Posted June 21, 2016on:
Aks got up cursing again. He hated to go to office in those crowded Mumbai trains. Even the thought of the crowd pushing, crushing him; where he can smell the sweat of people around him and people breathing air almost in his mouth made him almost puke. The first class pass was not really helping in peak hours either. He shifted to Mumbai some six months back and was still not used to the crowd, the heat, the cacophony and the mad rush that everyone seemed to be in. Even the soothing waves of beaches failed to entice him. He saw filth everywhere. Aks questioned himself again and again why he ever decided to come to this dreaded city. Yet here he was, getting ready to go to work and cursing some more as today he was running late.
As Aks reached the platform running, panting and sweating, he saw his regular fast train pull out of the station and he cursed some more. Sometime later he boarded another train. As this was a slow train, at least the first class compartment was not as crowded. He squeezed himself between two gentlemen who reluctantly gave some space so that he can just about rest his rears at edge of the seat. Ah Mumbaikars!! He rolled his eyes and was about to say something caustic when his eyes fell on a lady in the adjacent ladies compartment.
He kept staring at her. She looked extremely beautiful with big black bindi on her forehead, elegantly tied bun at the nape of her neck, crisp saree… grace personified! He could not believe someone can look this beautiful and fresh even in this Mumbai heat and humidity, especially in a local train. She was so different from others around her who wore more comfortable salwar kameez or jean and tee shirts. Aks kept looking at her and forgot all about his Mumbai woes. He came out of his trance when she got up to get down at her station. He then realized that he had missed his station but for a change he did not curse. A slight smile played on his lips. He had no idea why, but something fluttered in his heart. He kept smiling till he reached his office.
The next day Aks deliberately took the same train and managed to get in the same compartment in the hope of finding Grace (that’s what he decided to call her till he gets to know her real name!). His eyes searched for Grace and a small sigh escaped from his lips on spotting her at the window. She must be a regular here to get a window seat, he thought. The journey to office was breezy that day. Air did not seem hot at all and humidity did not bother him. Fellow passengers seemed more tolerable too. He sighed again. He got down at Grace’s station even if it meant that he had to go back two stations in order to go to his office.
About a week later, by chance, their eyes met and Grace smiled at him when she found him looking at her (probably she was not aware that Aks was staring at her for a week now). Aks’ heart leaped to his mouth, he grinned back a silly grin even though he knew that hers was a courtesy smile, a smile one gives to a fellow passenger. Her smile stayed with him even during his sleep. Next day there was a bounce in his feet and heart felt as light as a feather, he was in fact humming a song while getting ready for office. Now that was a first since he shifted to Mumbai!
He boarded the train and saw her at her usual seat. Aks waited for her glance, to see that gorgeous smile but she seemed oblivious to his presence. Another day went by. As days became weeks, a routine was established for Aks – board this slow train, wait for Grace to smile at him (which she did more often than not), get down at Grace’s station, go to office, go home, sleep, repeat. Grace too appeared to wait for him to board the train. He could feel that when she looked at him her face softened. Some mysterious expression played on her attractive face, her eyes seemed to say something which he could not decipher. However, he was happy to see her smile. She seemed like an anchor to him. They never spoke, never exchanged even a hello yet she, her smile, seemed to fill his days with eternal happiness. He could not understand it but then he did not want to decode this anyway. Weekends seemed longer and he could not wait for Mondays. He was happy and suddenly Mumbai felt livable.
Today was different though, someone else was sitting at Grace’s window. Since Aks has started boarding this train a couple of months back, this was the first time that Grace was absent. He missed her smile, her presence, her everything. He did not know what to do. He knew deep in his heart that it was just one day and she might just have taken a day off for some domestic reason; that he should not panic but still panic he did. He could not wait till it was next day so that he can run to board the same train, to see Grace sitting at her usual window seat smiling at him. He longed to see that softness of her eyes. He needed to know that she was okay. He kept telling himself that this anxiety was unwarranted but some unknown dread filled his heart when he did not find Grace even on the next day.
Aks never saw her again. He tried to find out about her from her fellow passengers but no one seemed to know anything about her. He never got to know what happened to his Grace, why she disappeared without a trace. His days were filled with despondency and Mumbai’s overcast skies matched his mood. The heavy downpour that followed could not wash away the agony in Aks’ heart. Once again, Mumbai was not a happy place.
Had Aks payed attention to News in morning papers, he would have known that Grace killed herself two days back due to severe depression. Her suicide note did mention something about local train and finding her late husband there.
P.S. For non-Indian Readers – Aks means reflection