Ajay looked at his watch. It was almost 7.00 PM. He was well in time for the 7.15 local.
It had been a hard day at work, with a tough deadline to meet! Despite it being a Saturday, and a half working day he had had to stay back. He was now looking forward to a relaxed Sunday. He hoped to catch a movie with some friends. But it was more easily said than done. Nowadays most of his friends preferred to spend time with their wives and girlfriends.
“Well that is a price one pays for being too focused on one’s career and not devoting enough attention to settling down ” his sister had told him when he had complained to her about this. After that, he had decided to keep quiet. As it is, all his female relatives seemed to be working overtime to get him “settled”! Not that he was against the idea of marriage. But it was just that none of the candidates that they had come up with so far were interesting enough for him to consider giving up his freedom. And the shy young man that he was,, he had never had the confidence to ever approach a girl on his own.
Well, one had to live with some problems he thought to himself as he felt the rumbling of the train and got ready to board. Thankfully, being a Saturday evening on what was essentially an office train route, the train was not crowded. He took his pick of the carriage and hopped into a near empty one.
“Thank God for small mercies” he murmured as he settled down on a seat by the window. The cool evening breeze hit his sweaty face as the train picked up speed. He took out a book from his bag and started reading from where he had left off. He hoped to finish it by tonight.
It was about two stations down that he noticed the couple standing by the door. They had probably boarded the train at the previous station. He could not see the young man’s face but the girl was facing him. She was slightly built – thin and petite with her hair tied up in a pony tail. Her large and beautiful eyes were swollen and red. He could see tears streaming down her cheeks.
The young man was talking “Look here Sumi, there is no point in crying like this. It is not going to change anything”.
She said something in a muffled voice that was lost in the noise of the train. And then she began sobbing!
Ajay’s attention was now completely drawn to the scene that was unfolding in front of him. He closed the book and eavesdropped unashamedly.
“Sumi, life is not a movie or a romance novel. We have to consider practical aspects. My parents want me to marry this girl. There are family priorities that I have to take into account” said the fellow.
“Didn’t these priorities exist when you started wooing me? When you wrote those letters to me, took me out for lunch and dinner?” asked the girl. Her damp eyes were now flashing anger.
“Sumi, how many times do I have to tell you that I still love you. I still mean every word I wrote in those letters and I cherish every moment we spent together. It is just that I cannot hurt my parents. They are old and they have a lot of hopes for me” said the young man trying to put his arm around the girl as she pushed it off.
“Stop touching me you spineless idiot!” she said as she moved away from the door.
“Listen, Sumi, don’t get hysterical. I am just trying to explain the situation to you. These things happen to many people. I am really sorry about this. But life has to go on” said the man.
“ Yes please carry on with your life then. Your station is anyway coming up” said the girl as she moved to the door at the opposite end.
“Okay, have it your way. If you want to make yourself into a tragedy queen, so be it” said the young man as he jumped down off the train at the station.
Ajay watched the girl standing by the door at the other end. He couldn’t look at her face now but he could very well imagine her grief. He wondered what had possessed that fellow to dump a nice girl like her. And anyway , how had this girl fallen for this fellow? He was obviously a smooth talker who had used her for what was called in local parlance as “time pass”.
The coach was empty now, except for the two of them. There were still three stations to go before he reached his destination. He wanted to reach out to her and say something but felt awkward. It was anyway none of his business.
She continued standing by the door. Her back was straight.
Wait…Was it his imagination or had she inched closer to the door? The station was still a few minutes away so she was obviously not getting ready to disembark.
He slid down from his seat by the window and moved towards the aisle. There was something odd about her actions. It was in a split second it all became clear to him as she extended one leg out of the door ready to jump. He leapt out of his seat and grabbed her
“STOP” he shouted as he pulled her in! He felt her trembling against him.
“You foolish girl.. what do you think you are doing ?” he asked her angrily
“Leave, me! I have nothing left to live for” she said sobbing.
“Stop that crying now. Here wipe your face” he said pulling out his handkerchief as he guided her towards a seat.
“ I cannot imagine life without him. He was my dream and my reality” she said continuing to cry into his handkerchief.
“ Fellows like that worm who got off at the last station may be an unpleasant reality but they can never be part of anyone’s dreams. He is just using his parents as an excuse to dump you. Believe me, he is not worth it! ” he said angrily.
She stopped crying and looked at him as though seeing him for the very first time.
“ I know…! But I feel very wretched.” she said
“Don’t!!. I am sure you have a life ahead of you and at lot of things to look forward to..umm Sumi ?” he asked.
“Sumita” she said slowly breaking into a smile.
“Ajay” he said extending his hand.
“Pleased to meet you” she said as she shook it.
“Which station do you get off?” he asked as the train started to slow down at the next station.
“The one after this ” she said.
“What a coincidence. So do I” he said
The train was pulling into their station. It was 8.00 PM and platform looked deserted.
“Sumita, shall I walk you home? It is quite dark” he asked as they got off the train and started walking towards the exit.
“No, it is okay, I can manage” she said.
“No, I insist. The street lights do not work in some of the lanes” he said, lying through his teeth about a neighborhood that probably had one of the best civic amenities in the city.
They walked through the streets in silence until they reached her gate.
“Bye Ajay.. and thanks! Please don’t mention that incident to anybody. I feel so stupid about it ” she said breaking the silence as she opened the gate and walked in.
“Don’t worry Sumita. I won’t..Take care” he said as he turned back to go home.
He must have taken only a few steps ahead when he heard her voice call out to him
“Ajay.. wait! Please give me your phone number. I need to contact you and return your handkerchief ” She said .
“Of course, ! How could I forget.. !” he said reciting his phone number.
“Thanks. I will give you a missed call. You can save my number” she said waving out to him.
“Please clean my hanky properly! It is my favorite- Ajay” he typed out a text message late into the night to the number from where he had received a missed call earlier in the evening.
He smiled when half an hour later he received a smiley in response. He put the phone under his pillow and closed his eyes.
The future was presenting enormous possibilities!!!
( This story is based on a real life incident shared by my friend Mahesh . But I must confess that I have taken some creative license while writing this. Thank you Mahesh for letting me use the idea)