“Excuse me, can I switch off the light.” Heena asked him,
Vivek looked down and said, “Ya, sure.” Then he realised this was the first time she had spoken to him directly. He on the other hand, from the time that he had set eyes on her was so aware about her. It brought a smile to his face, and he thought, “The ice yet not broken, has developed a crack, this is just the beginning,”
Next morning when Vivek woke up, and came down Heena was sleeping, so were others it was only 6 am. And he went to the loo shivering. He got a brief moment to look at her was curled up, must have been feeling cold then. He went to his berth and went to sleep again he loved to sleep at any time of day and at all time. It was getting colder as the train moved towards the ‘North India’ as we called it. All regions where people speak or understand Hindi are called as ‘North India’ in South and all non-Hindi speaking region is ‘South India’ for the North Indians.
At around 9 am Vivek woke up and came down, and went to freshen up, he was feeling hungry. Heena had taken her post near the window and was busy reading the book.
Vivek spent the whole day observing Heena she had apparently not eaten, since yesterday, and showed no interest in food, even as everyone bought something from the vendors selling local and Railway Canteen food, she just had a cup of coffee and two three biscuits.
Vivek was again talking to everyone except her, but this time he was consciously making an effort to impress Heena. He was trying to act normal and being careless, but he was making efforts to say the right thing and use the right words, and for some time sat with a book that he had begun reading, not that he did not read and was just doing it to make an impact on Heena. But he really did not want to read then.
Heena too could not help but noticed that he was reading John Grisham, whose crime thrillers and law thrillers were famous and brilliant, but for herself, she had never really liked them. While she read her fiction Brisingr by Christopher Paolini, she loved reading fiction, her favourite being Harry Potter Series. She felt that reading fiction increased your creativity, as you could imagine all that the author tried to say, and if latter made into a movie; you could match it with your own imagination. And it gave her a special kind of satisfaction when her imagination was close to the visual display of the same book.
It was afternoon and Heena had started feeling hungry, but she did not want to eat anything heavy, so she settled for a bar of Dairy Milk, that she bought from a hawker selling wafers and chocolates. The old man opposite to Heena had opened his lunch, sattu stuffed parathas and homemade red chilli pickle. He looked at her kindly and said, “You have not eaten anything since yesterday, will you like to have some parathas?”
Heena smiled and said, “No, Uncle I don’t want to eat anything.”
Vivek could not resist himself and said, “Uncle, aajkal ki girls they hardly eat anything, they are most of the time dieting.”
Heena glowered at him but said nothing. She was getting flustered by the guy. He kept prying into her private matter “What I eat or not is my business why is the guy so nosy, what an ass?” Heena thought to herself. Heena got her opportunity to strike back. The guy was restless and could not sit for long so he got up and roamed about and came back to sit.
The same old man said, “Why are you so restless?”
“Uncle, today’s youth have no patience what so ever.” She looked at Vivek with her high nose look glancing at him from side.
Vivek said, “It’s not that it’s just that I am not used to sitting for long. My job compels me to stand for long hours at a stretch. You see I am a chef.”
To this Heena did not reply or say anything. She pretended to have not heard what he said and ignored him completely. Vivek could not help but notice that she had started to loosen up a bit, from her uptight stand of not talking to him or anyone. He could glimpse a ray of hope.
In India if you happen to be travelling by train, and people generally have no companion, you will find total strangers debating passionately about politics and corruption. Everyone has an opinion; whether what they are saying is senseless or has some data to back it is of no concern to them.
Likewise, even in this journey such a topic was bound to start. It was early evening when someone mentioned, “Bihar has started to develop under its new CM.”
Vivek said, “That’s true, the new CM has shown to India what one good man can do.”
Heena did not say anything but had closed her book to give her eyes some rest and was looking at the people and conversation that was happening with an amused look. From Bihar to India the conversation changed to first development, then to corruption, then to our neighbour country and terrorism. She could not help notice that Vivek took active participation and had opinion about everything, but he knew what he was talking about, and wasn’t talking anything nonsense.
The old man looked at Heena and asked, “What do you have to say about, the development that our nation is making?”
“We are making progress in most areas other than sanitation, health, education, and we are still not able to curb our inflation so all the progress we made we end up paying double as a result increase in purchasing power in nullified due to high inflation. Anyways I don’t see any point in all this discussion.” Heena commented caustically, looking at her finger nails for some inspiration.
Vivek was making an effort to not say anything out of context and was saying all the right things. He wanted to keep the conversation going, so that he could hear Heena talk. Heena seemed to be intelligent. And this was the only way he could get her to talk and cast off her inhibitions and he did not want loose this much needed break, in her pattern of behaviour so that he could make her warm up to him.
Heena also did not realise when she let her guard down, though a trace of her caution towards Vivek remained, she certainly had change of heart not complete, but the ice had started to crack a little.
The conversation had ended the way it had started suddenly there was a lull, everyone was quiet. Evening in a train journeys has that effect on people. It tends to softens everything as things blur by and gentle winds drifts one towards resting every activity and just sits back and enjoy the evening passing by, most of us are too busy returning from work to enjoy open countryside clear sky a beautiful dawn.
As the Evening light softens everything it enhances a woman’s beauty. As the light played hide and seek on Heena’s face, Vivek could not help but notice her lush eyelashes and beautiful eyes in which thousand lights played different hues at same time. He could not resist the urge to touch her hair which looked soft and wavy, and her lips looked perfect too. Vivek had not noticed her features before, this moment. She turned at him and smiled and he smiled back. He knew that the ice had definitely cracked but he wanted to melt the ice and let a seed of friendship blossom from it.
Soon everyone attacked food again. Heena could never understand how in a long train journey where there is almost no physical activity people could manage to eat all the time. But as things were she still refused to touch any food.
This time Vivek could not help but ask her, “Why don’t you eat anything?” “I guess you haven’t eaten anything properly since yesterday.”
I don’t eat anything in train journeys because I don’t like using the train toilet.” Heena smiled as she answered. “They are so dirty.”
“Hmmm, I see.” Vivek said with amusement.
Soon everyone went to sleep, the train had already entered MP and it had started getting cold, since evening as the night crept in it became chilly. Unfortunately Heena being in Chennai did not have much of clothing for single degree Celsius cold that hits North India in January. So she was feeling cold and decided to sit with a thin blanket wrapped around her and an equally inadequate wind-cheater she started feeling sick and cold. Soon it was 11 and everyone had gone to sleep long back. She sat alone and tried to look outside where everything was dark and the glass pane reflected her dull image back to her. A sign escaped her mouth.