Setting my trunk on the ground, I settled down on the warm stone bench of the quiet, desolate platform. The train station was occupied only by a few snoring men, a couple of dozing hawkers and some buzzing flies on that humid and heavy-aired late afternoon. I brushed a fly or two away from my face, wiped my perspiring forehead with my blue-bordered white kerchief and folded my shirt sleeves way up to my elbow.
I was early today. Every Friday, I reach the station at 14:50 to catch my train that departs at exactly 15:00 hours every week. Without fail. This train is probably the only one to never delay from this station.
In the Municipal Office, they call me the man who sits on the hands on the clock. They say it is me because of whom the Friday 15:00-hour train is always on time.
I had my head tilted to the back and my eyes closed when the sudden thudding of footsteps alerted me to the approach of a stout man in a brown striped suit walking towards me with a gleaming leather suitcase in hand.
He smiled at me. I was obligated to return the gesture. He perched beside me on the bench and stretched his hand towards me. I shook it.
"Waiting for the train? I suppose," he asked in a squeaky voice. I nodded.
"Let me guess," he resumed, "you work in an office here and return to your hometown every weekend by this train."
"That is right," I finally broke my silence. "I work at the Municipal Office. Every Friday afternoon I take a train to Krishna Nagar, to go home."
"I knew it," his eyes brightened up as he shifted in his place a little to face me. I noticed that his suit was thick which seemed to be quite in contrast to the weather.
"So what do you do in your office," he asked in a strangely curious way, "What with all those papers and files? What do you write all day on those papers?"
I wasn't ready for a conversation, never mind such interrogation. It took me a while to articulate a response, I started to speak, "there are various things that we do in our office, it is not just writing, it's umm..."
He interjected impatiently, "but I'm sure you get a good amount of money for sitting in a chair all day under a fan." He seemed to have found his comment funny and laughed heartily. I smiled too. I didn't want to seem rude.
"But real money, I tell you, is in gold," he laughed again and continued, "I'm in the business, so I know. Gold is the buzz, you see. The rich are always rich. They always have money to buy gold." He laughed again in a somewhat desperate manner. I had gotten used to silence at this hour on this platform where everyone faithfully minds their own business. After a long week of stress and work pressure, I'm usually at the end of my tether. And my introvert mind did not much appreciate meaningless conversations with strangers.
The train moved in on the tracks exactly at 15:00 hours. I picked up my trunk and walked into an empty coach. The plump gentleman followed me and took a seat in front of me with a nervous smile plastered on his face.
"All quiet and empty, huh?" he muttered almost to himself.
I sighed and closed my eyes leaning against the window.
"So how much money do you make? Is it good? Are there people under your command?" he questioned hanging from the edge of his seat.
"I make enough to pay the bills. Why do you ask Mr...?"
"Oh, me Sir, I'm Vishnu. What is your good name?" he squeaked wiping his face with a kerchief.
"I'm Sanjay. Sanjay Varma. And what may I ask is your business in Krishna Nagar?" I inquired.
He tapped his fingers on his thigh and answered with a gulp," A wedding. I'm going to a wedding. I'm a jeweler, you know. I design jewelry. Gold, you know," he tugged at his hair.
"Okay good," I nodded. I knew I had made the gentleman in front of me uneasy and I was quite proud of myself for being able to shut him up. I knew there was something shady about him but did not care. He did not utter another word after that.
In a few minutes, I walked towards the washroom to urinate. I saw a fifteen something boy in a school uniform hanging loosely from an iron grab handle at the coach entrance with his feet only slightly touching the floor. I asked him to get in as it wasn't safe to be standing so close to the open gate. He made a face but complied.
I came back to my seat and decided to take a nap with the rattling of the train as my lullaby. I did not realize how long I had slept. I woke at around dusk and found my fellow passenger missing. I looked up and down the compartment but all in vain. I figured that he must have moved to another coach hoping to find someone who would like to talk to him.
I stood at the gate for a while appreciating the sunset as the day dimmed into the night. The cool breeze was a relief after a hot summer day. The train came to a halt somewhere in the middle of a jungle. I jumped outside as I knew it would take another half an hour for the train to start again. I liked this place. I penetrated the jungle with quick and long strides. My stomach lurched. The lunch I had in my office canteen was wearing off.
But I did not feel any fatigue. After a long week at work, when you take a relaxing nap and then walk into the laps of nature, you feel more energized than ever. Five days at the Municipal Office with the noise, chatter, and gossips and then two days at home with arguments, complaints, and fights. This half an hour was the time of refuge for me. Time of peace and silence. The time for being away from the evils of people.
In a few minutes, I walked back to the train. How I identified with it. It was just like me. Empty, quiet, punctual, never slipping from its schedule. And all alone in this wilderness, just like I was.
As I entered the train, I saw a woman wearing a burqa sitting in my berth. I was shocked to see her. I couldn't understand from where she had suddenly appeared. Like an apparition. Did she come through this wilderness to catch the train? Or she has been on the train all this while and just switched the compartment.
The stout jeweler suddenly came to mind. I half-laughed at the thought that she could've been escaping from his jabbering.
I noticed that she was shivering. I conceived that she must have encountered something that scared her. She frantically turned her head in every direction at the faintest of sounds. Even the rustling of leaves would frighten her.
I wanted to ask her what was wrong but decided against it. I might scare her even more, I thought. I looked out the window and sat quietly listing the possible reasons for the presence of this woman in this dark and empty train coach with me.
With a light jerk, the train halted at Krishna Nagar. The platform was empty and still, manned only by a few railway guards. I walked out to find myself a rickshaw while turning around for occasional glimpses of the woman in the burqa. But I soon lost her.
I had reached home safely. But all night I kept wondering about that woman. Who was she? From where did she come? What had happened to her?
The next morning I was woken up by a loud knock at my door. I reached for my shirt and ran a hand through the sleeve when the door opened. My mother was talking to a few policemen standing on the threshold of our gate.
I soon found out that they had come to arrest me.
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