That Little Voice

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The train crawled into the packed platform appearing to be in no hurry. The drivers of the train were looking out of the window of the engine, observing the crowd without seeming very obvious. A commotion had started near the coaches that didn't require a reservation to acquire a seat. Every other door had excited people hopping down even before the train had halted to a stop. He was standing right where his coach arrived. He smiled to himself and picked up his air-bag.

He pushed his bag below a seat in his compartment and got back up to stretch his arms. He pondered between sitting down with an elderly man or climbing up to his berth. He chose the former and grabbed his bottle to sip some water. The wife of the elderly man was fussing over the arrangement of her bags and he bent down to help her. She smiled at him after he was done, thanking him for his help. He smiled back and decided that he would climb up on his seat now.

He slipped off his shoes and plugged on his headphones to pass an hour until it struck midnight. He had always liked travelling when he was a kid, but now that past was twenty years away.  Now he realized the necessity and accepted it as a part of his life. It was an activity that had to be done.    He dozed off with the soft music and jerked awake with a start. The train had stopped at a station.

He blinked a few times and tried to look out of the window from his upper berth but couldn't make out the name of the station. There was nobody in sight too. The train was dark, all fellow travelers were sleeping. His watch told him that it was a quarter past one. He climbed down from his berth and fumbled under the seat for his shoes. The elderly man woke up, alerted, and calmed down to sleep when he recognized him. He stifled a yawn and dragged himself to the washrooms at the end of the train.

He pushed open the door to a vacant washroom and noticed that the latch in his washroom door wasn't working. He stood with his shoulder against the door and emptied himself to peace. He took out a cigarette pack out of his pocket as he came out and lit one while he stood at the door of the coach. The train had already been rolling through unknown terrains when he heard the rustle of bangles.

A girl in her mid twenties, around his age, was shuffling towards the washroom. She looked as if she was sleep-walking because her eyes were half-closed, but her hands were groping every seat and her face was turning towards him. He released a cloud of smoke that flew past her as she passed him. She clutched the door of the restroom he had just visited when he spoke aloud, 'You better ditch that one, the door's broken, doesn't lock.'

She snapped her head at his voice and scrutinized him. She fumbled her hand behind the door and verified his claim. She turned to the other occupied stall, stood paused for half a minute and went in the defected stall anyway. He shook his head in disbelief and turned back to the unknown terrains. He was throwing off the butt of the cigarette when she came back out again. Her hair was made and her face was washed. She passed him and paused for just a moment to mumble, 'Thanks.'

'No problem,' he replied.

She took one step away from him, but turned back as if contemplating something and spoke diffidently, 'I think you should try to not smoke.'

He raised his eyebrows in surprise. He could have understood a comment about not smoking in trains, but not this direct advice. He frowned and voiced his thoughts, 'What? I don't understand!'

She wasn't looking at him directly, but he could swear she gave the floor a look of disgust before saying, 'Nothing. You helped me, and I thought I'd be kind. Good night.'

She started stomping back into the coach. He replied to her retreating back, 'Wait. I'm sorry!'

She turned with a jerk. Her hair was flying in the wind.

He continued, 'I don't understand though. Why concern for a stranger on a train?'

She came back out again, cautiously. She fixed her hair with a pin and thought for a while before speaking.

'I don't know. I've never done that before. You didn't look like a creep, so I thought maybe I could make a difference.'

'Oh. And do you think you have?'

She looked up at him for the first time. Her eyes were seeking something in his.

'I can't say, can I? I'm only a girl in the train'

He looked away to focus on her forehead. She was a foot smaller than him.

'I'm not an addict. I only smoke thrice a day.'

'And that's not addiction?'

He was irritated. He only wanted some air while he smoked. This was way out of ordinary. She seemed to sense this and said with finality, 'I think you'll think about this. Anyway, I must get back. Nice meeting you!'

She waved at him and left him alone with the wind. She hadn't waited for a reply. Instead, he was surprised by a movement on the opposite exit door. A seemingly invisible man covered in rags was sitting on a newspaper there, gaping at him wide-eyed. He shrugged his shoulders and went back to his seat, climbed up, closed his eyes and started thinking about it. He sighed as the first thought formed in his head.

Maybe she is right.

Ten minutes later the man in the rags was hit by a cigarette pack on his head without prior announcement. It must have flown in from the window on the door. Who had thrown a full pack out of his window, he could never guess! Anyway, it was only his second surprise of the night. The first was watching that silly smoker talk with himself.

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