Simran and Cinderella

by Tilottama Chowdhury

After passing a fitful night at an Indian train station, a traveler panics when she realizes the train to Agra is already on the move.

I ran as fast as I could. The platform was mere meters away when I heard the feared horn ring. The train started to move, gradually gaining speed. I chased after it in earnest. This train was my only hope of reaching Agra by early morning tomorrow.

My slipper tore as I tried to run faster. I shook it off, not caring about the pebbles piercing my bare feet, as I now limped after the train. In an attempt to move faster yet, I took off my other slipper and threw it blindly towards the left. Now both feet bare, I ran. I ran faster than I had ever run in my life.

But as it would be, luck wasn’t on my side as the platform ran out from beneath my feet and the train sped off into the night. I collapsed on the tiled floor, breathing heavily, beads of sweat dripping from my forehead.

I sat there helplessly watching the train move out of sight, along with my hopes of reaching Agra. I sulkily got up and went back to collect my slippers, feeling like a Cinderella whose ball had just been cancelled.

It was after midnight, and the station was almost empty. A few people were scattered through the station, all dozing as they waited for their respective trains. One small shop was the only store open, its lights flickering. Its shopkeeper seemed to be the only one awake for miles.

“When is the next train to Agra available?” I asked the shopkeeper as I bought a bottle of water and some bandages for my feet.

“At six,” he replied monotonously.

I nodded as a feeling of helplessness settled in my bones. It would not be possible for me to go back to my house and come back at six, given the huge distance.

As if sensing my problem, the shopkeeper said, “You could camp here for tonight. A lot of people do.” He gestured towards the people dozing on the benches.

I thanked him and went and sat down on a nearby bench, mulling over my choices. If I went back home I would have to take the midnight train tomorrow, which would delay me by a day, or I could sleep here for a few hours and take the next train.

My choice was obvious. I placed the small duffel bag I had with me on the bench and placed my head on it. I hungrily drank more than half of the water in the bottle—the little run had made me unbearably thirsty.

The weather was hot and humid, as it had not rained in Delhi for months now. Sweat gathered on my brows as I tried to get some sleep. Even the bench was too hard, and it was more than uncomfortable to sleep on it. I assured myself that it was only for a night as I closed my eyes firmly.

A sudden nagging hum near my ear jerked me out of my light sleep. I opened my eyes to find myself surrounded by mosquitoes, and I violently sat up, scaring them away. Taking out some mosquito repellent, I applied it on my exposed arms and feet and lay down again.

But the mosquitos came back. It was as though they were immune to the repellent. I tried to swat them away, but they kept coming back. My arms and feet had already started itching and were starting to grow red from the incessant scratching. I groaned in frustration as I tossed and turned on the bench, trying to get rid of the mosquitos. But it was all to no avail.

In the wee hours of the morning, tired from all the swatting and kicking, I fell into a deep slumber, now used to the humming mosquitos, hard bench, and the sweltering heat.

I soon woke up to the sound of a blaring train horn. I opened my eyes blearily. The sun had now almost risen, and I watched as a train moved along the platform. There were noticeably more people on the station now. I checked my watch and found it was already ten minutes past six. With a jolt I realized that the moving train was, in fact, the one I was planning to catch, and I watched in abject horror as it moved out of the platform.

Determined to not let this one go, I quickly grabbed my duffel bag. And once again, after less than twelve hours, I found myself running after a train. My feet throbbed as the wounds from earlier opened again, but I ignored the pain, my focus solely on the train. I did not plan on spending another night at the station with these mosquitos.

A man in his twenties stood by one of the open doors of the train and looked at me curiously. In utter desperation and panic, I stretched out my hand towards him. Sensing my urgency, he quickly stretched out one hand towards me, the other gripping the steel handle on the train firmly. I could not help but feel like Simran from the famous scene of the movie “Dil Waale Dulhania Le Jayenge.” With a lot of effort, I was finally able to grab his hand, and he pulled me onto the train beside him.

I thanked him breathlessly as I tried to catch my breath. I stood huffing with my hands on my knees. The man was still looking at me curiously, a mischievous smile creeping onto his face.

“I understand that you are in a rush, but you could have at least waited for the train to stop before boarding it,” he said, amusement evident in his words.

“What do you mean? I would have missed the train if I had not run!” I replied, feeling confused.

The man shook his head as he laughed out loud.

“The train just arrived. See, it has now stopped at the station,” he said, pointing behind him.

I looked past him, and, indeed, the train had stopped at the now familiar station.

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