I lifted my head from my book and turned in the direction of the sound. He was standing with his forehead tilted towards me at an angle of about forty-five degrees at a distance of less than six inches.
My heart seemed to have lost a beat.
Sweat trickled down his face.
And then the silence was broken.
“Oh! Sorry” he said, and moved back. He must have been quite tall. I guess about six feet but no less.
“Is this your bag?”
There was a brown carryall bag lying near me on my berth which was definitely not mine. Its face said it wasn’t mine. It must have been very expensive. I frowned a little and pointed my finger to the woman sleeping on the opposite berth and said, “It’s hers, I guess.”
I wondered why the sleeping lady had kept her bag on my berth when there was enough room for it on her seat. She had been sleeping since we had boarded the train.
The boy pushed the bag towards me and sat on my berth.
It had been more than three hours since the train had left Howrah station.
I noticed that the boy sitting beside me was alone.
In about half an hour dinners would be served and then there would be no more disturbances- passengers fast asleep in the racing train.
The compartment was almost silent. I gave a side glance to the boy who was reading that day’s newspaper. For a couple of minutes I stared at his face which appeared serious. His legs were long and so were his fingers which were holding the newspaper firmly. He adjusted his legs on the floor of the train and folded the newspaper beside him. Before he could notice me staring at him, I swiftly turned my eyes towards my book pretending to be reading intently.
I never had much luck with my co-passengers. They have always been a bunch of uninteresting rich people with whom I never had much to talk about. So, these journeys were always spent either on the lush green fields outside or the whispering tales of my fun novels.
Anyway, finally the food came.
Lights would be turned off in about an hour and the following morning we would wake up in Delhi. Excitement ran through my veins.
Once again I started with my books but my thoughts travelled to dad. I was wondering if he would come to the station to receive me or would it be mom. Nobody was free these days. I wanted mom to come so that dad does not get paranoid after seeing me travelling with a guy.
He pulled out his shocks.
He looked at me and smiled a little. I returned his smile- the smile which is confined to the lips and hardly reaches the eyes- the artificial smile meant for strangers.
“Do you mind if I keep the lights on till late? I can’t sleep so early…umm… I would be reading probably.” He said in one breath, visibly nervous.
I began answering him but I could not think of as many words as I would have required.
I just nodded in a yes.
“No, if it’s not okay with you, I can manage” he spoke again.
No, it’s alright” and thus, I returned fumbling at the inadequacy of my words. Only when you need it the most, you fall short of them.
I imagined those lights on till midnight when I would be turning sides, unable to gain a peaceful sleep.
He went to the upper berth.
I looked at him and saw that his eyes were on me. I grew a little conscious and pulled my blanket over myself. He smiled a little and said good night. He had a pleasant face, I noticed. My hands went over to my hair and I pulled them back behind my ears. I thought I looked a little shabby. After that I did not think much and turned away from his gaze. Though the gaze had moved away from me a long time back but I imagined it returning to me. I thought he said, “We will reach Delhi safely” softly to himself or to me after he had said good night.
Sleep did not come soon.
I sat up on my berth to look at other passengers. Probably they could inspire/incite some sleep in me.
I was about to lie when with a thud I landed on the floor of the train and was pushed forward with a lot of velocity and palm banged into something solid. It felt as if I was falling freely. And a loud bang reached my ears followed by a lot of shrieks and shouts and cries.
He first hit the opposite middle birth and then crashed on the floor. The middle berth fell close to me with a lot of sound and the lady at the opposite berth squealed and the red, blood-like smelling liquid splattered on my arms. She slept in her sleep.
Berths were swinging in air like the tongue of a dragon. The bars and handles were twisted and zapped in crazy angles. And among them I sat with my knees tucked beneath my chin. I was staring at the blood that was flowing from my toe.
I froze in the position I was in. Too stupefied by the shock, unable to comprehend what just happened.
He was trying to drag himself towards me. Blood trickled down his temples dampening his shirt.
“You okay?” he asked.
He pointed towards my shoulder and there was a huge cut. I felt the smell of blood. From my torn skin, near my shoulder, there was fresh stream of blood oozing out. I put my palm over it, but, the blood still seemed to flow.I sat there looking at him, blood was gushing out of his scratches and slits too. I did not have the courage to speak. I could not keep my eyes open any more. It wasn’t sleep I knew.I did not know clearly if I was still alive or long dead. I could not feel anything vividly.
Every time my eyes closed he stroked my cheeks, sometimes shaking me. He asked me to keep awake. He kept on saying me that people would come soon to help me.The night dissolved before my closed eyes and I woke up among a lot of strange faces and strange sound.I tried to lift myself to see if he was there. There were all unfamiliar people around. I searched his familiar face midst the crowd.Someone in white asked me my name and my father’s name and number. I guess I answered them perfectly in my tattered tones and then slept again.