(And my effort to write fiction in the hope of seeing it get published by womensweb.in continues. This one, too, could not make it and hence I am showing the poor article the light of day in my blog. Maybe I should create a new tab ‘Failed Fiction’. Anyways, the clue given by womensweb.in for this month was “Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.” from Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix, by J.K.Rowling. It reminded me of a little news I had read in India Today way back in the late ‘80s. Although I was quite young then, it managed to stay with me all these years. So, yeah, this story is based on a true incident.)
Meera woke up just as the local train rumbled past her balcony. “Must be the 6.19 Kalyan local,” she thought, tying up her loose hair.
“Are you awake, Meera?” her mother’s voice came from the kitchen. “Hustle now, they would be here by 10 o’clock.”
Why, wondered Meera for the umpteenth time. Why had this man agreed to marry her just by looking at her photograph? She had grown used to rejections by now. Maybe he will reject her once he saw her in person. She almost grew hopeful of that.
It was her mother who opened the door for them at 10.15 am. She could hear pleasantries being exchanged.
“Meera,” her mother called out. “Bring out the tea for the guests.”
She entered the living room with lowered head and eyes, the cups clinking against the tea-pot.
“Thanks,” he replied quietly as she held out the cup of tea, and yet she could hear the mirth in his voice.
She raised up her eyes enquiringly, to look at him.
Two years back.
“Run, Meera,” Anusha urged as they entered CST station. “Or we will miss the last local.”
They worked as direct marketing executives and local trains were the only way they traversed – cheap and fast. Today was an extremely exasperating day for them that stretched beyond the normal hours, what with the dressing-down they had to endure from the regional manager. On top of it, it was raining cats and dogs outside.
They boarded the train and sat down, gasping for breath. There were quite a few passengers in the ladies’ compartment, even at that hour. Meera nudged Anusha, raising her eyebrows towards the gaudily dressed women of the night, while a few fisherwomen sat cross legged on the floor, their empty baskets lodged near their feet.
Finally, the train lurched forward with a start. Just as the platform was about to end, there came the sound of scrambling feet. A pair of hands grabbed the pole at the train’s door and a man heaved himself up into the compartment. He wiped off the rain and sweat off his brows and looked around him. Several pairs of eyes glared at him angrily. He had, after all, broken the sanctity of the ladies compartment.
“Are you blind, you idiot?” the fisherwomen were the first to speak up. “Can’t you see this is the ladies compartment?”
The young man seemed unsettled and fumbled as he spoke.
“I-I-I am very sorry,” he said. “But I could not board the general compartment and this is the last local. I had to…”
“So?” Meera found herself cutting him short. The day’s frustrations as well as the manager’s stormy session had finally got the better of her. “You think you can enter our compartment if you can’t get to the general one? And why should we believe you? How do we know you are not a criminal, out to harm someone?”
Her words caught the attention of the other women in the compartment. There was no train guard in sight. Their disapproving glances now turned to defensive ones. The case of Pritha who had lost her legs when a bag snatcher had thrown her off the train was still fresh in their minds.
“Listen, madam,” the young man seemed ruffled by Meera’s accusations. “No need to get so worked up, okay? I am nothing of that sort which you just indicted me of. I will get down at the next station.”
It fell on deaf ears as the women rained curses at him, almost pushing him out of the fast moving train. We must act together to safeguard ourselves, they felt. The hapless guy held on to the pole for dear life, trying to make himself heard above the din.
At last, the train slowed down on approaching the next station.
“Get out!” Meera screamed at the man. “Now!”
The man put out his leg towards the platform, thought of something and turned around to look at Meera, full in the eye.
“You are not married, I see.” he said icily. “I pity the man who marries you.”
With that, he disappeared in to the night.
“You remember then?” Ashok asked her, a smile playing around in his eyes. They were sitting in the small balcony, allowed by their parents to ‘know each other better’.
“Then why would you want to marry me?”
“Because,” he said, clasping her hand gently. “I was won over by your fire, your spirit of righteousness. You will be a good friend.”
Meera pulled back her hand in mock disapproval. “And what about pitying the man who married me?”
She did not hear what Ashok said; a train had chosen that moment to rattle past the balcony noisily, and her hand found itself going back towards his outstretched one.