At the metro

This is another short story that I would like to share. Happy reading!
It had been a long day, after some exhausting paperwork and unending assignments, when I took the metro with some trudging steps, almost dragging myself with the bag full of long blank paged copies, with codes written on every inch that would be illegible to someone who doesn’t know what C or Java or any other programming language is. Thankfully I got a seat, among the sweaty people, whose odour could be smelt from miles across a street. As suffocating as it seemed to be travelling in a metro train, it was far more excruciating, especially when you get to see those staring eyes at you, when you take a general seat among the men, because most of the educated people residing in this city don’t know that those seats belong to everyone and not just men, and that there is a another section reserved for women.

After struggling to look for my phone in my bag for one minute, I commenced looking at the people seated in front of me, which I did every time when I had nothing else to do. I looked at those weary faces going home from work, or school, or maybe going to do another night shift. I studied their eyes, and drew stories of what their family would look like, and how they spent their days either working or just having fun at a bar because of all the cash they might have back at their bank accounts.

That day was no different. I saw this aged woman, maybe in her 60s, in a silk saree with a brown leather hand bag, and big spectacles, sitting at the edge. She had a wrinkled face, small eyes, and she was smiling at me. I smiled back at her, however I didn’t know or couldn’t imagine what would be happening next.

I got off to my station, and started walking on the same old pavement covered with dust and leaves. The wind was slow, the skies were enveloped with clouds. I could see some men smoking cigars by a ramshackle tea shop, some children playing with their shabby toys on the footpath, people returning home from work, some pulling down the shutters to their shops. I couldn’t miss feeding biscuits to Puntow, who was always wagging his tail, waiting for me at the corner, next to a small sweet shop. It wasn’t until I had met with Puntow that night, that my eyes fell on that aged woman, a few steps behind me. However, my eyes shifted quickly to my phone, with Sam’s name on it, and I recalled that I hadn’t picked up any of his calls the whole day.
“Are you okay? You hadn’t been answering my calls,” said Sam.
“I am all okay, the professors loaded us with assignments today, and I couldn’t be more preoccupied.”
“It’s okay, have you reached home yet?”
“Just there,” and I pushed the phone down the pocket of my jeans.

No sooner did I reach the stairs to my home, than I heard this woman coughing, and I turned back to see her, and I went to her, getting my water bottle out of my bag.
“Thank you, dear”, she said, with her extraordinarily glittering eyes staring at mine.
“It’s okay.”
“Is this where you live?”
“I am staying here for the time,” I hesitated to tell that I had been dwelling there for my whole life.
She returned me the bottle, smiled, and kept walking.
In the eighteen years of my life, I had seen every soul living here, but this one. However, she could’ve just moved here.

“Where have you been? I’ll appoint a driver to drive you home. It’s not safe outside, so late at night,” my mother shouted while watching some show on the television at an exceedingly high volume.
“Has any new woman moved into our vicinity? A very old one?” I had to ask.
“None that I know of.  Ask your father.”

At last, I went in for a shower. While pouring the body wash out, I recalled the incident that had shaken my brother forever. I was four and my brother was sixteen then. We were returning home from school in a cab. He played some of his tunes recorded on his phone, which he had played on his violin, and I had almost fallen asleep, when a thunderous din of hitting something woke me up, and we were almost thrown into the front seats because of the screeching break pushed by the driver. The next thing I remembered, waking up at home, with everyone’s anxious faces staring at mine. My brother and I were okay, however a woman was crossing the road, when the lights were red, and the cab driver thought to make a quick move. It hit the woman, and the boy she was walking with. None of them made it after the accident.

I had not thought about this accident until today. I kept chewing my cud while showering. I concluded that I might have gone paranoid. Getting into my most comfortable clothes, I went to have a not so delectable dinner prepared by our maid, who didn’t do any of her work properly, and most of the times, broke our furniture, which made me wonder from where she got all of that Herculean power and vitality, and yet she left all her work incomplete. After eating half of what was there on the table, I went to sleep early, since I was exhausted not only because of the work, but the heat and the unendurable weather.

I didn’t think of the incident anymore, and decided to text Akash and tell him to jot down all his ideas on what topics we should be writing our essays on. Akash was the first person I befriended at college, who had never failed to accompany me in every bad decision I took or the blunders I created. He had these brown eyes with a hue of the golden colour, that sparkled, and went with his immaculate hair. I always had to look quite high up in the sky to talk to him when we walked, because of his extremely abnormal height.

“What is this new crap about essays?” Akash replied.
“I know, we already have so much to do, and yet they want to give us more futile work.”
“This is taxing, I have a seminar to attend this week.”
“I’ll attempt to write yours as well, you just give me some ideas.”
“Thank you, Saira, I’ll serve you for the rest of my life.”
“Oh, don’t start with your obtuse comments again.”
“What about a date?” Akash had to ask again.
“How many times do I have to tell you the same thing again and again?”
“Okay, my bad, go to sleep, I’ll take us to this newly discovered cafe which serves your favourites, frappes.”

I kept the phone on charge without setting an alarm since the next day was a Saturday, I went off to sleep quite peacefully.

I was rushing with a pumping heart through the woods, while the sharp edged branches continued to engrave some scars all along my arms, and face. My feet had been pricked, and I was almost unable to get air into my lungs. From the dark face of the sky that was glaring at me, with no stars, I assumed that it was past midnight, and I couldn’t fathom why I was running, and moreover from what I was fleeing away. I halted, almost fell on my face, hugging the gargantuan bark of a tree. No sooner did oxygen start filling into my lungs again, than I felt my arms itching. My eyes fell on these large red ants marching all their way up to my arms, and I struggled to get them off, however I had already got bitten plenty a time, within no seconds. I started rubbing my hands, and endeavoured to run at the same time, when I collided with something, rather ran into someone. I was so perplexed and frightened at the same time, that I stood petrified, glued to the ground, with my eyes closed shut. As the sweat dripped down my cheeks, I opened my eyes gradually, and what I saw next made me scream thunderously, and out of the blue I woke up.  My pillow was soaked in the sweat, and I couldn’t figure out why I dreamed about the woman I saw at the station. It was the same aged woman in the same attire, with her small eyes looking into mine, smiling.

The phone ringing just next to my ears showed five missed calls from Sam. I looked at the time, and it was nine, and I called him, hurriedly .
“Morning, and what’s up?” I exclaimed in the happiest voice that I could do.
“Good morning, and could we meet up today, I have been wishing to see you all this week?” Sam pleaded.
“Yes, totally, pick me up at one for lunch? I have to go through some topics which Akash just sent.”
“That Akash has been driving you nuts again or what?”
“No, no, he never did. We have essays to write this semester. I’ll talk to you later.”

I checked my mails, and Akash had already filled me in with everything I could write the essays with. I made a few drafts, and went for a shower. I had already missed the breakfast, and was quite ravenous that I was waiting impatiently for Sam to show up at my door.
“Oh, I am hungry like I haven’t eaten for a decade,” I said to Sam.
“Let’s go eat!”

“Do you remember that car accident?” I asked, while sipping on the mocktail.
“There are so many. Which one are you talking about?”
“The one that involved me and my brother?”
“Yes, I do. However, why are you bringing it up all of a sudden?”
“I need some information on the woman who died.”
“Okay?”
“I was hoping you could dig up some files, and look into the lists of accidents, since your father is in the police department,” I pleaded.
“He is, but that doesn’t mean I can get hold of anything.”
“Please, I need to know.”
“My question is why you’d want to know about something that’s not of any magnitude right now.”
“I have gone insane, I think, and I am exceedingly disconcerted, lately. Yesterday I saw this woman at the metro, I think she followed me to my doorstep. She seemed weird, and I haven’t heard of any new dwellers too in our vicinity. And, I have never seen her.”
“Are you kidding me? Someone might have come to visit family or some relatives. Why do you bother?”
“I don’t know. It just came up. I told you, I am discomposed.”
“Did your conscience actually compel you to make yourself believe that you’re seeing some ghost, and that too after so many years?”
“Yeah, you’re right, I think. However for my sanity, just get some information about whoever died in that accident.”
“I will. It’ll be okay, you have been stressed out with work lately,” Sam reached out for my hand.

We had a few more drinks, and quite an indolent afternoon, and set out for home in the evening.
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll get the names, and everything related to her,” Sam said.
He leaned in to give a kiss, and I felt a moment of bliss and sheer tranquility, as soon as his lips touched mine.
“I love you,” Sam smiled.
“Good night,” I walked out of the car, and waved at him.

“Had a good time?” my father asked, when I stepped in.
“Yes, I actually had a great time. Do you know if someone new has moved into our neighbourhood?”
“People move in and out all the time, however I haven’t heard of anyone settling in right now. Why?”
“Nothing grave,” I took a pause, and hesitated to ask the next question.
“Dad, I need to know who died in that accident years ago, when my brother and I were also there in the car.”
“Okay, I do not know why you’re asking this, after all these years. It was a woman and her grandson, who were crossing the street when the signal had just turned red, and your cab driver didn’t stop driving. Her name was Malini Saha, and the boy’s name was presumably Shourya. They had come from Salt Lake, she was on her way to meet his new art teacher. He loved painting, as they had said. Both of them didn’t make it.”
“Do you have any pictures of them?”
“I haven’t kept any. I wanted to never bring this up, because this wasn’t your fault neither your brother’s.”
“I know, Dad. Thanks.”

Going to my room, I immediately texted their names to Sam, and told him to look up anything about them. Then, I logged into my facebook account, however I was out of luck, and couldn’t find Malini Saha, and concluded that she might have been too old to use facebook then. I googled their names as well, however this news wasn’t anywhere.

“What are you up to?” my brother loved barging into my room.
“Go away, not in the mood of having another fight,” I said, with my eyes still stuck to the screen of my laptop.
“Let me see,”  Rounak rushed to me.

I couldn’t bring Rounak into this. I had seen how this had shaken every part of  him, that he alienated himself from everyone. He dragged himself into a situation where he thought it was all his doing. He couldn’t talk to anyone, or express the piercing pain that he felt within. I was a child back then, and I couldn’t figure out what had disrupted our beautiful relationship, and used to attempt to fight with him, to pull out any emotion out of him, but he never responded to anything. He used to sit there, without any expression on his pale face. However, as time went by, he commenced to come in touch with the reality, and was finally the brother I had known.

“What do you want?” I asked, trying to reflect exasperation.
“I was thinking if I could take you to Starmark tomorrow. I will buy you any book you’ll choose, and I’ll drive.”
“That’s a big deal there, I’ll have to check my schedule,” I giggled.
“Come on!”
“Yeah, okay! Let’s have some fun.”

“Get up, you lazy pants!” Rounak shouted from downstairs.
I could barely open my eyes, while I tried to look at my phone, and to my astonishment it was already ten. I jumped out of the bed, almost tripped on my way to the bathroom, and went downstairs to have some breakfast.
“You made cheese omelette and pasta? Oh my God, after ages!” I screamed with the rats dashing inside my stomach.
“I’ll make them more often now that I have a helping hand,” mother smiled, peeking from the kitchen.
“Yes, we got a new maid to do the work when Mom goes to office,” Rounak’s words were almost inaudible, since he tried to talk, with a mouth full of cheese and pasta.
“That’s some good news. When are we going out?”
“Twelve will be okay?”
“Sure,” I smiled.

Sam had texted me that he was going to do the research today as soon as he could get his hands on the files, which were very old. I also mailed Akash the drafts that I had made, and showered for a long time.

“Mom, we’re leaving. Do you need anything?” Rounak asked.
“No, just get home early,” Mom answered while looking at some office papers.
“You better know the directions to Starmark,” I laughed.
“You kidding? That’s the place we’ve been to, for like a thousand times.”

I was gazing at the trees and the buildings going past us. There was no traffic surprisingly and my ears didn’t have to hear much honking of the cars. I loved the breeze in my hair. The sun was not scorching and the sky was almost covered with clouds hinting at a quick rainfall.
“It has been a long time since we have done anything together,” he said while changing the gear.
“I know, we had been busy.”
My attention went to my phone, when it beeped, and I could see Sam’s texts popping up continuously.
“Is your boyfriend too consternated about your whereabouts?” he started giggling, looking at me.
“Eyes on the road, please, and stop teasing me,” I unlocked my phone to check the messages.
Sam had sent me all the pictures of the papers he had found from the files. Yes, they lived in Salt Lake, and this woman’s name was Malini Saha, and the boy was Shourya Saha. Shourya’s father’s number and address were mentioned there. The case was closed as the man Manish Agarwal, who was driving, was put behind the bars, and his license was cancelled. The accident was vividly described there. I scrolled down the screen to see if there were any images of the victims. My eyes then fell on the picture which was about to get downloaded, and through the blurred screen I could almost see her face.
“What is it?” my brother asked with a sort of bafflement in his voice, as he must have seen me sweating and all tensed up.

I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t move. I was bounded with some power to that seat, when I saw that woman. The same woman who I had met at the metro, who was supposed to be dead. I was breathing heavily, looking at the passport sized photo, where she was wearing those same glasses.
He almost started shouting at me beholding that I wasn’t responding. He called out my name, when I looked up to perceive his perturbation once again. Hardly did I turn my head, when I saw someone standing in the middle of the road. I screamed to look out and moved the steering already held by Rounak to the right expeditiously, and with a shrieking din of the breaks, the car bumped into a mammoth tree on the side of the road, and the inertia flung me to the front where my head crashed into the glass of the windshield. That was the last thing I recalled before everything went black.

 

With love,
Ritwika Pal

*Your reviews are appreciated.

 

 

 

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