It seemed like any other day; the usual ablutions and chores and getting ready to board the train to the city that would take me to office; like every other working day! The station was unusually crowded and I decided to wait with other people all awaiting the train. In the distance, I could see the suburban train making its way gently down the tracks and approaching the station. I was preparing myself to get into the Vendors compartment; it was spacious and offered standing space when compared to the regular compartment, which would be jam-packed in the early morning office rush hour. It was then that I heard a voice, “Mahesh, wait, your time will come!” I turned around looking to see who it was that was speaking to me in a cryptic tone. I could not spot anyone whom I knew and before I knew it the crowd on the platform rushed forward to find a place in the train. I had lost my moment and let it go as I saw people getting into the already crowded locomotive. The voice repeated – “Mahesh, good, the next train will be here in five minutes; get into the third compartment!” Now this was turning perplexing and I was wondering if someone from college had turned up and decided to play a prank on me. I then wondered how I could think that way; as everyone had left for their own safe pastures and built their own destinies forgetting the band of brothers that had remained such a powerful force in college.
I dismissed all thoughts and decided to read the newspaper till the train arrived. The voices continued – “Mahesh.. compartment three!” The previous night I had been reading a horror tale and I guessed my mind was working over-time and I was hallucinating. The next train came as communicated and for some inexplicable reason I walked into coach three and guess what it was empty. Never in all these years of train travel had I found an empty coach in an EMU local during the office rush-hour. As I made myself comfortable at the window-seat, the train resumed its journey and before it would pull out of the platform; a man boarded the compartment. He was tall, clean-shaven and dressed in black despite the overpowering humid heat that made one sweat uncomfortably!
He walked straight up to me and smiled and said – “Hi Mahesh, glad that you made it!” It was the same voice that I had heard a few minutes ago! I was positively scared now and pinched myself to make sure that I was not dreaming. My next thought was this was some prank show shoot that was being arranged by some local television channel and I was the victim for the day! I smiled back and said – “Hi! Do I know you?” He replied – “Well you do! You have been asking yourself a question lately – I am here trying to answer it!” I tried to check if there was a small camera or microphone on his black silk shirt but could not find anything. The train stopped suddenly; I stared out the signal was glowing red; an express train crossing perhaps!
I turned back at the man trying to place a name to a face and recollect if this was someone from the past, another lifetime, perhaps! No, nothing registered in my mind and I continued to speak to the man – “What question? Sir, I don’t know who you are and how did you know my name and how could I hear your voice in my head; were you at the station?”
“Ah, Mahesh, you have too many questions; can you shut your eyes for a moment?” Now this was creeping me out! Was this some robber? All I had was my well-used phone on me, some money about two hundred odd, the trusted silver chain around my neck and a book in my bag and of-course my lunch. Now why would a robber target me for all this! Lo and behold, for some inexplicable reason my eyes closed! The voices returned; and try as much; I could not open my eyes they seemed to be stitched tightly shut!
“Mahesh, I am Rajan – I am Time, your continuous questions, pathetic writing on your blog in the guise of desperate verse, all pondering on the inevitability of death and the misery of life are just pure torture. Do you think anyone wants to read your drivel about an existential crisis? Do you think you are the only one with problems? Yes, I know it has been a hard life, a struggle, lot of failures, wrong decisions, unfair misunderstandings; I know; but for the love of God snap out of it! Your death is not going to be so soon and mark my words it won’t be an easy one. Stop writing drivel, stop all this self-pity disguised as blog posts and pathetic all-knowing philosophical hogwash on Facebook and Twitter. Stop making a bloody fool of yourself. You will die, when I will want to get you! So open your eyes now and goodbye!”
The train resumed its journey with a sudden jerk. I opened my eyes and there was no one in front of me. Mr. Rajan had vanished without a trace. I felt my trouser pocket, my phone was in place, I felt my shirt pocket, my season-ticket and money was there and a new addition, a black feather was in the pocket. Well I am no ornithologist but the feather seemed strangely alien; smooth as silk the central spine was blood-red in colour. The EMU eased into the next station and I saw a bunch of familiar faces enter the compartment. I was relieved, this wasn’t a dream or an elaborate prank. I felt a strange sensation as my mind replayed the voice of Mr. Rajan telling me – “You will die, when I will want to get you!”
The train increased its speed and as I stared out of the window I wondered, what would this whole episode mean???