Her closed eyes revealed my deceit. Her sealed lips gave testimony to my crime. Her still body made my heart pound faster. As she lay motionless on the upper berth opposite to mine in a 2-tier coach of a super-fast train.
Duronto express, probably the most well-maintained train in the country. Healthy food, sanitised toilets, insect-free seats are some of its forte. But most importantly, it’s faster than its counterparts for the simple reason that it does not have any halts in between. Most people know that which is why they prefer Duronto to other trains. But most people don’t know that it has a couple of technical halts where a person cannot board the train but he/she can de-board it.
One such halt the Mumbai Howrah Duronto express has is Tatanagar. The station where I’ll de-board.
For the above mentioned reason the one question that proves to be a conversation starter between unknown co-passengers “So, where are you going (dada kothaye jachhen/ kahan jaa rahe hai aap)” is eliminated. Precisely the reason she assumed that I must be going to Kolkata. Her assumption turned into conviction the moment she knew I was a Bengali. And every Bengali is from Kolkata, at least that’s what most non-Bengalis think. But I was a Probashi Bangali (a Bengali born and brought up anywhere but Bengal).
Arunima Roy, that’s what her name was. One of those Bengalis who genuinely belonged to Kolkata. Intellectual, by face, wealthy by attire and Brand Manager by profession. She said she was travelling to Kolkata for her sister’s wedding. In any Indian wedding the bride’s sister is the luckiest. The beautifully designed sarees, the expensive jewellery, the undivided attention, all this minus the mental hassles. She had every reason to be the excited. And I had every reason to make her my victim. Not of murder, nor rape but cold blooded robbery.
My reason? I wish I could say I had an ailing mother, a hospitalised father and a couple of dowries to pay. But no. These weren’t the case. It was the most cunning mirage of life – EMIs. I had a car loan to pay off, my credit card bill was almost as much as my CTC and to add to all this I was also paying off an education loan my dad had taken, of course for me. I am an eccentric by nature but not over ambitious. I could have paid all these bills myself as I was doing for the last 3 years had I not been subjected to what most employers love to say ‘recession’. A week back I had received an A4 sheet with my company’s logo on it. It said they appreciated my efforts but couldn’t afford it.
Today I lie here on the upper berth of a train, waiting for the perfect moment to execute my plans. The absence of passengers in the lower berths made it perfect. And I was sure Arunima will not wake up before Kolkata. My neighbourhood chemist could vouch for it.
And then the moment came. Lights were shut, no kids crying. Pantry guys were fast asleep. Stealthily I rose to descend from the upper berth.
Like a true blue train passenger Arunima had her bags locked and chained to an iron hook under the lower berth. But I was a good observer. I knew the keys were under her head, in her purse. In an ideal scenario it would have been the perfect place to conceal the keys. But the drugs in her food made this scenario ideal for me.
Quietly I slipped out her purse from beneath her head. She was carrying five grand. I didn’t want that. Five thousand wouldn’t solve my problem. I took out the keys. Unlocked her bags. And there, I had it, the temporary answers to my problems. Trinkets of gold bangles, diamond necklaces, and some more ornaments. I don’t know how much they were worth but from the looks of it I could surely sustain myself for a very long time.
Honestly she had more jewellery than I had space in my bag. So I had to borrow one of her smaller bags. And then I waited for Tatanagar to arrive. My family would be waiting. They didn’t know I had lost my job. They didn’t know they had raised such a weak son.
Our train was minutes away from Tatanagar. I sat on the lower berth trying to justify my actions to myself. I knew it was wrong. Unforgivable. May be she’ll remember my face. May be we will meet soon. I looked at her innocent face apologetically. I even whispered the words “I am sorry”.
My station arrived. I took hold of the luggage and de-boarded the train. Suddenly the pantry guy blocked my way. Amidst this inner chaos I had forgotten to clear the bills. I paid him and got off the train. My dad was there waiting. He has always been there to receive me at the station. I hugged him tight. In his arms I experience peace. In his arms the world seems like a paradise. In his arms I sleep serenely. And then I woke up.
I could see the white ceiling a few feet away. My head was aching. It seemed someone hit my head real hard. I somehow managed to get up from my bed. My vision was hazy. I tried to get off my bed to wash my face when I almost fell off it. My vision cleared. I was in the train. On the upper berth. In front of Arunima Roy. She looked at me and with a smile said “You sleep like Kumbakaran”. I was shocked not at her sense of humour but at the ludicrous state I was in. How did she wake up before me? “Where have we reached” I asked. “We are entering the Howrah station” she said as she took the keys out of her purse to unchain her bags from the hook under the lower berth.
I was so numb I could not move. I sat on the upper berth staring at her. Trying to decipher what happened. I remember drugging her food. Her dal to be specific. Which she had with rice. Then what went wrong?!? Was it the chemist? Did he fool me? I closed my eyes and swore vengeance against the chemist. I got off my berth and sat on the lower one. The pantry guy came and asked me to clear the dues. I paid him. This time for real.
As she was getting ready to de-board. She apologetically looked at me and said “I am sorry I exchanged my dal with yours.” “What” I asked shockingly. She was a bit taken aback by my response. She somehow got a hold of herself and continued “Actually a small cockroach fell in mine. Although I threw it out of the train I couldn’t really drink it. I asked the pantry guys to get it changed but they said there wasn’t any left. I had no other choice but to exchange mine with yours. I am really sorry. I am ashamed of what I have done.” She apologised and left.
I was there, stunned. Disbelief overshadowed every other emotion. One cockroach ruined my plans. It ruined me. That too in a train that harps on being the tidiest.
AC 2 tier coach, the best place to steal. Especially, when there are no passengers on the lower berths. Especially, when you had the perfect plan. And yet I failed. Probably life’s way of saying I wasn’t meant to be weak. Probably God gave my strength a second chance. At least that’s what I said to myself.