Why did she choose me?

Why  did  she  choose me?

 

A  story  by  Mohinder Pal Singh

 

 

It  was  the afternoon Chemistry practical  class that kept  me  late in  the  college every Wednesday. Today the  moment  the  practical class  finished  I  rushed out  of  the  college  so  that  I  could catch  the   5.20 PM  fast  local  from Marine  Lines  station .  The  rush  hour  had begun. It  would  be  maddening  crowd in  the  train . And  it was.

 

With  great  difficulty I  managed  to  get a  standing  seat. This  too  was    a luxury   at  this hour.Standing  seat  was  the  space  between  the  two  three-seaters  which  faced  each other. This  space  could  accommodate about  three  people  to  stand. The  first  person standing    closest to  the  window  had  the  first  right  to  sit  in case  any  of  the sitting passenger got down. This  standing  seat also  had  the  luxury  of  keeping  your  bag on  the  shelf above  and  be able to keep a  eye on  it also. After  getting  this  coveted space   in  the  Mumbai  Local,    now  the  next  thing was to  start praying  that  someone who  is  seated  to  your  left  or  right  alights  so  that  you  could  grab  that  seat.

 

And then?

 

Just  bliss . Close  your  eyes  and  sleep or dream.

 

I  was not lucky  today . It  was a  tiring  day  in  college  and  now  this arduous train  journey.  After  standing for  almost 20  minutes   the  train  reached  Dadar  station,  luckily someone  got down and  I finally got  a seat. I sat and immediately dosed  off.  I  had  another  15  minutes  of  journey left.  And  I  knew  I  could  keep the  track  of  the  stations without  opening  my  eyes. I  could  smell  the  arrival of  Bandra  because  the  train would  cross  the  pungent  smelling  Bandra  drain.  As  I  had  to  get  off  at  Andheri  station  I  would  get  up from  the  seat after  the  train left Bandra  station and  start  my  odyssey  to propell  myself  towards  the  train  doors amidst  the thick  human sea keeping  my  wallet, bag  and  turban  intact.

 

 I  somehow  managed to get  down  at Andheri station, quickly cut through  the  crowd  and  made  a  rush for the   bus queue  for the  bus to  Chalaka. The  bus came  in less  then  two  minutes. I  leaped  aside from  the  line   ( by  now  I   had  learned  the  trick) to  the  chagrin  of  some  seniors  passengers  who  kept  shouting  “Are bhai line  mein Ayo”.I  grabbed  the  nearest  seat and  took  a  deep  breadth and again  closed  my  eyes  for  now  I  knew  my  stop  will  be after  I hear the  loud bustling sound  of  large factory engines from a  factory near my house.

 

By the  time  I   got  down at  Chalaka  bus  stop  it was   6.30 PM and  was  beginning  to  be  dark. I had  to  walk  about  a kilometre  to  reach  my  house. With  my head  down  I  slowly  started to  tread  the  final stage  of  this  daily  ordeal.

 

I  must  have  walked  about  two  hundred  yards when I  heard  a  soft  sound  from  behind.

 

“Bhaiya can  I  walk  with you?” She said.

 

I  turned  back   and found  a  girl  walking just  about two  steps  behind  me . I tried  to  recognise  her  but could  not.

 

 Did  I  know  her? I  thought for  a  moment. No, I didn’t.

 

My  mind  began  to  race  fast. When I  had  come  to  Mumbai last  year, my   friends and  my  brother  had  warned  me  about  dirty  ploys  in this  city  and  so I  must  be  careful all  the  time. I  looked  at  her  again. She  was  about  13-14  year  old  , dressed  in Khaki  colour  school uniform of  a local  government school. She  carried  a  ordinary looking school bag  on her  shoulder. I  looked down and  she was  wearing  ordinary  slippers . Slightly  dark  complexioned  with long  hair  neatly  tied . I  thought  she  doesn’t look to be  a  part of a  ploy. 

 

I  was  about to  say , YES.  But  then I  thought why  does  she want to  walk with me? Does  she  want  to  befriend  me? Or  ask for  money ? Hundred  questions  raced  through  my mind.

 

“Why you  want  to  walk with me?” I gathered  the  courage  to  ask her  while I  slowed down walking.

 

By now she  had  come  alongside  and  I  could  see a  scare  on  her face. Which put me in further  dilemma about  the  situation. The  least I  wanted at  this  time  of  the  day was  to get embroiled  in  a street fight  for a  strange  reason which I  myself  didn’t know.

 

“Actually  I am  coming  back  from school.  Got slightly late.  And  there  are  three  boys  following  me.” She  said pointing  her  hand  to  the  rear  and   looking at  me  expectantly for  an affirmative answer.

 

“What  if  you  walk with  me?”I asked. 

 

“They will think  I know  you and  will not come near” . She said showing  some confidence at  her clever decision.

 

“Where  do  you have  to  go? I asked.

 

GTB Nagar, just half  a  mile from here.” She said.

 

I  looked back and could see  the  three rowdy looking  boys  in shabby school  dresses  following us  some 50 yards away.

 

“Ok, come  along”. I said, taking instant  decision and begun to walk faster, she  too  increased  her  pace. None  of us  looked  back for  the  next 5 minutes.

 

We  were  walking in silence.  I kept thinking  , why  did  she  choose me as  her escort. I  too am   a  stranger . Even  I could  have  been  nasty  or  backout  and  refused  to  help. She   looked  to be  a  local marathi  girl  . She  seemed to  be   from a  poor family. But  surely she could  have  known  other  people  around. I gave  a  side  glance  at  her  and  she  was  walking with her  head down. 

 

Should  I make some conversation with her?  Would  she  like  to  be  befriended? 

I  gave  a  glance  back  and  the  boys  had  gone away.

 

“ They are gone” I said.

 

She looked  back to  confirm. I could see  a sigh  of  relief.

 

 

She   continued  to  walk in  silence.   A  minute  before I  was  her  benefactor  and  now I  felt   a  stranger again.

 

Then  a minute   later , she  indicated  towards a  Chawl about  50 yards  away  and  said ” Thats  where my house is , I  can  go  now on my own.”

 

I was still  thinking  whether  to  start  a conversation or  not and  she  declared  the  arrival  of  her  destination.

 

” OK , thank you , Bhaiya.” She  said softly and starting to move towards  her  Chawl.

 

“Wait  “I said.

 

“Yes?” she  said.

 

“I want  to ask you  something?” I  said.

Now  it  was  her  turn  to  look  awed.

 

“please  ask” she  said  softly.

 

” Why  did  you  come  to me for  help? There  were  so many  people  on  the  road at  this time; young , middle-aged, elderly?” I said  looking  into her  eyes as  we  were  standing  face  to  face for  the  first  time.

 

She  was quiet for  a  moment as if  thinking  for an apt  answer.

 

Then  innocently she  muttered “My  mummy  told  me you people are  brave”.

 

Saying this she   turned  back and  ran towards  her  house.

 

I  too  turned back and  came  home. Did   not  feel tired anymore. I was  full  with energy  for  I  felt really  brave.

 

For the  next  few  days  I  walked  slowly , some times  very slowly  from  the Chakala bus  stop    to  my home wondering if my silent admirer  may  need  some help again. She didn’t.

 

Probably she  had  learnt  to be  brave herself.

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