The Trichy- Vridhdhachalam passenger was almost leaving as she ran with all her might. The chappatis will be soaked in the chutney, she thought with disdain. The Guard must have watched her running and he signaled her to run faster. I am not PT Usha, she mumbled to herself and clambered on to the last ladies coach. As usual, it was jam-packed. Rather air-tight. A heady smell of samosas, jasmine flowers, sweat and Ponds powder wafted along and she chose to sit on the floor, near the doorway.
She sat by the window, as trees and buildings whizzed by. Her stomach kept somersaulting as hunger gnawed her intestines. "I must have a tea atleast, to keep me alive", she thought to herself. The train kept on chugging. She kept staring at the blank space, wondering what her mother would be doing now. Could she have found her missing? Not with the steady stream of customers she kept entertaining with. She would feel her daughter gone only when she was hungry. A satisfactory smile spread across her face. Today, her mother will be hungry. Just like how she kept her daughter hungry for a long time.
By dinner time the bogie was almost empty with only three ladies snoring peacefully. This is time for dinner, she thought. The chutney oozing chappatis made her stomach flip. But she had to eat something. Or she cannot work the night, issuing tickets all night long, in a deserted station. A wry smile and few breaths later, she gulped down the chapatis, downing it with half a bottle water. Two more calls to the children, assigning them homework and clearing their doubts, she felt it the time for a shut-eye.
The chapatis. She tried not to look at the plump woman looking haggard by the opposite side, two bays across. She was yelling over the phone, probably to her children, as the talk centered on homework. Why can't her life be like that? Carefree. Easy. She tried to remember when she was helped by her mother in her studies and went crazy. The woman didn't even know what her daughter had studied. She was too busy dealing with her drunkard father till he died and then making ends meet in their mundane existence.Her mother could also have been someone like this lady. Had she chosen her birth. A hot breath escaped her as she awaited her station.
"Madam, madam"...she heard the feeble voice calling to her. Where was she? She rubbed her eyes and sat bolt upright. The train was vacant and had halted. The reed thin girl was shaking her awake. "This is the last station, amma", the girl-woman blurted and she smiled at her. She must be somewhere about eighteen or nineteen years old. Thankfully, someone was in the bogie to wake her up. She collected her bag and jumped down on the platform, a brisk walk to the booking counter. The thin girl tried to keep pace with her and she felt mildly irritated. Why should she walk with me? She eyed her carefully now. The girl had a small overnight bag and looked disheveled. She deliberately slowed down and asked her- "Do you want a tea?"
Her eyes almost watered at the kindness shown on her. She nodded her head urgently and was grateful when they both sat on the platform's bench for a hot cup of tea. They drank it in complete silence, each lost in their own thoughts. She looked flabbergasted when the lady asked her- "Where are you going?"
She had sensed her right. At the simple question where she was going, the woman looked like a deer caught by the headlights, ready to run. Whoa! Easy there, she said to herself. "There are no trains to Trichy now. The first train is by 8.30. I work in the counter here. Come, let me get you a ticket", she gently coaxed. Without a word, the girl followed her as they walked silently under a moonless night to the booking counter. She barged inside the office, asked her colleague to issue a ticket to Trichy, paid money from her purse and took it out to the waiting girl.
She came back in few minutes with ticket in her hand. She was nervous by now as to what she would say. She instead handed her the ticket in silence and held her hand for a few seconds. "I do not know where you come from or where you plan to go. But I feel, home is where the heart is. As a mother and as a daughter I know your predicament. This world is not the nicest place for you, without your mother. Get back to her. One day, when the time is right, she will set you free." With those words, she turned back to leave. The girl called her once- "Amma" as she turned and smiled. "I am leaving and thank you", was all that she could say. Tears threatened to trickle as she walked away fast from her.
She stood on the platform watching her leave. She sent a silent prayer Upwards that the girl should reach home safe. As she walked back to the counter, she let out a sigh. It was going to be a very long night and her children would be sleeping alone, dreaming of a day when their mother would take them on a ride in a roller-coaster.