Anaita was about to finish her lunch when she heard a long screech.
Somebody was trying to make his way through the crowd. After a couple of seconds, the speaker stopped right beside her. She looked up to see two guys, one of whom, clad in a purple t-shirt, sat right beside her and almost completely over her mobile and headphone. His friend sat right opposite to him. She wondered whether the screech she heard before was let out by one of the two. She cleaned up the mess and took out a book by Robin Sharma. She began reading amidst the chatter and subsequent laughter of the two young men. She tried to concentrate, pretending that she wasn’t listening to them. Robin Sharma, who has inspired several readers, could not actually inspire her to prolong reading and she had to stop right at the introduction and switch over to Justin Timberlake.
After some time, both of them got up and were about to go somewhere. The guy in the purple t-shirt wanted to take his bag from the upper berth and stood right in front of her. His shirt slid up, during the process and she could see his belly. She turned her gaze down. After few minutes, as they walked away, the compartment turned pretty silent.
The guy in the purple t-shirt came back after some time and sat towards her right. Later, he moved to his original seat to her left. He had a lower berth and she was allotted the middle one. She wanted to read her book again but the other co-passengers wanted to take a nap and so the lights were put out. Sensing her misery, he offered her to occupy the window seat and himself moved towards her right.
“You like reading Robin Sharma?” he asked.
“Well, I haven’t really gone through his works adequately. I have read about thirty-three pages of ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’ and I liked it. So, I thought of buying this one.” She started reading again before perceiving his reaction. She was travelling alone and had no intention of inviting any kind of trouble.
He was watching a movie in his laptop and broke into regular fits of laughter. She found it weird in the beginning but sooner than later, she was accustomed to it.
“You’re a south-Indian?” she asked.
“Sorry?” He had his ear-piece on.
“That’s a South-Indian movie, ‘Bomarillu’, right?”
“You’re a south-Indian?”
“Well that’s a nice movie. I have watched it”
“You belong to South-India too?”
“Oh! No. I have watched it with sub-titles.”
Their brief conversation ended quickly. He continued to watch his movie and she continued with that book until it became unbearable for her. She wanted to take a nap and asked him to change places again. He got up, trying to manage a couple of wires that that lay there, tangled, and asked “So, are you through with the book?”
She smiled and said, “Well this book is quite boring”.
“Yeah your age and Robin Sharma are no good combination.”
She smiled feebly wondering whether he knew her age and if yes, then how? She was feeling drowsy and decided to ignore the matter. Minutes transformed into hours and her boredom was at its peak. At around 6pm, he spoke again “Aren’t you feeling bugged?”
“Yeah, a lot”
“You’re going to Allahabad?”
“Is that your home town or something?”
There was a little pause. Both of them were hesitating to speak.
“So you are Miss…?”
“Anaita. Anaita Chauhan. And you are Mr. Venkatesh, right?” She had heard him speaking his name over phone to his friend.
“Yeah, Venkatesh. You visit this place frequently?”
“Umm… Yes. This is the first time that I am travelling alone actually.” A part of her regretted at this statement. She could not trust a stranger. But the other part assured her that she was safe. There was certainly something about him that convinced her that she could trust him. She could not believe that a girl like her could actually talk to a complete stranger, blurting out almost all her necessary details.
“So are there any good places to visit in Allahabad?” he asked after a long interval.
She suggested him a few places that she has been to. Their talks began to gear up. They talked about each other’s family members, professions, home-towns etc. She learnt that he is an army officer. Anaita had a very strong admiration and attraction towards Army men. She started thanking her lucky stars. “Wow! You do look like one” was her instant reply. Army men have always fascinated her. And there she was, sitting right beside one. He narrated a number of experiences that he underwent as a Captain. She asked him how old he was. He was 26. Most importantly, he already knew that she was 17!
They reached a station at around 8.30pm. He went out saying that he needed some fresh air. After a couple of minutes, he came back and said,”The train is going to stop here for about 15 minutes. You can get down if you want.”
“Hey just get me a….” She began to speak. “Alright, leave it. I’ll come with you.” she said, changing her mind.
She followed him and got down at the station. She looked out for a stall and started heading towards one. She expected him to accompany her but he stood there, watching. She turned towards him a number of times sending out a hint that she wanted him to come along with her. But he failed to understand and she finally decided to help herself. After purchasing a water bottle, she turned back triumphantly but he was no where to be seen. She was searching for him. For a second she felt she was all alone. She went inside, kept the bottle at her seat and came out, again, looking out for him.
She finally saw him coming towards the bogie and blurted out,”Where were you? I was looking for you.” She spoke such imposing words as if she knew him since ages and had a right over him; as if he was accountable to him. She wanted to take back her words but they did the harm already.
“I was looking for coffee actually. You want one?” he replied.
“No. Thank you.”
“Just a second, I will look out for a coffee there” he said and started moving in the opposite direction. He informed her about his intentions this time. He was probably moved by her comment. She preferred to go inside. A few minutes later, he returned with two cups of coffee in his hand.
“This one is for you” he said, smiling.
“Well I have got something to eat.” She said and bent down to take out a packet containing two patties and offered him one.
“I am on a diet actually. I don’t eat stuff like this”
“Hey, you can eat it occasionally.” I insisted.
He took it from me saying, “I should not take food from strangers”
“Then I should be the first one to return this coffee”.
After the refreshments they talked about each others hobbies. He turned out to be a sporty guy, as expected, and a devotee of Lord Krishna. It was now Anaita’s turn to throw some light up on her hobbies.
“I write” she said.
He seemed impressed with her reply. Delighted, she showed him her compositions and he loved them. She was glad she had something that could actually impress a guy in the Indian Army. The Army-effect was still all over her mind.
The other co-passengers had settled on their berths and were about to sleep. They switched off the lights and there she was, sitting beside a stranger.
“What is your date of birth?” She asked.
“19th December. And yours?”
He offered her to watch a movie in his laptop and she agreed spontaneously. She did not need a second thought. By now, he was a little more than just a co-passenger to her. They settled down to watch a movie and shared the ear-piece. They sat pretty close, closer than what was right and permissible. Out of hesitation, he shifted a little away from her. With time, they became more comfortable. They changed the movie twice and finally ended up watching children’s movie, ‘Bed-time Stories’.
The movie ended and they sat beside each other in silence. She realized that they remained silent more than they conversed. But that silence was a comfortable one. Their shoulders were still in contact but this time, none of them moved.
“What do u like and hate the most?” She asked, breaking the silence.
“Umm… I love children. I hate discrimination against women. I hate child labor. What do u like?”
She wondered whether the reply was meant to impress her or was genuine. She didn’t want to assume anything.
“I like honesty. I like straight-forwardness. I like the rain. I like watching the moon. I love the night. I like children who behave like children.”
He smiled at her last statement. “And what do u hate?”
“I hate smokers. No. I hate smoking. I hate corruption. I hate hypocrisy, back-stabbers. That’s all, I guess”.
There was silence again.
They now talked about their personal lives. She asked him if he had been in a relationship before. He seemed honest with her. She was asked the same question. She was amazed at how comfortable he made her feel. He gave her the space to speak her heart out. She told him everything she desired and everything she felt. He was a great listener. She had no clue about the way in which she should address him. She tried to figure out a relationship between them. She had never befriended somebody who’s so older than her. She finally concluded, ‘Some relationships do not need a name and this was one of them’.
At 6.30am Shakira’s voice woke her up. She heard the other passengers saying that the destination was still an hour away. She peeped down to see if he was still asleep but he was nowhere to be seen. She was too drowsy to go on a hunt again and went back to sleep.
After sometime, she felt a friendly pat on her hand, “Time to wake up”, he said in a cheerful voice. She smiled at him.
Her friends say she looks the sweetest when she wakes up in the morning. She wondered if he felt the same.
She freshened up and sat by his side. She was thinking about the previous night. They were about to depart in a few minutes and she didn’t know if she will ever be able to see him again. She did not know what he was thinking, how he felt. All she knew was, this cannot be the end. There has to be a reason for their meeting here, in this way.
They were almost there.
“So, it was nice traveling with you, Anaita” he said, standing up and smiling at her.
“Have you watched Dear John?” she asked, paying no attention to his statement.
“Umm… Dear John…Yes. Partly, I guess”
By this time the train had already entered the station and was slowly coming to a halt. They stood there, facing each other.
“There is a one-liner in the movie that the actress always said to the actor, in a different context though. He was an army officer too.”
I looked into his eyes, smiled weakly and said, “So, I’ll see you soon then…”