“Yes, Ankita. I was having my dinner. I’ll call you back?” she said, staring at the now empty dinner tray lying on the compartment floor.
Puzzled, he sat thinking whether he had deduced her too early!
“All okay between you and Ankita? You again had a fight?”
“Oh! You’re still working? Okay I’ll call later.”
“Yes, I understand because I’m your friend.”
“She’s your girlfriend! You need to make sure she understands, not me!”
“Don’t worry, I’ll talk to her. But you owe me one for this, don’t forget!”
“Yeah right!” she laughed! “Ok bye!”
Heaving a deep sigh, she closed her eyes and laid her head back. She seemed to have dozed off, but she was basically buying time. He looked up at her directly, eyeing the thin lines on her forehead. She was thinking and it showed. She was pleasing to the eyes. He had been observing her. She was travelling alone. In the beginning, she was on alert, especially when she would notice a man or two pass by. The abrupt straightening of her back, eyes watchful, but staring ahead. Then she seemed to mellow down a little but did not drop her guard entirely. So many times, he wanted to go ahead and introduce himself, but he didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot, lest he scared her off. He knew she had seen him, but felt she hadn’t really noticed him.
As if on cue, she opened her eyes, her phone started vibrating and the mom of the kids switched off the light, signalling time to go to bed. As the light from the other compartment fell on her face, she looked even better.
She opened her eyes and they fell on him. The ruffled hair, those black eyes boring into her, as if, reading her thoughts and then hurriedly turning away… She found her fingers trembling to touch that curve set near his lips, when she pulled herself out of the reverie. She admonished herself for the thoughts she was having and stopped herself from talking to him. She didn’t want to look desperate. She waited for him to make the first move.
She answered her phone.
“I was just about to call you,” she said, getting up and swinging the bag on her upper berth. Beautiful, strong, independent, confident, serene…. Such were the words that seemed to cross his mind.
Keeping her call on hold, she placed her cell on the upper berth and climbed up with agility (and grace, he thought). Aware that a certain pair of eyes would follow her, she made sure she didn’t misstep. First the face, then neck, waist and legs vanished, while just the voice remained. That too in hushed tones. He got back to his book. It was a going to be a long night, he felt. Good thing there was a lot of the book left.
He would catch snippets of the conversation. She was trying to calm down some really agonized soul. “Was there no peace in the world?” they thought.
There would be patches of silence in between, where he would read his book and she would thank the inaccessible cell phone networks. In one such phase, he had dozed off, one arm under his head, the other holding the book over his torso, when he awoke to a desperate voice trying to put across the message, “Listen, my phone is really low on charge, it might switch” and the voice trailed off…..
He yawned and switched off his reading light, when his eyes fell on the charging point. Her battery had died. He flicked the light on. She peered down to see him going towards the washrooms. She heard him splash water on the face. “Maybe he has a night stop and doesn’t want to sleep,” she wondered. He came and sat cross legged on his seat taking up the book again. “For someone who had been reading all the while, he hasn’t made substantial progress,” she thought smiling at his reflection in the mirror opposite her, unaware of the slow, deep breaths she was taking.
She saw him look up from his book, in a puzzled manner, after a few moments. Satisfied, she wouldn’t be encroaching; she took her charger out of her sack.
To be continued…