She hated travelling.
No, that was an exaggeration. She tolerated travelling. She understood the realities of life (hers and also in a more abstract sense), and accepted that she needed to travel an hour each way in the local trains of Mumbai, but that didn’t make it any less boring. When people said “they loved travelling,” they meant they loved being in a different place and exploring new things. Nobody likes driving 7 hours through Oklahoma looking at cows and grass. They liked just ending up in Arizona to see the Grand Canyon.
Especially on a day like this. She didn’t mind the heat, it was the humidity which bothered her. At least she could stand near the open door of the compartment and let the salty, humid breeze hit her face while she listened to Electric Octopus.
The train slowed, shuddered and finally pulled into the next station like an old man who has breathed his last breath and has no more left to give. She sat down at a window seat, not wanting to get slammed by the incoming mass of humanity who would board the train. She looked outside, seeing but not really taking in anything, her mind fully focused/distracted by the music. And then she saw him.
He looked her age, maybe a little older. He seemed very pale, or “fair,” as Indians prided themselves on being pale, and seemed to be waiting for somebody. She had noticed him because in the sweltering summer heat of Mumbai, he was wearing a black hoodie, a black T-shirt inside and black jeans, but didn’t seem to be sweating/uncomfortable or in any way bothered by the heat.
If she had seen him in a vacuum, she probably wouldn’t have thought he was attractive. But within the context of his current environment, he stood out, almost as if he was trying to be discreet but had managed to achieve the exact opposite.
Suddenly he looked towards her, his jet black eyes meeting her light brown ones.
And then the train came to life, moving forward slowly while making a disproportionate amount of noise. She broke out of her reverie and quickly looked away, as if she had somehow invaded his privacy.
It was illogical for her to expect him to be there again.
She hoped he would be there, but she didn’t expect him to. Hope and expectations are two different things, one based in dreams, and the other in reality. But that didn’t stop her from hoping he’d be there again the next day. She would be happy if he’d be there, but she wouldn’t be sad if he wasn’t. At the very least, it made her travel exciting.
Slowly the train pulled into the station, huffing and puffing till it finally stopped. It was raining today and the crowd had swelled, everybody trying to take shelter under any kind of a horizontal structure. People are savages if they think everybody else is a savage too. There’s some part of us which just goes well if law and order has to break down, I might as well contribute to it, she thought. People were pushing and pulling, trying to somehow get where they wanted to in the straightest path possible.
And in the middle of this sea of chaos, she saw him again.
For some reason, he seemed paler than yesterday. Maybe it was the rain, or maybe it was her mind playing tricks on her. But she was still attracted to him, maybe more so.
He was looking straight at her, straight into her eyes, into her soul (if souls existed). She was frozen, neither trying nor wanting to break the eye contact. His eyes were so black, so dark, so . . . vacant?
The sudden jerk of the train trying to make an attempt at moving snapped her thoughts. She had hoped he would be there, but she hadn’t figured what she would do if he was there again.
Tomorrow, if she saw him again, she’d talk to him.
She was prepared. If she saw him again today, she’d get down and go up to him and ask him his name.
A part of her was excited, and a part of her was nervous. Nervous because girls never made the first move in India. Was she making a move on him? She guessed she was.
It hadn’t stopped raining since yesterday. People were still savages.
As the train died its habitual slow death while pulling into the station, she got ready to get off. She got down and looked towards where he usually sat. He wasn’t there.
She looked around, a crushing disappointment slowly building within her. She walked to one end of the platform, and then the other. The train had pulled out of the station and the crowd had subsided, but she still couldn’t see him.
She got on her toes and tried to find him.
And then she slipped.
In her search to find him, she had been careless and slipped off the edge of the platform because of the rain. As she fell on to the tracks, she heard a loud CRACK and then a sharp, ungodly surge of pain. Lying on the tracks, blinded by pain and the downpour, she knew she had broken both her legs.
And then she heard the honk of the train.
The train was pulling into the station, heading straight towards her. Fear like she had never felt before engulfed here. The people standing on the platforms just looked at her, passively sympathetic but actively disinterested in helping her.
As she looked around, fear, confusion and dread overcoming her, she saw him again.
His skin was stretched taut over his skull, and his eyes were like a black hole, sucking all life into it and replacing it with darkness. The closer he walked towards her, the thinner his skin appeared to be, until he was just a few feet away from her. And she realized who he actually was.