours. Again.
Like every other day, she walks down the stairs, onto platform number 4, to catch the train that leaves at 1909. The platform is crowded. She doesn’t look around. She stares straight through her primrose glasses towards the train line.
In a city where everyone greets anyone upon having an eye contact, she studiously avoids all kind of association with strangers. There is something intriguing about her – and alluring. People gawk at her. Their gazes always follow her as she gracefully saunters down Platform number 4.
Same as many residents of Mumbai, I am a daily commuter too. I take the 1909 train back home from school except on weekends. For the last year since I joined this reputed business school, we have followed the same protocol. I see her- she walks past me, a complete recluse.
Initially, I overlooked her, only concentrating on the ordeal of boarding any crowded compartment.
I confess I have to go through a mental motivation to gather my wind to make my way into the mob of commuters. However, with the passing time, I’m more adept at joining the swarm – shoving everybody away. This allows me to observe my environment. The first thing I notice is this lady. She bewitches me enough to perceive her and her mannerisms.
This interest has morphed into an obsession. I endeavour to pierce her focus of attention. I’m allured by her. I try standing next to her – closer than it is socially permissible for a stranger. Yet, she never acknowledges me. I try to manage the crowd to allow her to alight without hassle. She never notices me.
This is crazy! Even in my dreams, I board the train with her.
Her ritual is to take the fourth compartment from the engine. It doesn’t matter if it was a first class compartment, a women’s compartment, a luggage compartment or a general one. I sometimes take a different compartment, if the fourth one isn’t a general section. Her coolness surprises me! I am confused! She either has a first class pass or she can predict when to purchase a ticket for the luggage compartment. Maybe she is a psychic who specializes in the local train, and their itinerary and arrangements. She even takes the fourth booth when it's for handicaps. I don’t know if she fits the handicap description; I don’t know, and I can’t ask! My attempts at greeting her are a flop! She never responds. It is as if I have been talking to a stone!
Months have progressed into years!
I am now a senior manager at an international firm. My house is not very far from where I work. I live in a sky-rise and I take my bicycle to work! It’s been a few years since I took the local train. With the local train out of my life, so is the mystery woman. She actually was the flavour of those despicable journeys. I have forgotten her completely. Or so I thought.
Today is Friday. My office car that is taking me to a meeting has broken down in the middle of the journey. The traffic jam is disastrous. I book three rides one after another on the booking app. Unlucky me! They all get cancelled due to heavy traffic! I’m annoyed. I probably cannot make it to the meeting!
As I look around helplessly, I notice an overhead bridge that leads to the local railway station! Afternoon travel on the local train is pleasant and quick! I make it to the meeting on time. The meeting goes remarkably well! Happily, I walk back to the station. With less traffic, I can enjoy another train ride and, why not? I can afford a first class ticket now!
I had forgotten how much fun travelling on the train can be. Boarding an almost empty train is quite a dream! I am going to go back to the station I boarded the train from, for the meeting. The driver has promised me that he shall be back with the car fixed in about an hour.
A partial déjà vu engulfs me. I am again on platform number 4, waiting. The only difference is that the time of the travel is much earlier and the origin and the destination of the journey quite different. The fourth section from the engine is the First Class! I proudly walk towards a window seat. I sit and the train moves!
This has not been the moment I have been waiting for! An older version of the same lady who had haunted me for years in my college days is sitting opposite me. She looks through me, just like always. A few stations later she gets up to walk up to the door, to leave.
She makes her way and then crashes to the floor –unconscious! The whole incident replays in my mind- in slow motion.
At the hospital, the doctors are trying to revive her. I rummage through her bag to find some ID in the mean time. My good citizen mode had kicked in! I find her PAN card. She looks younger than she is! Officially she is in her early forties. I have never felt her look anything more than 35- ever! Digging in some more, I discover an ancient, dilapidated black diary.
I flip through the first few pages to find a number to contact - I can’t find any! Not giving up, I turn a few more pages and find a map attached to a page. A closer look reveals a route marked from the railway station to a rickety destination by the bay. The next few pages are blank. There is a thick manila envelope. Intrigued, I look through it! There are pictures. All of them are dead men! One has blood oozing from his mouth. The next is that of an older man. His throat is slit! As I flick through the photographs, I feel a trickle of fear percolating through my skin- moving down my spine.
I re-examine the map- the photographs. There are about ten of them!
Now I am surveying some newspaper cuttings of the mishaps that correspond to the images. They date back to twenty-eight years! The oldest is that of an identified man who was found dissipated on the train line near CST! All the newspaper clippings have one thing in common. The investigators have assumed foul play in all the homicide! Her bag is that of Pandora’s. I also find an old wedding card in a makeshift envelope with a wedding picture. I see a sweet and innocent of about fourteen or fifteen. She is staring unhappily at the camera. Standing next to her is a pot bellied, moustached man in his forties!
My hands shake. The legs shiver. I am sitting, yet I feel I’m falling into an abyss. The girl in the picture is her! The husband is the man who was found twenty-eight years ago on the rail track.
A nurse frantically runs to me, to fill up some forms before post mortem. My fingers are unsteady. I fish into my pocket to find my pen. The bulge of my phone distracts my search. Holding the phone in my hand, I'm uncertain. Is it time for the police to know? Or should I bury her past?
After all, her past is her own and that of those victims. It never belonged to me!
Author: Kleio B'wti