It was an ordinary weekend for Ravi. Wandering aimlessly in a city he still felt like an alien even after six years. As he boarded one of the last metro-trains, his mobile conked off as usual and he got irritated thinking of being bored for the next 25 minutes sitting idle. The train was empty; no one for him to observe and analyse as he often did to pass time. It was among the last trains that ran pretty late in the night, not on a very heavy traffic line and it was a weekend when almost everyone in the city was busy somewhere shedding the fatigue of mind and body off them.
Just as Ravi was readying to sit for the solitary journey home he saw her running down the stairs in a mad hurry to race against time. She jumped off two steps at a time; her hair sticking to her pretty face with the sweat due to the effort and a little panic in her big doelike eyes. In a sudden rush of who knows what, Ravi went to the door of the train putting himself between the doors, caught the girl’s hand and pulled her in the train just as the door started closing in. As she stood catching her breath holding the rod beside the seats, he thought of the moment or the fraction of it- quite Bollywoodish, no one might believe it and even he was having hard time believing that such a thing would happen to him; not that he was a dreamer or romantic for that matter.
The proof of it all came just then as Ravi heard her say thank you for his help. The train had gotten lost in the tunnels at optimum speed and she had started her story at a faster pace without him asking anything. Her voice mesmerizing, her smile captivating and her laugh even more so… She had gone to this movie of the new heartthrob she desperately wanted to see with a couple of her friends and their boyfriends (no mention of her own was a bit satisfying somewhere in Ravi’s mind). She would not normally be allowed to go for a late show had her father been in town. But she needed to get back home asap; her mother was worried for her and if she wasn’t home by the time her Dad called, it would be a havoc when he came back the next day.
Ravi kept listing to her babbling which may or may not have been actually directed towards him, as two more stations passed by they both were yet to oblige any of the empty seats of the metro that are viciously fought for during the busy hours. She was telling about her friends, who had come with their boyfriends on bikes. She was to take an auto from the theater back home only to realize that it was one of those days that the city’s auto drivers were on strike. A couple of them that were there asked some insane amount for a journey of just a few kilometers. She was in no mood to entertain them and be broke all month through. When threatening them with police complaint for refusing to take a female to her destination at late hours did not budge them, she decided to take the metro. Her house was quite close by to the metro station which was just 5 stations away and if she hurried she would catch atleast the last metro home. This brought Ravi to the realization that his good times were soon to be over as one of the next two stoppages will be the last of the most amazing journey he had. But then what more could he hope for, he hadn’t really become a brave knight in the shining armour for battling a metro door for her that she would grace him with her phone number or something. That’s getting a bit too ‘filmy hopeful’ he thought; but then she took out her cellphone. Was it to be a day of fortunate circumstances for Ravi like never before in his otherwise ordinary life? But his hopes were diminished within seconds as she had taken it out only to receive her mother’s call. She assured her mother she was safely on her way back and barely a station away and no she didn’t need her ‘good-for-nothing’ brother to come pick her up at the station; though in the end she accepted that she would take a rickshaw. ‘Sibling rivalry’, Ravi thought amusingly; remembering his own little sister back home.
By the time she had finished with the call the train was languidly entering the station she had been intended for. A thought came to Ravi’s mind- should he offer to accompany her to her home or atleast to the rickshaw stand till she gets a rickshaw. Ravi’s own station was still a couple more ahead but he could himself get a rickshaw afterwards or even walk down the remaining 2-3 kilometers. That won’t be an issue. But will that be a bit too bold to ask her? Surely he intended only for her safety at this late hour, but what if she thought otherwise? Who in there days and times are so helpful without any motive? She might take it as an undue offer of assistance or even think that he was making a move. Maybe it was just that tiny bit of his brain that selfishly wanted to extend this amazing journey little longer by accompanying her or the adrenalin which had settled down by now from the door incident that made him hesitant. He heard her say goodbye to him with another one of her mesmerizing smiles; that he wasn’t sure he would get to see any more. A pang of regret set inside Ravi as the metro door started closing behind her.
Next morning when Ravi woke up he was almost over it, dismissing the incident almost as if it was just a beautiful dream – half remembered, half forgotten. He picked up the newspaper as per his daily morning ritual. As Ravi turned the paper and started reading the little piece at the bottom, a dreadful regret crept inside him, choking him. If only he had been bold enough in the end, if only he had gone with her, if only he hadn’t been so mesmerized by her that he had lost awareness of his surrounding so much so that he failed to notice the three rowdy drunk boys couple of bogeys behind them, he could’ve given her a fighting chance, he could’ve saved her from being just another number in the ever increasing rape statistics of the city, from being yet another candle at the India Gate, from being just a false name without a face – a face that Ravi was all too familiar with, only what was left of her with him with his regret(s).