He hated train journeys. Especially the night trains. The constant side jerks would not let him sleep. Then the tussle with the white sheets. Cover yourself with it and you wake up with perspiration on your neck after some time. Don’t cover yourself and you wake up with a not so normal nose and throat. And when he checked his cellphone for the time, he would always be disappointed to see it moving so slowly. Plus, there would definitely be one roaming text notification. All this while the train sometimes raced across fields and sometimes trotted lazily across remote stations. This was one such night. As he tried sleeping in a coach full of people snoring like toads’ croak after a recent downpour, the train came to a halt in a station. The next moment he could see the lights being switched on from under the sheets. The vacant upper berth adjacent to his berth must have got its occupant, he thought to himself.
‘Papa, I have boarded the train’, he heard a girl making a phone call to her father. He wanted to take a peek out of the sheets but then he realized he is practically blind without his glasses. So, he waited for her to switch off the lights. He could hear her arranging her luggage and then making her bed. All this time, he almost strangulated himself with the sheet covered over his face for reasons unknown to himself. Finally, the lights were switched off and he took a deep breath after removing the sheets from his face. He could see her phone’s light in the dark. He took out his earphones and plugged it in his ears and soon he was asleep.
He got down from his berth in the morning having survived the night and happy about the fact that it was few more hours before he reached his destination. He was rubbing off sleep from his eyes when he spotted a beautiful pair of belly shoes. He then remembered the girl’s voice from last night.
She woke up after some time. Contrary to his imagination, he found her in short hairs instead of long hairs. She was not the girl you found in movies; she was like the one you found in novels. Fair complexioned with cat eyed glasses and dimpled cheeks, she looked cute in her grey trousers and sky blue denim shirt. In this part of the world, people sitting in silence was normal. So, they sat silently minding their own business. She pulled out a novel from her backpack and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t see the title. He too didn’t want to be left out. So, he took out the Kindle from his backpack. And he felt like she looked at him for a moment. When he raised his head to check, she was busy in her novel. This continued for some time.
‘Excuse me?’, he heard her say. He assumed her to be calling someone else and therefore didn’t look up. She repeated and this time he looked up to find her eyes. There is something about looking at a cute stranger girl’s eyes, he quickly looked down, out the window and then returned back to her face, having regained some composure. ‘Will you please help me with the luggage when I get down?’, she said with a sheepish smile and she didn’t look intimidating to him anymore.
‘Sure, thing’ he said with a confident smile.
‘Thank you!’, she said like she really meant it.
He smiled back. Pause for few seconds before he asked, ‘You headed home?’
She nodded her head with the dimples flashing and asked, ‘You?’
He noticed that she has the dimple only on her left cheek.
‘Sightseeing’, he said as he couldn’t think of anything other than one word replies.
‘Alone?’, she asked.
‘No, my friend is sleeping on the other side’, he said thanking his friend in his mind for not being a party to this conversation.
‘Great!’, she exclaimed.
He was good at self-deprecatory jokes and he cracked a few and that made her laugh.
Just the way the conversation had started, abruptly, ended the same way too. There was silence, before her station arrived. She was to get down couple of stations before his. He saw the luggage and realized it was too heavy. She warned him of the same. He would have thrown tantrums at his sister for it but here he picked it up with a smile. His frail hands just about managed to carry it till the door, the nerves underneath his wrists looking like they were about to pop out. But he didn’t even have a grimace on his face.
They stood near the doors for a while not sure about which side the platform was going to appear. Finally, the brakes were applied as the smell of the wheels and the rail track rubbing together filled the air. He could see the station now. The train came to a halt. He helped get her luggage down as her father greeted her.
‘Thank you!’, she said with a grin as she waved. He gave her a thumbs up and a smile. He got back on the train, sad that she left but happy that the conversation happened.
He returned to his seat as the engine’s horn bellowed followed by the train’s wheels rolling. He checked himself in the mirror to find how weird he looked at that time. He looked fine. Just when he was about to sit, he noticed the novel she was carrying lying on her berth. His initial instinct was to pull the chain to stop the train and give it back to her. But sense prevailed and he didn’t. He took the book in his hands and sat down. He noticed it was John Green’s latest novel. He turned the first few pages and then closed the book with a smile, a gleam in his eyes.