The Wise Window
I think it would be right to call the window a wise window. For it had seen many tales unfold, many long nights, many weary sighs, many secret meetings. Hundreds of people shared a brief slice of their otherwise chaotic lives with others who were not much like themselves. The window stood testimony.
In one such story, the wise window played a crucial role. Now, whether to call it a romantic one or a mysterious one, is your call. But here’s the story that the wise window told me. It was a cold and wet day. One which warranted extra cups of hot water that sold under the garb of coffee or tea. There was the usual clamour of random folks thrown together for a journey, the hawkers and vendors shouting out, hoping to make a lean profit. And by the said wise window, sat a quiet girl- Aparna. Clad in a simple maroon kurta and jeans, she wore big black rimmed glasses. What the window passively witnessed, the girl actively avoided eye contact with- the chaotic scene unfolding in a compartment of the Charminar Express, passengers scrambling to fasten their luggage, the din of the overhead announcements and loud wails of fussy toddlers. She burrowed herself in a book, lost in mysterious verses of a far away land. Nobody could say for sure what she was reading as the book was neatly covered in an old calendar paper. On the back of the book, a note was scribbled in pencil- Property of Aparna. Ask before you can read.
Across from her, by the other window, sat a young man- Rishi. He sipped his piping hot coffee and pretended to be engrossed in his phone. Aunties and uncles bustled about, dragging suitcases and handbags. An old woman sat on the floor, with her basket of jasmine flowers by her side. As he got up to trash the tea cup, Rishi could not help but notice Aparna and her book, tucked away in a far corner of the seat. When he came back, she looked up from her engrossing book and smiled at him. He smiled back. Ice was broken and they made polite conversation. After a few minutes, he could not control himself any longer. He just had to know. He asked her what she was reading. She opened the cover and held it out to him- Rebecca. He was a fan of Daphne Du Maurier too, but had not read Rebecca yet. He liked what he saw- a girl that loved books deeply enough to cover them, a girl who read beyond the popular genre of Chetan Bhagat and the likes.
For a while they talked about books, authors, travel and places. The compartment had quietened to a great extent and the aunties and uncles looked ready to retire to bed. As is almost always the case, two aunties were allotted upper berths and they had either knee or back problems. The uncles said they’d be really grateful if the youngsters could exchange their lower berths for the upper ones, which were closer to the fans, the aunties added. They didn’t have to try too hard. Aparna readily agreed and Rishi followed suit. Soon the lights went out and dull snores in varying rhythms could be heard. Aparna turned on the light by her headrest and continued to read. She knew Rishi was only pretending to be busy with the phone again. He probably would have liked to talk some more. Girls could always sense such things.
When he tried to call out and start a conversation, one of the aunties got up to go to the bathroom. She cheekily told him to take a break and save some conversation for the morning. If he blushed, Aparna could not see it in the dimly lit compartment. She giggled and said goodnight. For a while, he was quiet and watched her from under his sheets. She was a great conversationalist and he was smitten. He wished he had the courage to ask her for her number. All he knew was her name and that they were both heading in the same direction. He forgot to ask her where she was getting off, which didn’t work in his favour at all. Let her read Daphne’s acclaimed work now, but in the morning, he was going to ask her where she was headed and in his trademark gentlemanly manner, seek her permission to call her sometime to just say hello and perhaps discuss books over a cup of coffee. He could not wait for morning.
A railway guard shook him awake. They had reached their final destination and all passengers were to get off. He realised he had overslept and the compartment was almost empty. All the aunties and uncles had left too. Who got off where, he had no idea. Vaguely, he asked the guard if he saw a spectacled girl in a maroon kurta getting off at this station. The guard eyed him suspiciously as if he was being a lecherous fellow ogling at co passengers. Rishi quickly averted his gaze and jumped down. He found his shoes and gathered his belongings. In an almost obsessive compulsive force of habit, he turned to switch off the fans before leaving the train. As he reached for the switchboard, he noticed a little piece of paper fluttering on the window latch. He released the paper from the wise window’s hold. There was a number scribbled in pencil and a smiley followed by a bold and slanting A. It reminded him of the bold and slanting R on the cover page of Rebecca. He smiled broadly and did a little jig in the empty compartment, much to the surprise of the railway guard.
When he looked at the piece of paper again, he noticed there were only eight digits. It was not a landline, for it did not begin with a 2. The eighth digit was followed by two tiny dots. Ah! Aparna loved mystery as much as Rishi did. There probably will be 99 calls to wrong numbers. But he knew one of them was going to reach the right phone. And when it did, he was positive there was going to be a coffee and some discussion of books sometime in the future. Near future.
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