In a desperate attempt to stay awake, I pulled out my phone and started checking my mail for the millionth time since I got to the station. The dawn was just breaking and the dusty old platform slowly lit up in golden light. Shivering from the cold, I stuffed my phone back into my pocket and looked around. The platform was nearly empty except for a few stray dogs fast asleep and the odd vagabond or two. The cold was eating through my jacket and I glanced impatiently at my watch. After several minutes of fidgeting in my seat, I noticed that the tea stall had opened. Sighing with relief, I hurried over to get a cup of hot tea. Clutching the cup in one hand, I managed to wiggle out my wallet from my back pocket and pay the vendor. It was on my way back that I first noticed her.

I was taken aback by her sudden appearance. She was sitting on the bench beside mine. I hadn’t noticed her coming in, even though I had been gone for a scanty few minutes. She looked at me curiously, noticing my stare. I politely looked away and sat down on my bench and gently sipped the tea. A thousand questions instantly sprang up in my mind. Like me, she had to be waiting for the Intercity Express, since no others trains stopped at this station at this time. The abscence of any luggage suggested she was here to receive someone, much like me. I would put her age to be in the thirties though it was impossible to be sure. I stole another glance at her as I sipped my tea. Her gaze was fixed on something far away. Following her eyes, I realized she was just gazing at the horizon, her mind lost in thoughts. Something in her eyes vaguely unsettled me. Not wanting to get caught staring again, I turned away and closed my eyes, spending the rest of the tea wondering about her eyes.

My thoughts were rudely interrupted by the blast of the train’s whistle. Finishing off the tea, I got up and walked towards the approaching train. The brakes screamed as the train screeched to a halt at the platform. I hurried down the length of the train, my eyes scanning for Raj. In a while, I noticed his familar form struggling with a pair of bags. As I hurried towards him, I couldn’t help casting a quick glance backwards. She was standing now, scanning the faces that had alighted. She looked taller than I had judged her to be. Turning back, I realized that Raj hadn’t seen me yet and was looking around in confusion. Pushing myself through the human multitude, I called out to him. Whipping around, he gave a gasp of relief and promptly made his way towards me. Without further ado, he threw one of the bags at me and launched into a tirade of complaints about everything wrong with the railway system. I smiled and nodded along as we made our way through the crowd. I saw her still looking, her eyes searching the crowd.

As we reached the exit, the engines roared up and the train slowly started pulling out of the station. Raj kept on grumbling about the food that tasted horrible, the fans that didn’t work, the sleepless night of battling mosquitoes, and I kept nodding absent mindedly, my thoughts elsewhere. As we stepped out the gate, I looked back, one last time. There she stood, on the platform that was nearly empty now. In her eyes, I could see it now. I could finally understand the sadness and the hurt as they kept searching.

My december

“This is my December..
This is my time of the year..
This is my December..
This is all so clear..”

I alight from the bus and take a deep breath. Here I am again, alone in the big city. A slight tug in my chest reminds me that this time would be the last time. So it’s all ending tonight, I muse. I look around at the tall buildings that surround me and let that emotion wash over me, the one I cherish, the one I can never explain, the one that dissolves away my past and my future and leaves me lost and alone. Sometimes I wonder why I crave for this feeling, despite the loneliness it brings. Always, I have no answer.

“This is my December..
This is my snow covered home..
This is my December..
This is me alone..”

I close my eyes and take in the sounds of the bustling night life around me. Again the question arises in my mind – why do I like to come here alone? I love being with my friends and it’s not like I want to take time off for myself. Then what is it that gives me this inexplicable thrill, the moment I set foot in the great city? Is it the feeling of adventure, of uncertainity? Or was it the feeling of independence and the foolish notion that I was a big boy now, and can venture into the real world on my own? Maybe it was all of this, and maybe it was none of these.

“And I…
Just wish that I didn’t feel like there was something I missed..
And I…
Take back all the things I said to make you feel like that..”

Tonight, the feelings were a little different. In a few hours, I would be leaving all this behind forever. Most of my friends have already left. Maybe that compounded the loneliness. I knew for sure that my life was changing. Gone were the days of carefree frolicking. I knew my heart would linger here for a while, after the rest of my body has departed. I reflect on my days here and realize that the only regret I have was of having to leave this place.

“And I..
Just wish that I didn’t feel like there was something I missed..
And I..
Take back all the things I said to you..”

I knew I had to hurry. As much as I didn’t want to leave this place, I definitely didn’t want to get stranded here after all my friends had left. A hurried dinner, alone. I look around. I knew I would miss each and every place in this city that I have been to. So many memories. So many memories. A quick auto ride and I arrive at my final destination for the night – the bus. I leave all my luggage inside and just saunter around the bus.

“And I give it all away..
Just to have somewhere to go to..
Give it all away..
To have someone to come home to..”

Something stabs me in the chest when the bus starts pulling out of its station. I can’t believe that everything was ending and that I was actually leaving everything behind. That all the happiness I had found in this place would soon become just memories of the past. And in my panic, I was alone. No one was there to hold me and tell me that it is gonna be ok. That life goes on and we have to move on. I close my eyes and sink back into the seat. Everything that has a beginning, after all, must have an end.

After eleven years

As the bus gathered speed and sped into the long, dark highway, I sat quiet, lost in disturbing thoughts. I was leaving home from college for the last time. Four years of fun filled days spent in the company of loving friends has come to an end and travelling back alone almost felt symbolic. My uneasiness kept me from falling asleep despite a tiring day of tear-filled farewells. Lines from a popular farewell song kept coming up in my thoughts and I kept pushing them back. Time sped by as I sat lost to the world around me. Memories of places and faces flashed by in front of my eyes and I felt my eyes moisten up.

The bus came to a halt and my mind snapped back to the present. The driver was yelling at us to be back in half an hour. I get out of the bus and look around. It’s the same “drive-in” restaurant they always stop at. With a deep sigh, I walk in, occupy an empty table and place my order. While waiting for the food, I scan the room for familiar faces. A quiet face sitting alone at a table at the other end of the room catches my attention. I rack my brains trying to figure out why he looks so familiar. Was it someone I’ve met in college? Or some distant relative whose name has slipped my mind? Suddenly, with a start, I recognize him. The memories start flooding in – painful memories. Alagappa. A name that I have not been able to forget for so many years.

It was eleven years ago. I had just come back from summer vacation and all geared up for the academic year. That year I had shifted from the school bus to a private tempo service. One day, this strange looking guy comes up to me and starts talking to me like he knows me. Bewildered, I ask him who he is and when he reaches out to touch my arm, I panic and push him away. With a hurt look on his face, he walks away. For several days after that, I was disturbed by the memories of this incident. Who was this guy and why did he behave like that? After a while, I figure out how he knows me and the realization startles me. I had met him a month before the summer vacation. He was in the school bus with me and with a couple of days, we had become good friends. He was a year senior to me and he loved me like his brother. I too liked him and we used to go home together. Then came the two month long summer vacation and over these two months, I had forgotten a dear friend. The very thought of it made me sick and suddenly the reason for the hurt in his face became apparent. I had forgotten him but he hadn’t forgotten me. His face kept haunting me ever since, but I, somehow, lacked the courage to go out and make up with him. A few weeks later, during the morning assembly, the principal announced that Alagappa would be reciting a poem that day. Hearing the unusual name, many of the students giggle, till the principal’s stern voice quitens them. Trembling and clearly nervous, Alagappa comes to the mike and in a shaking voice recites the poem. After the poem was done, Alagappa quickly steps away from the mike. No one shows any signs of appreciation and soon Alagappa and his poem are forgotten. Soon I stop seeing him around the campus. On enquiring I find out that he had transferred to another school. And no one knew why. Was he unable to adjust to the school and the people here? Or did his parents have to move somewhere and he had to leave too? I guess I will never know.

The guilt of treating a friend the way I did, of jilting someone who had loved me, haunts me to this day. And now, Providence has given me another chance. Another chance to quiet the ghosts that haunt me. Here he was, sitting in the same room as I was. He had noticed me looking at him but obviously hadn’t recognized me. With trembling hands, I stand up and slowly approach him. I knew I wanted to apologize to him for how I treated him but I had no idea how to start. Even before I could figure out where to start, I ran out of time as I had reached his table. He looks at me with a puzzled expression on his face. I ask, ‘Alagappa?’. For a moment he is silent. Then he says, ‘No. Maybe you have mistaken me for someone you know?’. I shake my head and walk back to my seat quickly. Was I wrong? The face was exactly how I remembered. Was it a look-alike? Or was that really the Alagappa I knew? If so, why did he deny it? Had he recognized me and pretended to be someone else? Or had he changed his name for ‘Alagappa’ had evoked much ridicule, and had decided to let go of the past? My thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the food. I slowly chew on my food, hardly enjoying it. I look up to see his face again, and it’s gone. He was gone. I look around but see no sign of him. I get and run outside but there was no one there. I ask the man at the counter and he remembers someone matching the description leaving a short while ago. I walk back in, only to be reminded by the impatient blowing of the bus horn, that my thirty minutes were up. Quickly washing my hands, I board the bus. As the bus pulls away from the restaurant, I look once more at place where I had seen him, hoping that somehow, magically, he would return. But the seat remained empty.