Rhea has never travelled alone in her eighteen years of existence. She’s scared and insecure about this whole journey but it’s been a while. This is a kind of travel log from her point of view depicting her very first train journey alone right from the busy, populous city of New Delhi to the Southern beauty-land of Kerala, also known as God’s own country.
Story Text: Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station, New Delhi.
Railway Stations and I go way back into the early twenty first century. I still remember my second train journey along this same route- New Delhi to Cochin. The first memory about trains is a bit vague because I was a mere toddler at the time. Indian Railways had played a very crucial role in my whole life. The anxious wait of summer vacations start right from the first day at school. Every new academic year brings forth new and fresh plans for summer instead of the academic planning.
And once the vacation begins, it’s the wait for the day we board our trains to our hometown. The train journey is the best in the vacation time. The sheer joy of meeting strangers on train and becoming best friends by the end of three days, playing around in the coach, climbing to the top bunk and then climbing down and repeating the process all over again are only few of the amazing things that enlist in a train journey. I still remember once during my high school days, I had met an army man on train. He was travelling to be with his family after two years of his term at the war. He narrated to me all the army stories which filled me with respect and admiration for them. He even showed me his family picture which he keeps in his wallet daily along with a small diary in which he writes a single line everyday – how thankful he is to be alive today.
Once again, I am travelling today along the same route but alone. Although, the trains are like my second home, I still feel a bit of anxiousness in the pit of my stomach. I had not usually travelled this long without my parents. I mean, I’ve surely been to tours and all with my friends but this is really different. This time, I am travelling alone.
The continuous chant for tea filled my ears the moment I entered the station platform. It was ten thirty at night and the train leaves in fifteen minutes. The usual hugging and wishing me best was also happening. Mother was the most reckless. Heck, she was more anxious and reckless than me. She was constantly on my head to check for all the necessities – toothbrush, comb, soap, towels all the papers and most importantly medicines for all kinds of sudden illness like cold, cough, stomach ache and everything.
“Bye mom, now leave before I see the tears coming out.” I said hugging her tight.
Dad was the strong one in us. He just stood there and smiled.
“Ri, stay safe. Okay?” He said looking at me sternly but I could see his composure breaking. I went up hugged him tight.
“I will.” I whispered.
My brother was beside them playing on the I-phone but I had caught some mere glances my way and I knew he was not concentrating on the game much. I hugged him too.
“Ow Ri, you destroyed the game.” He screamed.
I ruffled his hair and laughed, “Bye gamer!”
Before I would end up letting out the tears, I climbed up on the train. The entire luggage had already been stashed properly in place. The train started to move slowly just as I climbed up. I stood there by the gate till my parents were out of sight.
I slowly dawdled back to my seat to see that many more occupants are already there at the cubicle. It was an eight-seat cubicle but I guess the train is going only half full and hence only two people were present. They didn’t even a give a glance my way as I meekly took my seat. I already had my dinner so it was just a wait till lights out that I could sleep. I took a look at my neighbors. I could see a boy with his eyes closed and headphones adorned his ears. He seemed to be a bit older than me but seemed completely cut off from what’s happening around him. Then, there was a woman probably in her mid-thirties reading a woman’s magazine and rocking the baby bump look. She seemed at least seven or eight months pregnant and ready to pop. Beside her, sat a man who also seemed to be in his thirties and he was talking mildly on his phone.
He was whispering so lightly and it was hard to make out what he was saying. He didn’t seem related to the woman beside him, as he had not even cared to glance her way.
Suddenly, there was a hand on my thigh and I saw that it was the woman.
“To Cochin?” She asked curiosity clearly in her eyes.
I nodded my head, “Yes, to visit grandparents.” I said.
She made an O-mouth. “So young! Doesn’t travelling alone scare you, huh?” She asked, although I saw no sense of concern in her eyes.
I just shrugged, confused how to answer that.
She smiled as if she had established or won something and leaned back in her seat beaming. Okay, that seemed pretty weird.
After about fifteen minutes of looking around, the man on his phone, cut his call and sat back. He smiled at me warmly before asking, “Would you mind exchanging my top berth with your lower one? I would get calls often, please?” He looked anxious.
I thought over it, although I knew I would say yes and finally said, “Yes! It’s okay.” He beamed at me and murmured a ‘thank you!’
It was around eleven thirty now and it was time to sleep. The pregnant lady got up and started pacing along the berth. She even stamped on my feet a few times but I didn’t say anything.
“Ho, ho, ho!” she huffed while pacing.
“Mam, are you okay?” The man asked, concerned.
“Yeah, yeah!” She nodded, “I just do this before I sleep. It’s okay. I’m done.” She said.
I cast a look at the boy sitting beside her and he had removed his headphones and was looking at the lady as if she had two heads. I chuckled lightly before getting up to go to the top bunk. I climbed slowly and set my bed, with the blankets and bed sheets. I kept my phone by my head and rested my head in sleeping position. A bit like fifteen minutes later, the boy too climbed up and sat on the top bunk just opposite mine.
I looked down to see that both the pregnant lady and the man had also slept. I reached the light switch and switched it off seeing that everybody was going to sleep.
“What the fuck?” came a seething from five feet beside me.
The light was switched on again and a very pissed off looking boy was sitting on the bunk beside me.
“Ever heard of asking people beside you before you plunge them to darkness?” He said angrily.
“I thought…I…” Okay, great. Now, I’m stuttering. “I’m sorry.” I said and looked down.
I heard someone chuckling lightly and my head shoot up. I narrowed my eyes at him and frowned. He just winked before taking the blanket and lying down. He had the blanket over his head. I can’t believe it, was it just for the sake of a minute? His head popped out of the blanket slightly and he had that devilish smile on his face, “Now, you can switch it off. Thank you.” And the blanket was over his head in a second.
I huffed in annoyance but decided that it would be better not to argue right now and switched the light off. Soon enough, sleep took over me. Strangely, I always slept very fast on trains. Even though, the moving of the train irks some people, I find the rocking very comfortable.
I didn’t know what time it was but it was still night, when I woke up. I heard some shuffling sounds from the lower berths. At first, I thought it was just the man from below receiving some of his calls but then I heard some shoving and kicking too. I slowly rubbed my eyes. My eyes first went sideways to see that the blanket was still over that arrogant head.
I sensed that the train had stopped. I guess it’s just a station. But, this was a continuous train and it only stopped at Cochin. Guess, it had stopped for food intake. I slowly looked down to see that the berth was empty. The pregnant lady was still sleeping but the man’s berth was empty. His sheets were sprawled all over the floor. A myriad of thoughts ran through my mind.
Why had I heard kicking and shoving, if it had been just a call? Why are his sheets sprawled all over the floor? It’s so unusual and strange. I slept back thinking that it was none of my business and I shouldn’t meddle into something I’m not supposed to. Ten minutes up and anxiety still showed red flags in my mind. What if something happened to him? What if he’s hurt?
“Oh, what the hell!” I pushed my sheets aside and got down Godspeed.
I stood at the lobby and cast a look sideways to see the other cubicles but all the lights were down. He’s not inside the coach. I opened the gate and stepped into the lobby outside and checked the washrooms. They were empty. Okay, now I‘m scared.
Suddenly I heard some yelling. “Ow! Fuck!” It came as a cry of pain.
I walked to the gate and looked out and what I saw took the air out of my lungs. The man lay down on the platform his clothes torn here and there and bloody lip. Hovering over him like hawks stood two beefy guys. They were well-built, their biceps bulging out of their skin tight T-shirts. They were saying something to him. I strained my ears to hear it.
“Hand it over, Seth. It’s all over. You’ll live if you just give us.” He said, kicking Mr. Seth’s chest. He groaned in pain. My palms went sweaty and I started hyperventilating. This is something; I’ve never been stuck in. I’ve only seen such situations in movies. And there, the guys are artists and they pretend-hit but this is real. My hands were clutching the handle tightly. One foot down and I would be on the platform right in their vision. I looked around the platform, to see there was not one soul.
I leaned a bit outside to get a good vision of the scene, but my legs slipped. I thought I’d land on the platform head first, right then but it never happened. I was held back by my waist and I came eye-to-eye with grey-dark ones. He had lines over his forehead as his eyes searched me. He seemed angry and pissed off, yet again.
“Trying to be a hero? What the hell are you even thinking?” He whisper-screamed at me.
“I…was…I…” What the hell is with me and this guy?
“For god’s sake! Do you always stutter?” He rolled his eyes.
“No. I… Look! He is in trouble.” I pointed towards the scene.
“Yeah, I saw. And?” He drawled. Is he insane?
“We should help. What the hell is wrong with you?” I asked looking at him incredulously. I then realized that he still had his hand around my waist and I shoved him back and pushed him away from me.
“Are you crazy? Do you see us having any chance against them?” He said.
“So what? That’s a person getting hurt. We should help or call for it.” I said.
He rubbed his forehead in frustration.
“You wait here. I am going.” I said and walked out. My feet landed on the platform and it made a clack sound with the floor. Three heads snapped at me at once. I shivered inwardly.
They looked deadly. One of the guys had a long beard and he looked angry, like really angry. Another, looked amused? Why was he smirking? Oh god! I inwardly shrieked. Single girl alone on a lonely platform-you could get the scene.
Why had I not listened to that idiot-head? Why can’t I be a normal girl minding my own business?
“Oh, so you bought a girl with you.” The smirking one said to Mr. Seth. Mr. Seth was only half conscious so I’m not sure he even heard it.
“You both,” I pointed a shivering finger at them, “Leave him, okay? Or I’ll call the police.” I said. They stared at me for about thirty seconds before laughing out loud. Their laugh felt like thunder booming from the skies.
“Look girl, now that you’ve decided to play hero, we accept your dare.” The beard guy said and started walking towards me.
“I’ll get her after you, okay Si?” the smirking one called out from behind.
Just as he reached beside me and his hands reached out to pull my arm, a deafening boom was heard. My eyes closed on impact and I held my ears closed. I opened them slowly to see the beard guy lying on the floor beside me unconscious. My eyes went wide. I looked sideways to see the boy holding a big steel cauldron in his hand and looking straight at the other guy who was no longer smirking.
Where the hell did he get a cauldron?
“Hey, should I come there or you coming here?” He said to the other guy. He seemed a bit scared. He stumbled his way away from us, leaving Mr. Seth alone on the ground.
I ran forward to see his eyes closed and blood oozing from his head. I pulled him up and was trying to get him to stand up when another hand came behind his back. I saw the boy pulling Mr. Seth to his side and rushing towards the door of the train.
“Quick, the train leaves soon.” He said amidst long breaths. I walked quickly to the train door and helped them up. Just as I was about to climb up, a boom was heard-cue that the train was leaving. A hand reached out of the door to pull me up and I looked up to see grey eyes looking at me. I took his hand and climbed up. The train started moving two second later.
“You wish to go inside or any more heroic acts to do?” He asked smirking at me. I walked in behind him silently. He slowly laid Mr. Seth on the lower berth. He was still unconscious. He took a water bottle from the side and flicked some water at him. He woke up startled.
“It’s okay. You are safe. Lie down, you are hurt.” The boy said and switched on the light.
Mr. Seth was at the verge of breaking down.
“Does it hurt?” I asked him leaning down to look at his wounds.
He caught my hand and kissed it lightly, “Thank you so much. You are an angel!” He said slowly as if speaking pained him. I blushed slightly.
“It’s okay. Don’t speak much, you are hurt. Lie down.” I said. He released my hands and lay down.
“Holy Molly!” A cry was heard from beside us. The pregnant lady had woken up. “What in god’s name happened to him?” She asked.
“Nothing just fell on the platform. Do you have any first aid?” I asked her. She nodded and started shuffling in her bags. She soon fished out a dettol bottle and some cotton. I slowly washed his wounded and placed a band-aid at his forehead. Mr. Seth had already closed his eyes and was sleeping. I slowly tucked him under the blanket. He needed the sleep.
The train was moving really fast now.
About fifteen minutes later, I was warmly tucked inside the blankets in my bunk hoping that I would get only in the morning although there were just a few hours remaining. The boy was also up and he was just staring at the ceiling of the train.
I wonder what he is thinking.
“That was pretty badass.” He said.
“Thank you. If you hadn’t come on time…” I was interrupted.
“Yeah, you would be a dead meat.” He said. He smirked.
“Not necessarily.” I defended.
“Oh oh, okay. Whatever helps you sleep at night.” He rolled his eyes before pulling the blanket over his head.
It was very silent but I was unable to sleep.
“What’s your name?” I just asked. I thought he’d be asleep but after five seconds came a voice.
“Roy.” He said.
“Goodnight Roy.” I said after a minute.
“Goodnight Rhea.” He said.
It took me three minutes to realize he just said my name and I haven’t even told him yet.
“How did you…?” I looked sideways to see his eyes closed.
Guess that’s the mystery now.
When I had boarded the train, I didn’t know but I guess I know now.
It’s really going to be a long journey.