The 9:14 Local

June 26, 2010. I was resuming work after a year. I had not noticed her on the first day, nor on the second, or the third and for quite some time in the 9:14 Vashi local to Mumbai CST. I noticed her a week later. She sat opposite me by the window and snoozed while keeping her copy of Midnight's Children on her lap. The journey to Mumbai CST is nearly 35 minutes long and it always feels nice when a familiar face travels along. 

The First Class compartment was jam-packed and I had not landed a seat as usual. I stood sandwiched between a man and a young girl. Travelling since 1999 had made me a veteran and a self-proclaimed expert in commuting. I was quite used to being crushed by other passengers, just as every Mumbaikar who has ever travelled by a local train is. The train now halted at Tilaknagar where three ladies and a young boy in tattered clothes got in. The boy had a lot of confidence despite most of the commuters passing cringed looks. He moved around the compartment from one person to another with a begging bowl with flair. On humanitarian grounds, I handed him a Rs. 5 coin and then ignored him. He accepted it and walked ahead.

A loud cry from a woman standing near the door shattered the silence in the compartment. "Oh My God, my bracelet! Where has it gone?" She came across as a rich lady who was more of a trophy wife to her husband. After recovering from the initial shock, most of the commuters fanned out in helping her look for it. She continued wailing and moaning that humanity and good faith do not exist anymore. She cursed her fate and the world for her loss. Just then, her eyes fell on the beggar kid. Looking at him piercingly, she walked towards him and accused him of stealing her bracelet.

"You must have stolen it while begging with your filthy hands! I have been travelling for the past 15 years, so don't think I wouldn't know your tricks," said the lady. Catching him by his collar, "Did you not? Oh, don't give me that innocent expression on your face.. I know your kinds! Come on, give it back to me," yelled the lady. The kid by now had started crying and tried mumbling at the same time, "No madam, I did not.. I was only begging."

Unmoved, she continued shouting at him and tried garnering support from other commuters. A few ladies in the compartment joined her in the exercise of coercing him to blurt out the truth. Some pretended to look for the bracelet. The train halted at the next station and he somehow managed to wriggle himself out of the lady's tight grip. She was dumbfounded. However, the choicest of colourful words followed soon, audible, even above the announcements repeatedly played on the station platform. Her co-passengers busied themselves in consoling her and persuading her to lodge a complaint with the police. "Yes, where will he run away? I am going to lodge a complaint. They'll catch him and get my gold bracelet back to me," she resolved.

My station Wadala had arrived. It was time for me to get off. After having crossed the foot over bridge to board an Andheri bound train, I opened my fist to stare down at the newly polished and shiny gold bracelet. "This should help me fetch the remaining amount needed for my mother's operation," I thought to myself. 


Swarnali said…
wow...a really nice piece, buddy...even though the end was a little predictable..looking forward to more stories :)

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