‘I don’t know if I can do it dad, What if I fail?’
‘Don’t worry even if you fail, at least you will have a story to tell.’
With my heels in my hands, I rushed to catch the 11:30pm Borivali fast at the Churchgate station. I was astonished at the rare sight, an empty station with just a few men stranded here and there. It seemed so surreal. Reminiscing now, I feel that I was brave back then, I didn’t fear to be out in the dark or alone in the first class ladies compartment. If only, my bravery would have been waivered a bit then, I wouldn’t have been scarred for life.
It felt really pleasant to be seated all alone in the train with the cool breeze blowing my hair away. There was no incessant chattering of aunties or continuous fight for seats or low IQ war of words between the frustrated women who thought that the entire train population is conspiring against them. Life seemed good, with soft quite music blazing through my headphones. The train was crawling at its pace to Borivali and so was my mind, a little too lost and a little too free in this empty compartment till Jogeshwari station arrived and this was the time when I actually looked outside. The station was pin-drop silent and my field of sight was unable to locate any living person except for those one or two sleeping on the pavement. Slowly, I allowed paranoia to naturally wrap me, I was feeling scared. The pleasant loneliness became frightening; I decided to scroll through my facebook newsfeed and to water the seeds of my paranoia, the first write-up was about some rape case. I quietly took a deep breath and decided to call up my boyfriend, to kill time and to probably forget about the growing uneasiness.
Fortunately, he picked up on the first ring. I told him I was returning home on an empty train, I deliberately stressed on the word empty. He suggested that we keep talking till I reach home, his care and concern were overwhelming. Slowly, we were lost in our own mindless chattering and the train staggered past Goregaon and crawled towards Malad.
We were discussing our day’s routine when Malad arrived. At Malad, a woman got into the compartment. She was really tall and dusky. Her brown salwar was dirty with mud stains on it. Her hair was pitch black and matted; her slippers were almost giving way. I surmised by the look of it that she didn’t hold a first class pass. I needed company, so I let go of the thought. I told my boyfriend I wasn’t alone in the compartment, but he insisted that we keep talking which I am thankful for.
The train cruised towards Kandivali. It had begun to pick up speed. I looked at the woman, who had taken a seat at the other end of the compartment. She was staring right at me in a queer sort of way. Her eyes were dark and lifeless. She rose and took a few steps towards me, I grabbed my purse, and I wasn’t sure whether I would have to tackle her or to fling it at her. But then she turned towards the door instead of coming at me. She stood at the edge of the floorboard, precariously hanging from the ledge of the door. I had lost my voice, my boyfriend kept saying hello at the other end of the line. “I’m really scared” I stammered into the mouthpiece of my phone. His voice rose with panic, he urged me to keep talking. The woman was sobbing at the door; the wind plastered her tears to her face. “Don’t jump” I said to her. “Don’t jump don’t jump”
But she paid no heed; she leaped out just like that, and disappeared into the darkness.
I was shocked but as soon as I gained my consciousness, I stood immediately and rushed towards the door. I looked behind to see any sign of her in the darkness, but she was nowhere to be seen. I was transfixed, I had started to cry. My boyfriend’s voice turned hazy and then the network gave way. I kept dialling his number; it said call failed…call failed!
What was I to do? Was I to pull the chain? What good would that do, the train would stop in the middle of nowhere. Should I complaint or just go back to the safety of my home inside my duvet? I decided to lodge a complaint at Borivali, tell them that a woman had leaped to her death between Malad and Kandivali. The wait till Borivali was long. I kept dialling my boyfriend; the network played spoil sport. To make matters worse, the lights went off and I sat in complete darkness. I began to shout and scream for help. My cries may have crossed the metal dividers because I heard voices at the other end; which heightened my fear even more.
Thankfully the lights returned and a new sort of courage gripped me. It’s funny, the strength one can draw from light. The train was slowing down, we were approaching Kandivali. I regained my voice and senses. I sat up, wiped away my tears and assessed the situation. I would have to inform the railway authorities, somewhere between Malad and Kandivali, on the tracks, was a body. What if she was alive? Writhing in pain? A sick feeling gripped my insides. How much time before I could get help across to her? Kandivali platform drew up beside the train and I spotted a few solitary figures on the platform. My eyes welled up again. I was sobbing and making incomprehensible sounds like a child. Her face lingered in my memory. Images of her sobbing beside the doorframe kept flashing through my mind.
As the train slowed down, I raised my head and tried to calm my rattled nerves. The train eventually halted and my phone began to vibrate on my lap. Somehow I couldn’t bring myself to answer the phone because as the train started with a jerk, a woman entered the compartment yet again and she had matted hair, worn out shoes, and the same lifeless eyes.