Fara ran the last few metres and dived into the ladies’ compartment, just as the train began to pull out. She was immediately jostled and pushed into the sweaty depths of the compartment, as her co-passengers converged back around the entrance. She sighed, there was so much space inside the compartment… why must they all crowd around the entrance and block all the air circulation to the interior?
She checked her bag to make sure her phone, purse and keys were safe. Yes, her possessions were intact. She reached up to hold the hand-hold as the train made its sluggish way towards Lingampalli terminal, from where she’d take a share-auto to get to Sujit’s place.
As the train trundled on, stopping at stations and from time to time between them, passengers slowly trickled out and Fara was finally able to settle by the entrance. There were several empty seats, but she preferred to stand by the entrance and feel the wind streaming against her face. She leaned comfortably against the partition and undid the veil of her burqa.
She was still getting used to wearing a burqa. At home she’d never had to wear one, and in college she hadn’t bothered to bond particularly with the other Muslims in her batch. In fact a lot of people had never figured out that she was Muslim at all… she herself had never identified with the community until she had started dating Sujit.
She wasn’t sure whether it was a defensive reaction to his rare and unintentional misconceptions about the Muslim community, or whether with age her religion had begun to mean more to her… either way, from the day she had started dating him, two years and six months ago, she had become more and more traditionally ‘Muslim’, whatever that was! She wasn’t sure it was a change she liked, but it had happened, somehow… and it certainly wasn’t a change she disliked. All in all, it was rather confusing.
It was not that Sujit was a devout Hindu. Far from it… in fact she wasn’t entirely sure whether he believed in God at all. On some level the fact that this did not bother her made her feel hypocritical about her growing religious affiliation, but she genuinely believed that all ways to God were equally valid… and couldn’t really make up her mind about people who didn’t make an effort to find God in any way. And Sujit was very understanding about her need to identify with Islam… a fact that made her love him more, as well as resent the implied condescension of it, even though she knew he did not mean it that way.
Her phone vibrated and she fished it out of her bag. It was her mother calling. Fara shook her head and put the phone back in to her bag. She’d call back later. She couldn’t think of a good reason for why she was on the train so late in the evening and the ambient noise was unmistakeable even over the phone, so she couldn’t lie about where she was.
Her poor parents. They would be so upset if they knew how she was living her life. They had been so supportive of everything she wanted out of life, supporting her career choices and even her decision not to get married, not knowing that all the while, she was not only dating a ‘Hindu’, but partially living with him as well. It was all so complicated. If her mother knew she was wearing a burqa these days she would be very troubled… but if she understood how the burqa fit into Fara’s world she would probably not be able to even understand it. It helped Fara both identify with her community as well as granted her anonymity when she needed it, like now… on her way to spend the weekend at her boyfriend’s apartment.
Fara shook her head to slow the teeming of the thoughts in her brain. She was exhausted. She longed for a bath.
She gazed out at the passing landscape. It seemed to be moving as fast as her thoughts. Offices, hospitals, houses, apartments, people… they streamed past her in the opposite direction. Her eyes fixed on nothing in particular and she took it all in, as the rushing tide of lives flowed past her momentary window into their worlds.
For a second her eyes met his… and the smooth flow halted. Then it rushed tumultuously on with renewed vigour as the train bore her swiftly away. It had only been a moment, but it shook her.
He had been standing, leaning against his balcony wall, his elbows resting on it and staring into the middle distance. As the train rushed past, his eyes settled on the blur of windows broken by the occasional door or break between carriages. And for a second, he had met her eyes… seen her face clear and still before the train bore her away forever. Or so, Fara imagined. She had no way of knowing whether the moment had unsettled him or not… whether he’d even noticed her. Yet their eyes had met, and like a woman from a corny Hollywood movie, she’d felt her world change.
She did not know who he was, what he did, whether he’d been standing at his own balcony or at a friends’… she could not tell how old he was. He could have been anything between sixteen and thirty… Was he married? What did he believe in? Did he smoke? Did he like movies? Where was he from? Did he have a girlfriend? Did he like chocolate? Was he gay? What language did he think in?
She wasn’t even entirely sure how he looked. She only knew he was clean shaven and that his eyes had seemed to reach into her soul and see her innermost thoughts and that for once she hadn’t felt lacking in who she was, despite her many confusions and contradictions.
Fara shook her head again, to clear it. She was being ridiculous. It was just her whole dilemma over identity playing up and tormenting her overworked brain. She tried to think of Sujit and everything he meant to her. How nervous he’d been in the beginning… how sensitive he was… his curly hair… his warm eyes… his infectious laughter… the way he looked at her… his foolish grin when she smiled because of something he’d said… his ridiculous impractical plans and promises… Sujit. She took a deep breath, and smiled at the thought of the man she loved.
But somewhere in the recesses of her mind an image of a figure on a balcony with momentarily piercing eyes flickered and a lone voice asked What was his name?