It was a winter night. The mercury was dipping steadily, and the wind was stinging every exposed inch of the body.
There is something mysteriously beautiful about winters. The eerie calm of the foggy winter nights makes you believe in the inexplicable forces of nature, and the sheer unpredictability of life.
The train was late, as expected. I was sitting on a concrete (and not so comfortable) bench on a deserted platform, all wrapped up from head to toe. I had made myself a makeshift bed right on the freezing concrete bench, and just as I became a little cosy, a computerized female voice boomed on the nearby speakers, “Train No. 12524 is running late by 10 hours, and will be arriving at 1:05 am on Platform No. 13. Any inconvenience caused is deeply regretted.”
Apology not accepted! Here I was, excited about going home after a tiring fortnight of semester exams, and meeting my family and friends after almost six months; and Indian railways poured a gallon of freezing water all over my excitement.
The train finally arrived, in all its glory and grandeur, making me eager once again, in anticipation of my impending departure.
I boarded the train and reached my seat, which was a lower side-berth, having been assigned due to unavailability of my usual choice, the upper berth. I put my luggage under the seat and settled down with a blanket placed over my legs, for an extra ounce of comfort. I took out a novel, bought specially for the train journey, and set about reading the first chapter.
I was halfway through the second page, when a whiff of strong perfume hit my olfactory nerves. I turned around to find a bespectacled girl, dressed in an awful amount of pink, struggling with her luggage. Being the gentleman that I was, I rushed to help her. As it turned out, her berth was just above mine. I put her luggage, with some difficulty, on her berth. She thanked me and sat down on the lower one, in front of me. Interestingly, she put her feet inside the blanket too.
I was busy thinking of a perfect conversation starter, when she beat me to it with a not-so-perfect one.
“What are you reading?”
“‘A Prisoner of Birth’ by Jeffrey Archer.”
“Let me guess – it’s not a romantic story,” her tone suddenly turned mischievous, and I saw a hint of a smirk on her face, and a twinkle in her eyes.
“What gave it away?” I was not one to shy away from a battle of wits either.
She started giggling, and tucked a rogue strand of hair that had wandered onto her cheek behind her ear, and asked, “Do you read romantic novels?”
“I used to, but then I got introduced to thrillers, and haven’t bothered going back to the romantic genre.”
“I see. Hey, we haven’t been introduced yet!” she exclaimed. ” I’m Sara, by the way.”
The train gave a resounding whistle and started trudging along the platform with the usual squeaking of rails.
“Finally!” she sighed.
“So, where are you going?” I asked, in hope of keeping the conversation alive.
“Hey, that’s too near.” I complained, feigning disappointment.
She giggled. “What about you?”
“That’s rather far.”
It was, indeed. It took almost 26 hours to reach Kishanganj from Delhi, and the train was already 10 hours late. As we kept talking, however, I realised that I wanted the train to reach Lucknow as late as possible.
We spent the whole night chatting. I found out that she was a bookworm, just like me, and preferred to spend her afternoons wrapped up in a blanket, with a cup of coffee and a good book. The conversation turned from novels to movies, and then to more personal topics. We talked amidst the noisy, yet comforting rustle of the wheels against the tracks; the weirdly catchy tones of the hawkers defying the laws of physics by balancing ridiculously heavy and bulky baskets on their heads; the constant chatter of some women in the other compartment. It was as if our brains were filtering out all the unnecessary information.To see her talking in full flow was a sight for sore eyes.The way she kept touching the tip of her nose, the frequent shuffling of hair, her adorable laugh – all these subtle mannerisms made her attractive without even trying. She was the perfect blend of shy and mischief.
I woke up with a start. We had fallen asleep talking. It was somewhere around 8 in the morning and the winter sun was flickering like a candle running out of wax. She was still sleeping. There was a hint of a smile on her lips. Maybe she was dreaming about something pleasant. I freshened up a bit and returned to the seat to find her awake and gazing out into the trees.
“Good morning,” I said cheerfully.
“Good morning,” she replied, smiling from cheek to cheek.
We sipped masala tea with some Marie Gold biscuits. Talk about bliss! Some small talk ensued reminiscent of a few topics from last night.
The clock struck 9, and the train was just about to reach Lucknow. I reminded her of that, and she started packing her stuff hurriedly. Slowly and gradually, the train graced the platform, amidst the usual commotion of the railway station.
I had never been good at goodbyes. We shared a somewhat hurried and awkward hug, and promised that we would stay in touch. She kept waving me goodbye as the train left the station, and I waved back.
My seat felt weirdly empty. I smiled to myself and returned to my novel, thanking my lucky stars that I had not cancelled my ticket, and had decided to wait for the late train.
By: Shayan Ahmad Kamil