“Newspaper! Newspaper!” incanting the boy in his teen. Men are scampering like bairns. Women are jabbering incessantly. I am standing aimlessly, pondering over my future course of action. I start walking towards the exit gate and, in a hushed tone, am speaking to myself. I could hear the train I just disembarked from making a squawky sound, signaling its imminent departure.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is to inform you that the train standing at Platform No. 1 is ready to leave, passengers are requested to take their seats. Wishing you a Happy Journey!” says the announcement at the railway station. The same announcement was made when I boarded the train at my home station. I did not find anything happy in the journey though, for who could call dirty toilets, broken seats, jam-packed coaches, etc a happy journey. After completing my work, I am now heading towards my home.
I am now standing, almost downcast, at Platform No.2 waiting for my train to arrive. I check the time by my watch and it is 9:15 pm. I have already bought a ticket. There is some unusualness in the vicinity. Thanks to God, for, at least, the platform is provided with a smidgen of lights, if not ubiquitously luminous. Freakish weather is hovering over the only shed at the platform I am sitting under. It makes my flesh crawl as there is rarely any other passenger, only some beggars, sleeping, with some snoring, some with brassy rhythm. This, along with the sporadic barking of dogs, and some unfamiliar snort of unknown animals, is making the whole surrounding more spooky. A squall is broke out. The robust branches of tall trees are jiggling with the wind blowing at bullet speed, taking with them the twig that has fallen from the branches, making an eerie sound while striking with the earth. A whole gamut of dust, broken leaves, used rappers, etc have gathered around my feet dangling down the bench. There is only a want of thundering clouds with the lightening sky. But the caliginous sky is not less scary.
“What is the correct time of train arrival,” I ask the guy sitting motionless next to me.
“It should have been arrived till now,” he says, “now it may take even longer, providing the worsening weather.”
He sounds like an automatic bot as if someone has programmed him to speak predetermined statements. I could not see his face as it is down.
“There is no damn announcement either,” I grunt.
“A lady. This time?” the man mutters, as he moves her head up and takes a gander at opposite platform.
I look around visually and there is her. She is standing there stock-still like an effigy of a young woman with irresistible beauty. She has ensconced herself on the platform and is not quivering at all, that is despite the tempest that has befallen on the desolate junction. Only things I could see moving are her attire and a paper she is holding in her hand. She is not even looking straight but gawking at the perpetual railway lines.
“What is she exactly doing there?” the man asks, rubbernecking at her.
“She must have been playing Statue-Statue game,” I mumble in my head, try to cut a joke.
“Is she waiting for a Train? But Alone. This time at night?” the man continues his investigation, like a sleuth-hound.
Suddenly, a wacky idea strikes to my naive brain. I want to get my head off the odious environment.
“What if she is a ghost?” I ask the man with a spine-chilling voice.
“A banshee?” he says, not at all frightened as I am expecting.
“Banshee…?” my curiosity increases, so is my breath.
“A female spirit whose wailing warns of a death in a house,” he replies. “But why is she not screeching?”
I stand up, my legs shuddering. At a gallop, I march towards the Ticket Counter to ask the ticket vendor about the train arrival. The counter has been shut down. The blood-curdling cadences of the man sitting with me under the shed have already scared the pants off me and now this. I leer at my watch. It is sharp 12 midnight. As I am goggling my watch, a sudden burst of a jarring noise jolts me. It is the train horn. The train horn- the sound I have been waiting with bated breath. I rush briskly towards the train. I want to go home at the earliest and once at home, I would not even think of traveling in trains, leave alone arriving on this platform, I think.
“Should I entrain or not?” I think in a jiffy while boarding the coach that appears at first to me. I wish I would not regret it.
The coach is out of ordinary and is quiet and secluded. There are hardly four or five travelers- a usual thing at night. But what is not usual is the peculiar expression by which they are gawking at me. It is like if they have seen a ghost out of nowhere. I prod myself in the back of the neck and tell myself to refrain from thinking about something like ghost and witches as I am already beleaguered by something like a banshee. I swear that the man I met under the shed is befuddling and scary.
“Oh My God! How could I forget about the man?” I reprimand myself.
I ensconce myself on the bench adjacent to the window and see through the window to scan the platform for the man. There is no one on the bench the man was sitting on with me.
“He must have boarded the train, might be some other coach,” I guess.
“Jai Hanuman gyan gun sagar
Jai Kapis tihun lok ujagar”
I could not recite any more. Today I regret not learning Hanuman Chalisa despite being exhorted by my parents since my childhood. But I don’t lose hope and keep on chanting the two lines again and again as my breath gasp in horror.
My chant is interrupted by the shrill siren of the train engine. As the siren reaches its crescendo, the train begins to depart. I am a bit solaced now.
“Where has she disappeared?” I cringe as I see through the window other side and find no lady on the opposite platform now. I feel the ground slipping under my feet, not because the lady has vanished but because she is sitting in front of me on the opposite bench, her face down, veil on.