*Mangalore-TVM express. 9 pm. *
I sat by the emergency window, the red grills stuck open on the upper frame. A joint family filled the three adjacent berths next to ours. Having forgotten to carry a book, observing them was my means of entertainment at present. There were those two chatty girls, a spectacled boy sitting next to his grandma, another smaller boy and a few other uncles and aunties.
Bored soon enough, I switched over to my phone for company. I didn't look up until much later when mom got up to pee. Casually getting back to my phone, I suddenly noticed a pair of eyes on me. It was the family's spectacled boy. Was he really looking at me? Or maybe staring at open space? When my eyes met his, he waved. So, me. I raised my brow in response.
"Know me?" he called out from his berth opposite mine. I peered at him more closely, trying to figure out who he was. With a creased forehead, I shook my head.
"Bhabha!" he exclaimed, to which my eyes widened.
Was he my batch mate in Bhabha? Oh and FYI that was the name of my tuition centre (Let's not make fun of the name at least here!). Maybe he was, there were like a hundred people in each class after all. Just as I got all geared up to go talk to him, mom appeared before me and started speaking all at once about a vacant seat a few berths away we could go to.
I had to wait another five minutes before approaching him. And when I did, I asked his name first place.
"Sid." he said. Nope, I knew no Sid from Bhabha.
"Yeah...last year? Before the batches got shuffled? "
"Ahh I see, don't remember- my bad."
"Well, you looked so familiar, couldn't be sure though...and I didn't want to risk getting slapped"
"So, going for an exam?"
And a little more of Bhabha news plus talks on future plans followed before I remembered that mom was waiting.
So there I was back in my seat and it suddenly dawned on me that he hadn't yet asked my name. The next half hour I sat battling with my mind about whether or not to go back and talk with him. I could do with some company, but then he didn't even give a second glance till now. Giving up, I climbed over to the upper berth out of his sight. I had an exam the next day. I needed sleep.
Lying down, I peeked through the grills on the wall separating the adjacent seats. All too soon, the back of a head popped up behind those grills. My fingers crossed, I waited for the head to turn. But all it did was look sideways to reveal a pair of spectacles. So that was him. Sigh. Maybe he was too good a guy to even turn around once?
A small commotion from below distracted me. A baby was wailing too loud for our liking. Heads were turning to find the source of the noise. That spectacled face turned around too, and noticed me.
He waved again, and me back. Then he turned away. Okay...well at least he waved. He was probably busy with - oh hey he was facing me again, asking me my name. I grinned and sat up, trying to mouth my name to him. You see, we weren't in hearing range unless we wanted the whole compartment to hear us.
He flashed his phone's screen at me. I nodded, typing my name in my phone. Wait what? How was he supposed to read it through the grills? Maybe I should zoom it up and -
"Beta! Please hold the baby for a while! " the wailing baby's mother was holding her baby out to me.
"Sure aunty!" As I took the baby from her, she climbed up to the berth in between us. Shit.
Thankfully, she didn't cover up the grills. He was now flashing his mobile number at me. Not easy to read through the grills. So he fingered his number digit by digit to me. I was carefully noting down each digit through his gestures, all along sensing the aunty's eyes on both of us. What was I doing?
Once the ten digits were done, I tried to give him a ring. It said switched off. I shook my head at him and he flashed his number on his screen again. All I could comprehend was that I'd gotten the last two digits wrong. Retried. It was now 'Out of coverage area'.
Someone turned the lights off. The only sources of light now were both of our phones. Great. Why did people sleep so early?
He was now showing me his whatsapp contacts. Right. I still wasn't sure if I got the number right. Maybe I could search him up in FB? But I needed his full name. Turning the mobile data on, I waited for the network. Loading. Loading. Aaandd......still loading. I looked up and he flashed his own loading circle in his phone.
And then suddenly, he signaled to wait and got down. What? I sat all nervous and excited, watching a figure walk over to the berth right underneath mine. He stood there a while. What exactly was he planning? Was I supposed to do something? Get down? Pass a slip?
I flashed my phone's light at him, and suddenly remembered that the ones below me might be his relatives. Quickly turning off my light, I noticed him going back to his place just as he had come. Now what?
When he was back up, I signaled to him to go to sleep. I also wanted to tell him we'd talk in the morning like normal people, but had no idea how to convey that. So I lay down and a little later he did too. But his phone's light was visible for a very long time afterward.
I woke up with a jerk. The family below me was up and about, busy packing. He was nowhere in sight. Around ten minutes later the train slowed down, and the family was lined up with the luggage on the aisle. Slowly as the line moved, he appeared in the rear end. Look up Sid! Look up!
He did, and we exchanged a final wave of goodbye. Sigh. He still did not know my name.
*TVM Railway Station. 6 pm *
I stared at the saved mobile number in whatsapp. There was no profile picture. Hoping against hope that the number was right, I gave a ring. No answer. Maybe I should just leave it here?
A new whatsapp message. Alright. If it wasn't him I'm gonna have to block this number. So here we go.
Holding my breath, I opened the message...
"Hey, so how was your exam?"