By Nimmi Elizabeth Thomas
It was a last-minute plan. After having waited so long for the perfect time, my friend Sav, and I packed our bags one Friday in January. We reached Majestic Station, and took two tickets for the general compartment. The tickets were 200 rupees each – less than the 1,500 for the Volvo semi-sleeper that I usually take when going home. It was the first time Sav was going on a long trip without her parents. It was my first time in the general compartment, for a journey longer than five hours.
The train was at 4:15, Kochuveli Express, and we had two hours to kill. We ate lunch and passed comments about the other people there. Actually, I passed all the comments. Sav just laughed or hit me because sometimes they were mean. In the midst of all this, we forgot to check if the train had reached the platform. When we went over to it at 3:45, it was already full. There were three or four people were seated on each berth, and we figured that we had to stand – since we were strong, independent women, standing for ten hours didn’t seem like a big deal. We didn’t realise than in general compartments, it is normal for five or six people to squeeze together on one berth. We also didn’t want to climb to the metal rack on top, and have our asses on display to those below.
At this point, let me introduce two main characters of the story: Cute Guy, who looked very much like current Mallu heartthrob Nivin Pauly, and The Creep With A Ghastly Bandana. Cute Guy would subtly steal glances at me, and, enjoying the attention, I started talking about interesting books to Sav. That’s how I brought on my charm. Creep would just keep staring with a drunken smile. He was sitting at the corner of the metal rack and no one paid him any attention.
After five stops, the train was getting cramped. That was when the hero entered, wearing a fluorescent blue sweatshirt and a heavy neck chain with a big cross on it. His overall look was somewhere in between weird and maybe-cute. After standing for a while, he too climbed up to the metal rack. It was so hot and suffocating inside, and we were still standing. Around 9:00, the train began to empty, and we found a single empty seat. Sav and I took turns sitting down. She went first, and our hero decided to strike. He began with an open question to all – “So when would the train reach Aluva?” Someone answered, “Around three” After he had asked a number of other questions, and narrated a whole story about why he was going to Aluva, I realised that it was all done to grab my attention. I’m not used to guys hitting on me.
It was 12:00. The stench from the bathroom kept growing. Hunger pangs were taking their toll. And I knew that there was a chance that I might sleep standing and fall. So I looked at him and gave a restricted smile. He repeated a few of his previous questions. When the man standing next to me answered, he got irritated. It was fun. The way he talked, I had figured he was from the south of Kerala and probably a Christian. He asked me my name. I answered Nimmi. He wanted to know more.
The delight on his face for having found a potential candidate made me wish the train would trip over. Next question.
“Are you Pentecost?”
“Why aren’t you wearing earrings?”
Because I don’t like to.
Christian, Malayalee and NOT Pentecost. I could almost predict the next set of questions. Where do you live? Which church do you go to? What do you do? He seemed to like most of my answers. Except the one where I stated that I don’t like going to church. And that started the saga of why one must go to church. Then the offer arrived – “When you get back to Bangalore, I’ll take you to church.” I didn’t want to listen anymore so I said okay.
“But how will you contact me?”
I turned around to Sav, “Can I sit now?”
When he asked what happened, I said she offered me the seat and I sat down. Now since Sav was in between, he gave up and went off to sleep. I was confused. I didn’t find him interesting but I didn’t have anyone else in my life anyways. So I asked my dear friend for advice and she replied, “Well if YOU want to, you can give him your number.” There are times when you feel like banging your friend’s head. It’s 2:00 in the morning, my brain is numb, Cute Guy had given up the moment Hero opened his mouth, Creep was still smiling, and a fat drunk guy was lying on the floor with his belly dancing like jelly, in rhythm with the train. Sav is a very sweet, innocent girl and these drunken guys were the main reason I didn’t let her stand until then. Once I was sure the hero had slept off, I asked her to sit down again. Everyone was tired and the silence was good.
Around 3:00, someone asked me to wake up the hero. That’s when I realised that he had indirectly called dibs on me and distanced the rest of the guys in the compartment. I didn’t know if I should feel disgusted or thankful because there were many drunkards and creeps there. Someone else eventually woke him up. He got down, smiled at me, gave me his card and asked me to call when I had time. I took it and put it in my pocket. I did not intend to call him. But I was too tired to say no, or throw away the card, or do anything in fact. Everyone around was waiting for this climax. I just wanted to go home. One would ask what the big deal in all this is. And even I didn’t care. Until Cute Guy gave me a look of anger and disappointment. He seemed fine with everything else, but I guess he really didn’t expect me to take the card. I am not answerable to him but I still felt terrible.
The train reached Kochi. The Cute Guy, Sav and I got down. He gave me one last saddened smile and walked off.
We found the one man I did trust waving at us from the other end of the platform. I walked into the warmth of my Dad’s embrace. Home is good.
Nimmi Elizabeth Thomas studies at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Bangalore.