April is unbearably hot. She was left wide-eyed on seeing a whole regiment of men in fatigues bustling about in the platform and the cloakroom, clothed in heavy jackets and snow-boots. Red-faced and sweaty, many of them rolled up their beddings and some of the furry jackets they were wearing. Not a single one crossed 5’5” in height. They are genetically short in stature. An odd moment or two, one of them would catch her staring at their activities. She looked away feeling guilty for some unknown reason. Probably guilty of intruding their world where it was supposed to be a snowy April.
“Gorkha Rifles. They must have just got off from that train,” he explained while easing into his chair. “It’s cold up there in Kashmir. I wonder how I am going to survive my winter this time.”Her mouth curled in a waning smile. He offered her water from the bottle he just unsealed. While she tipped her head backwards to gulp a few mouthfuls, he watched her in silence. A newspaper folded to show an almost-complete crossword puzzle, in her hand. She was dressed in ethnic Indian wear. She wore danglers, rings and bangles. And an upside-down smile.
“Doesn’t this hurt?”
She shook her head in negation.
“I meant your heavy dangling earrings, Swee’Pea…” he weakly attempted to change the topic.
And while she explained that even though those earrings look heavy, they aren’t, and while she explained that she wore them because it was supposed to be lucky for her, and while she absentmindedly picked on the water bottle cover, he reached out for her hand. Cold. She stopped her mindless chatter.
“You do know that this is the last time we are meeting, right?”
She shook her head again. This time, in affirmation.
She reminded him that they already had had this discussion the last time they met.
She faced him, and he fumbled for words. A female voice announced the arrival of his train when he attempted to resume his explanation. She reminded him that it was his train. They took his baggage and walked toward the bogie. Exhaling black smoke, sighing, and waiting. He got inside, identified his seat, placed his baggage and looked at her from here.
She drew her mind’s confusion out on the hard cement floor, with her toe. There were half-moon-shaped nail marks in her palms. Tightly clenched fists. Her vision of the grey floor was marred with a brief appearance of his shoes. She looked up to see him asking for a hug. They hugged. They kissed too. He turned around and walked back into the bogie that pulled off the station almost instantly. No one stood by the doorstep waving back at her, so she walked towards the exit door.
‘Acapella’, she thought, ‘that was for 18Across: unaccompanied’. She wiped off his moisture that had lingered on her neck, tossed the paper in a ‘use-me’ and tried to hail a cab. She wept in silence, amidst the bustling din.