most guys harbour a fantasy that they would meet a pretty girl when they are travelling and instantly hit it off, fall in love, have a fairytale wedding and live happily ever after. this extreme optimism surfaces without fail everytime we get into our bus, train or flight and the adjacent seat is vacant. i am not sure if it is something brought on by genes or movies, but each of us has surely thought at some point of time, "this is going to be my lucky day!"
well, i have had my dreams cruelly ended almost everytime, by various causes. oily, mustached men, stinking, pot-bellied men, snoring men, men smelling of gutka, alcohol and themselves, loud men on their phones, coughing men, sneezing men, spitting men, godmen (self styled)... heck, even a filled coop of clucking chicken once! but braving the odds, we always looked ahead to the next journey!
and then one night...
i was at a tiny station in the middle of nowhere. the moon was just a sliver, peeking at us from between dark clouds. as the public address system blared out that my train was expected in some time, i started walking to the spot where my bogie was to stop. i had reached the dark end of the small platform, with only sleepy dogs for company. maybe it is when you expect it the least that something amazing happens to you...
my train arrived and i got on with the single point agenda of catching some sleep. the fact that my stomach was growling with hunger and there was nothing to eat at this unearthly hour meant that it would be difficult. i got busy searching for my berth, partly thankful that staying awake meant lesser chances of me missing my destination station - a constant fear, given my track record!
it was only when i was settled on my upper berth, flinching at the light still kept on, followed it unto the switch on the side lower berth, that our eyes first met. an angelic face, wide open eyes - even this late at night, hand frozen halfway in her packet of chips. she gave me a curious look, and smiled. i was hooked!
i waved at her and she waved back. she mouthed me something which i could not understand. almost everyone around us were fast asleep. she said something again, louder, which is when i understood that she was speaking a different language, and also when her family woke up. damn!
i quickly re-adjusted my position. she was being admonished for being up so late from what i could understand. her voice was so sweet!
the light was switched off and she lay down. i could still make out her face from the dim light. she was awake! i waved my lit mobile screen at her, and she waved back with a giggle. i was smiling a wide smile - a banana could be stuffed into my mouth sideways!
the hours swiftly sped by...
all too soon my station was coming up. the lights came on. she was sitting there, looking at the mirror with a forlorn look on her face. i felt a tinge of sadness at having to get off the train. but as i was getting down from my berth, the unimaginable happened! her family was also up, pulling out their luggage from under the berths. i gave her a broad smile, but she was still brooding.
her family was complaining about the rains at this time of the year. i took my chance at initiating a conversation. it turned out they were coming here for the first time and had not planned out anything. they had not even decided the places to visit! as the train pulled into our station, i had finished listing out the places they should see on their trip. as her family alighted, a little less nervous about their trip now, she got up, pretty in pink, looked at me, shook my hand and got off without a word.
i did not know what to say. i got off quietly. it was raining heavily. i stood under the crowded shelter on the platform, while they made their way towards the exit in the rain. suddenly i had an idea! i jogged up behind them and offered to drop them in my car, which was parked outside. they gratefully agreed, but she was still in a sombre mood. i flashed her a quick smile and rushed out.
i paid the parking attendant, got my car out, reversed it in the wrong direction on a one-way lane toward the station exit where they were waiting for me. opening the doors, i grinned at them sheepishly, ruffled my wet hair and hoped that i would not catch a cold tomorrow.
the streets were deserted at this late hour. while everyone talked in the car, she sat there silently, looking out of the rain-streaked window. i kept looking at her in the rear-view mirror, but she would not look at me.
the rain had subsided and there was only a cold wind blowing as i parked in front of their hotel and helped them with their bags. i invited them home, as a formality, and they politely thanked me and said they will try to come. she smiled wryly at me. maybe she was tired, but it seemed like she was saying "this was going to happen..."
i got into the car and they waved me goodbye, and i set off for the long drive home... who knows, another journey, another time, someone may be waiting for me...
epilogue: why did i not ask her for her number? simple. she did not know much of hindi or english, she could count only up to 12, and her age was probably that divided by 4 - so i do not think she owned a mobile phone! but i will always remember her cute dimpled smile...