Today brought in a new spark of life.
My partner (that appears to be the most politically correct word these days) and I have been seeing each other for three years now, the last one of which has been a long-distance one. I stay in Chennai, she stays in Mangalore. We lead busy lives, rarely getting the chance to spend more than an occasional weekend with each other.
Age has caught up with both us, probably a bit faster with me than with her. I no longer participate in my life, happy to watch it from the pavilion, with an occasional beer to remove the sobriety. Else, it is all quite bleak.
Yesterday was also bleak. But, in an unusual attempt to break the monotony, I got onto the first bus to Mangalore, checked into a lodge and decided to surprise her.
So, today was special. It was special because it had all elements that can make a day special.I woke up before sunrise and I smelled the first batch of jasmine (which I also bought for her). I surprised her by showing up at her place and we ate breakfast in an ancient restaurant that had waiters older than its walls. We watched a 3D-movie that had a story and polished off some delicious seafood. We walked and we sipped on Tropical Iceberg. We bought books for each other, for loved ones and we ate at Ideal ice-cream. In between, we talked and we sat silently. She read out a story from the book she bought. I listened to her, distracted by her glistening, sun-soaked face. As the sun set, we went by the seaside and bid a very special day adieu.
Some days are special and some days are not. The sun decides which is what. He’d etched his mark today and just as he set, so did the charm he’d brought with him. We walked out of the beach and we fought. I was defensive. She was annoyed. We continued to bicker but I had to rush back to get on my train. We didn’t even say our goodbyes properly.
I boarded the train. It had been a strange day so far. A loud, young family of four occupied the bogie beside mine. Beyond that lay the noisome corridor of wash-basin, toilets and general grime that form any Indian train’s sleeper compartment. In this trinity, squatted a thin, lean shadow of a man. The husband, a swarthy man, of the young family took upon himself to rid the train of this unnecessary, ticket-less burden. This was when I got up to see what was happening. Swarthy was gesticulating intimidatingly at the Shadow. Shadow kept staring at him, not too softly, but with daggers for eyes. I couldn’t take my eyes off the scene. Swarthy, after yet another manly show of strength, turned back, smiling slyly at me, almost asking me to thank him. I stared beyond him at the Shadow, who had now begun to gesticulate even more violently, with Swarthy out of sight. Shadow was not just usually invisible, he couldn’t be audible even if he screamed. He was deaf-mute too.
There were other eyes watching this scene. A voice that belonged to one pair remarked, “He’s probably pretending just so that he can travel in reserved class. Ha!”. I sensed other heads nodding in agreement. But, I wasn’t able to take my eyes off Shadow. I made a feeble attempt smiling at him but he either didn’t see me or didn’t know how to respond. As minutes passed, I was overcome with an indescribable mixture of guilt, helplessness, confusion and incredible sadness. I’d decided that by the time the TT comes back on his next round, I’ll offer to pay for Shadow’s seat.
We arrived at the next station. Swarthy had again bossed over Shadow and I couldn’t hold myself back. On asked, Swarthy said, “Guru, this guy’s not only traveling ticketless, he’s stuffed the corridor with his bags.”. I still gave him a look of disgust. At the station, an agitated family got in. It appears Swarthy was traveling without a ticket and was promptly asked by Husband Agitated to vacate their seats. The Mangalore sun was still shining a bit faintly somewhere.
But, before the TT came, a hefty security guard with his faux gun came in, chased Shadow out with his luggage. I ran up to Shadow, without knowing what it was that I exactly planned to do. I probably wanted to carry some of his bags, speak to faux guard? I stood in the corridor of uncertainty while a man with crutches got in. Husband Agitated spoke concernedly to crutches, asking if he needed help. Meanwhile, faux guard continued to bark in Shadow’s ears and he got down. I followed him out and in a moment of helpless desperation, I got out whatever money I could find in my pocket and handed it down to Shadow. Faux guard and I tried to get him to board the un-reserved compartment but Shadow didn’t understand. He only wailed under that rainy, thankless night. The train started to move and I ran to get back on it. Shadow was gone, the doors were locked back.
Agitated, Concerned Husband thanked faux guard. “Thank you sir, we were scared for our small child because of him.”
Today brought in a new spark of life. But, I died a bit today.