In the AC two tier coach, I saw my name and seat number which had been reserved in advance. All cool till now. I entered the coach, tired and weary, looked for seat A56, a lower berth, sat down and removed a Bisleri bottle. A sip of water after the never-ending walk was totally refreshing. I looked out of the window, wondering what it would be like to go home after my first year at the hostel. Just then, I heard the whistle of the train which jolted me from my reverie. It was already 07:30 pm. The train journey now began.
I took out “Looking for Alaska” and continued reading it from page 54. An old lady entered the coach with a big suitcase. She caught my attention. “Thank god, the coaches in the train are connected”, she said, smiling at me. I looked at her for a moment. She was a woman in her seventies, dressed in glad rags, and with a lot of gold. It looked good on a short statured lady like herself, with hazel eyes and grey hair. She might be going to Surat to attend a wedding, I presumed. I returned to the book.
After a while a middle-aged man entered. When I looked at him, I was half convinced he was a burglar. A brawny fellow with only a small briefcase, menacing eyes and a face full of scars. He gave me the chills. I tried to resume reading but this time I couldn’t concentrate. Partly because the man was staring at the old lady every two minutes or so, giving her death glares. I stared out of the window. I could see nothing but darkness. Soon the dinner arrived. The old lady came up to me and soon we started chatting. She revealed that she was going to attend her nephew’s wedding in Surat. If only I had a dollar for every time I guessed something correctly! I saw the man getting up. I was ready to scream if he attempted something. Instead, he just quietly headed towards the washroom. Nevertheless, I warned the lady to take care of her valuables. I let her know that I suspected him to be a thief. Soon the man was back. As we quietly continued having our dinner, another man barged in. “All okay, brother?” – he asked. The former whispered something in his ear, pointing at us. Great, I thought to myself. Now I too had become his target. I saw the other man nodding. Something was seriously fishy. I could no longer feel sleepy. The after effects of having two cups of coffee post dinner. I continued to read for a while. I also remembered that I had to call up my parents at home just to inform them that all was well. So far. I, then, listened to music on earphones. Soon I drifted into a deep sleep and was transported to the dreamland. I did not even realise that the train had halted for a while. I woke up with a start and saw that the lady was clinging to her bag and sleeping peacefully. I went back to sleep.
The next time I woke up, was at the crack of dawn. I found that the lady had already left, and found that the man was still snoring. I got up and pushed open the window curtains. I saw fields all around, probably a village in Maharashtra. The breakfast soon arrived and the man got up too. He looked all around as if searching for something. His briefcase was gone. And slowly a terrifying thought crept into my mind. The train authorities were summoned, and a co-passenger informed that an old lady was seen exiting a couple of hours ago, a suitcase and a small briefcase in her hands.
The man was full of rage and worry. His friend tried to console him. The man revealed that there were jewels in it for his daughter. He got down at Borivali station with his friend. I kept wondering how an old, seemingly innocent lady could do such a thing. I wondered how she could have understood about the contents of the briefcase. I also wondered what would have happened if my valuables too had been stolen. What if she had a knife too? And if she would have killed someone… all the terrifying “what-ifs” ran through my mind, as I digested the fact that just a few hours ago I had supped with a robber.
Finally, Bombay central railway station arrived and I alighted from the train. My friends and family members came to receive me at the station and to inquire about my journey. I informed them about the train incident and they listened, transfixed. My family was relieved to know that I was safe and we thanked the Lord for it.