I waited for the train on the platform. Jostling for space, I put down my bags next to me where I could keep an eye on them. Nasal, disembodied voices on the Public Address system informed the passengers about the arrivals and departures. The evening was cool, but the crowd made me feel uncomfortable. I was anxious as I was to appear for an interview the next day, which would decide the direction my career would take.
I noticed her as soon as she came to stand near me. Apparently, she was to board the same train. Cropped hair, a T-shirt and jeans with a backpack.
When the train came screeching in, we clambered on. She was in the same compartment as I. She settled her luggage which was not much. There was only one bag other than her backpack.
In the train compartment, there was murmured conversation. People settled down. I could hear a child wailing in the distance. There was a clank of the wheels and the train chugged along. As the day turned to dusk, I felt dreamy, cocooned in a world of my own. It felt as if we are travelling through time itself. It was dark outside and all the world was in that compartment. Nothing mattered but the present moment.
In a while, the Ticket Checker came. People stirred, looking in their pockets or luggage for their tickets. They extended their arms with the scraps of paper for the Ticket Checker to examine. And then, the Checker told the girl that her ticket was invalid and that she had to get down at the next station. She was stunned. But it seemed that there really had been a mistake. She was travelling one day before her schedule. She had mixed up the dates!
Now her nonchalant look turned to panic. She cajoled, pleaded, begged to be allowed to continue her journey. Everybody was sympathetic, including the Ticket Checker. He promised to do all he could to help her. The girl looked suitably grateful.
The passengers in the compartment waited along with her. She was offered food, drink and sympathy.
The Ticket Checker returned waving a new ticket. Some payment had to be made. She did that. He promised to return the balance before she alighted.
Relaxed, she started a conversation with others around her. I too talked to her of my present and future. My dreams and aspirations. Then we slept. The morning dawned clear and cold. We readied our baggage. We were soon to get down. The Ticket Checker appeared at the last moment with the balance he had to pay the girl. He expected gratitude but got a look of contempt. “Keep the change”, she said, waving him away.