The 10 O'Clock Train

Ravi was going to write an exam. His seat had fallen in a college in Delhi. He brought all his books with him in a trolley, along with a few pieces of clothing. With his luggage, he waited on the desolate platform for the train to arrive. The dusty wall clock read 8:23 P.M. His train would arrive at 8:45 P.M. He fiddled with his ticket and stood awkwardly on the platform. He was alone, since the station was in a remote area. He was accompanied only by pigeons and howling dogs.The only other human was a ragged looking man wrapped in a dirty shawl, sitting stiffly on a bench.

Finally, he could see the light beams of the train’s headlights curving around the bend in the tracks. He sighed with relief; he feared the train would not arrive on time. As the train entered the platform, it slowed down but did not halt. Ravi jumped up and caught the railing, hauling himself up onto the moving train. Then, leaning over, he pulled his bag up too, keeping his balance with one hand holding on to the railing. He hoisted his bag up and pushed open the door of the dingy berth.

The coach was mostly empty, the only people were dozing off in weird positions, and a lady’s baby screamed away somewhere under the folds of her sari. Ravi realized with surprise that one of the men was the same one he had seen on the platform. He didn’t think the ragged-looking man had enough money to purchase a ticket; judging by the state of his clothes, he concluded he must be some petty peddler who had boarded the train just to see where it would go. The remaining lights of the berth flickered on and off with a faint electric buzzing, casting their faint yellow light on the filthy aluminium walls of the berth. The seats’ counterfeit leather covering was cracked, revealing the netting and yellow sponge inside.

It was the cheapest train to Delhi Ravi could find, since the ticket’s cost fit in his meagre wallet. But now, it seemed insecure and a little eerie to him. Nevertheless, he flopped onto berth no. 14, which was just 2 seats away from the ragged man, who sat on berth 16. The train rattled and swung to-and-fro with a small jerk now and then, cradling its passengers to a light slumber, keeping them from waking up with a dull lullaby that issued from the train’s wheels.

Ravi’s glasses were just slipping off as he dozed, when the train gave a violent hiccup. He startled awake, hastily putting his glasses on. He peered at his watch, why, it was 10 at night! He guessed the train had probably stumbled over a large rock on the tracks. He was just preparing to go back to snoozing, when the coach’s doors banged open. Five strange looking men entered, and all of them had muscly arms; their height almost equal to the upper berths. They looked around cautiously, scanning the area and it’s people with sharp, laser eyes. When their gaze alighted on the person occupying berth 16, they broke into a murmur, and signalled subtly towards the ragged-looking occupant. They strode over, and asked Ravi in gruff voices if they could sit down. Ravi stuttered and hastily assured them; he felt intimidated by their presence. He got up to retrieve his water bottle, his throat was parched with uneasiness. As he stood up, his hand brushed against the skin of the ragged man, and Ravi felt his cold sweat. The man was dripping with perspiration, and he cracked his knuckles and fidgeted with the hem of his shawl. He appeared extremely nervous.

Suddenly, the train came to a screeching halt. The other side of the coach had another door. This one too, banged open. In came seven policemen wearing protective armour and face shields. One of them had a complex looking tool-kit, and he wore surgical gloves. They stormed inside and halted in front of Ravi’s berth. The other passengers perceived him suspiciously. Some even nudged away from him. One policeman ordered Ravi to stand up and answer some questions. He answered them all truthfully, albeit in a quavery voice. They investigated all other passengers in the same manner. Finally, they came upon the ragged man. He sweated even more profusely, and surveyed the policemen with round, red, frantic eyes. The policemen nodded to the strange men, and they stood up and nodded back. They caught hold of the ragged man’s shoulders and pulled him up. They whipped open his shawl, which revealed something that made Ravi’s eyes pop with terror. The ragged man carried a human bomb on him, which was already ticking. Ravi’s horrified gaze, mingled with the gasps of shock from the surrounding passengers made the ragged man’s eyes watery. His lower lip quivering, he was made to sit on an isolated spot. The policeman with the toolkit extracted some machinery and slowly, with the most controlled and gentle touch, examined the wires. Then he took a pair of pliers and set to determine which wire to snip. After what seemed like hours, he gingerly cut the yellow wire, among the red, blue, green, and black ones. Everyone shut their eyes tight, expecting a blast and yet not expecting, for they prayed for someone to save their souls. Then, in a moment of mad hope that they were going to make it alive, they opened their eyes.

The bomb had been dislocated.... Successfully. There were loud cheers and crazy shouts of laughter. The policemen, trying to hide their smiles of relief (because they were on duty), patted the ragged man sympathetically and supported him out of the carriage. The man was crying silent tears of gratitude, and Ravi suddenly felt sorry and happy for him. Turned out that this man was not the mastermind behind the apparent ambush, and that he was trapped into carrying out the task by some other criminals. The man would be freed of treason, although he would have to spend a year in jail. Everyone shouted consolation to him, and the ragged man thanked them with a watery smile as he was loaded into a police van. Ravi was shaken and thanked God for letting him witness the event and alongside, he prayed to never witness another ever again.


More by :  Debananndita Ray

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