It was a hot summer evening, and the train station was crowded with the families enjoying vacation travel. Any vacation was incomplete if we don’t visit our family, and I was doing the same that day.
I was alone in the compartment, comfortably settled onto my window seat and reading my favourite Sidney Sheldon book, when the people started coming. One by one, they occupied the seats near me. One of them was a lively and noisy family, a man and his wife, with a young daughter of age below 5. I was already having nightmares in the day thinking of how I would sleep at night amidst them. I hated sounds and lights while I am asleep. Maybe I am a light sleeper. I prepared myself for the worse time ahead, returning to my book. My thoughts slowly went back to fantasizing the characters of my book again.
“Hey, where are you getting down?”
I looked up.
“The last stop”.
Never reveal much to strangers. I wondered whether I should ask them back about their destination too, but the second thoughts of having a long conversation stopped me short.
I went back to reading, assuming they got my reluctance.
It was just before dinner, I saw him entering with a backpack. Finding his seat next to me, he unpacked his stuff and shoved it below the bench. Since I had placed my bags next to me on his seat he sat in front of me, next to the stout man and wife handling their toddler child. He was petite and tall and small eyes with black-rimmed spectacles, the contemporary rectangular style. I stole glances at him, while he settled down, straightening his hair which had got dishevelled in the windy night. He too noticed me, but not as much I was noticing him.
I had to sleep early, and hence decided not to waste time in delaying dinner. The child was already being fed and the man was busy talking about his business on phone. I washed my hands and started having my packed dinner, of chapati rolls which I had bought before the journey. He seemed to notice me having food, and our eyes met again and again. Maybe he felt awkward or for whatever reason, he shortly left his seat and did not come back until I finished my food.
Within twenty minutes of having delicious paneer rolls, I was ready to sleep in my berth. As usual it was the top berth. Soon, the child was ordered to sleep, and the family started making beds. Seeing how he was being a hindrance to their preparations, he too got onto his berth, again the top one. We sat facing each other on the top of the berth for a minute or so, and then I lied down.
He was strange. Never uttered a word. Always looking out into the dark. Understanding the environment, and adapting himself and blending into it. He neither had a book, nor a phone. I called my mother to give my journey updates. I noticed in between that he was looking my side and maybe listening to my talk too. I cut the phone call, and our eyes met again. He was indeed looking at me. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.
The train was moving fast, and the rocking motions had become faster.
I was having a dream. Was it a nightmare? I am not sure. I was running or rather escaping from someone, along with him. He was holding my hands and showing me the path. We both were scared and were out of breath, but we still had to run. I stumbled at a stone, and fell down, bringing him down too.
The shock on his face and the pain woke me up. I didn’t know what time I got up. It was almost dark in the coach. Everyone was asleep, except for him. He was not in his berth at all. I realized I woke up from a dream, in which I saw him. The man I met few hours ago. And now he is not there in his seat.
I slowly came down, and used the bathroom. While coming back, I saw him standing at the door with his hair flying wildly in the wind. He saw and stared at me. I too stood there for a second, engulfing the wind, freshening my mind and senses. His eyes talked to me, as if asking me to stand with him.
“Why not you?”
“What does it mean?”
“That it was meant to be…”
“Meant to be? You mean it’s the destiny…. ?”
I stood there watching at the darkness out of the door, shocked at the revelation but digesting the new information. He slowly joined his hands into mine with a slow smile on his handsome face.
“The time has come, dear…”
I moved away in a trance, and went to my berth, took my bags, and joined him back at the door. He was ready with his belongings. He was prepared beforehand.
It was pitch dark outside when the train stopped at an unknown station. The station master, the only person at the station was standing under the only tube light of the station.
He got down and looked at me, smiling and waiting. I could hear my heart beat literally. I realised the feeling instantly. I had experienced it once few years ago and it was returning now. He offered his hand and I wondered what to do. The train honked at a distance.
I got down, holding his hand, and smiled at him, appraising myself for my decision. I stood there, watching the train move slowly away from the station.
The window of my berth was open. That was strange. Who sleeps with the window open in train? Had I noticed it before I went asleep.?
A familiar face and a pair of eyes looked at me through the same window where I sat few hours ago. Was I having a dream? How else did I saw the face of the young daughter of that family? Wasn’t she too small to be awake and peep through the window? The image of the toddler playing around in the berth next to me, flashed across my eyes.
Where am I? What’s happening to me….? I turned towards him for the support. And he was not there…
I stood at the stranded railway station looking at the train moving away, with those innocent piercing eyes staring at me….