A Beautiful Darkness
A Beautiful Darkness7 mins 192 7 mins 192
It was 2 in the morning when my train finally pulled into the station. My back stiff with hours of waiting, I stood up and stretched. It was cold, rural India in Decembers usually are. With a last glance at the dark, lonely station, I picked up my bag and traipsed towards the 1st AC.
It looked quite empty. The cabin door was closed, but not locked. Assuming whoever was inside must be sleeping, I softly opened the door and sneaked in.
In the patchy white light of my mobile, I saw it was a standard 2 berth affair. My light moved sideways, towards my opposite berth.
It was then that I saw her.
She was fast asleep, her breath shallow and rhythmic. She looked young, in her early twenties. All this registered later, the initial reaction was just shocking. It may have been an exciting affair for others to get a seat with a young woman in a train, but cautious as I am, I just took it as an unnecessary complication.
Just as I was trying to shove my big ass suitcase below my seat, I toppled over what must have been her plastic water bottle.
It wasn’t much of a sound, but she gave a resounding start and hit her head on the plastic wall.
“What the…ow!” She sprang upon her seat. “Who’s it? Who’s this? Tell me who are you…”
I shrunk back reflexively. “Hey, hey, I’m sorry to wake you up. It’s okay.”
She didn’t seem to listen. Her hands flailed around her seat, below her inflatable pillow. In the dark, she kept muttering, “Where is it…where is it…”, until she finally located a little purse, and pulled it close to her chest.
“Hello? Are you okay?” I asked carefully. “I’m just a co-passenger. Here’s my ticket, my seat is right beside you.”
To make matters easier, I switched on the light.
She was wearing jeans and a white top, her hair a messed tangle from her sudden maneuvers. Her eyes were giving me a vacant stare.
“Öh, hi. I’m sorry for reacting like that. Actually, this is my passport, so I’m so worried about it I can’t sleep properly.”
“That’s fine,” I assured her. “Why didn’t you just lock the door?”
“Oh, well, I tried,” she smiled. “Could not find the lock. Sounds kinda silly, right? Trust me, it’s a lot harder for blind people.”
So she was blind. I could see it now. Though her eyes looked normal, you could tell they were not seeing anything.
“Ok, no problem,” I replied. “You mind if I lock it now?”
She shrugged. “Unless you’re a cheap thug yourself, that’d work.”
“I could hand you my Identity card…” I stammered.
She laughed. “I’m kidding. It’s totally fine. Lock it up so I can get a good sleep!”
I locked the door and settled down under my sheets. The air conditioning was maintaining a nice, chilly atmosphere.
“The lights-?” I stopped midway. She giggled. “Come on mister. Switch them on if you want to, it doesn’t matter to me.”
They were already on, so I turned them off, and sighed into my pillow. It had been a long day.
The train had already picked up the pace by then. I could feel myself drowning slowly in sleep.
“Good night, Mr.-?” she asked. “Rajarshi. My name is Rajarshi,” my voice was already muffled.
“Hi, Rajarshi. I’m Disha.”
“Good night, Disha.”
I don’t know how long I had slept. I was raised by a soft voice.
“Hey, Rajarshi, can you hear me?” she was calling. I sat up. She was still calling, “Dude, are you listening?”
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“What time is it?”
I peered into my mobile. 4:03 am.
“It’s 4 in the morning. What’s up?”
“Could you get the door lock open?” she said, a little embarrassed. “I need to use the-”
“Sure thing,” I got up and opened the door for her. She stood up, felt ahead with her hands, found the door, and got out in the corridor. Then she just stood there.
Ok, what do I do now? Does she have a cane? Should I hand it to her? Should I just sleep?
“It’s towards the left. Should I come with you?” I called out.
“No, it’s okay. Thank you.” She turned left and disappeared.
I returned to my pillow, my sleep-addled mind already prepared to get back to blissful oblivion once more. But I had to lock the door after her, so I kept my eyes open.
Five minutes passed. She didn’t come back.
I got up and peeped outside. She was standing beside the next cabin, confused. Afraid I’d wake someone else up, I tiptoed towards her, and said softly, “Ours is the next one.”
She inhaled sharply, then relaxed. “Oh, Thank God,” she stretched out her hand. “Guide me.”
I took her hand, feeling awkward. Indian men don’t have enough experience with women to give normal reactions to things like Hand-taking.
“What? Never held a girl’s hand before at night in a train?” she tittered, shaking her head. “You have much to learn, my boy.”
I grinned, then remembering she couldn’t see, said,” Yeah, I agree.”
After we were back in our seats, we lied down once more.
“So, where you going, Rajarshi?” she asked, her eyes fixed at the ceiling.
“Vadodra,” I replied. “What about you?”
“Just Delhi. Is It a big place, Delhi?”
“Well, it is the capital,” I said. “So it’s crowded. Polluted too, I guess. So many cars…”
“Hmm. This is the first time I’m out of my hometown, so I don’t know what to expect.”
“I myself am from a small town in the northeast, but I keep traveling a lot, so I can tell you, it’s no big deal.”
“You travel? Where have you traveled?” she said curiously.
The next hour, I told her my traveling tales. From Europe to Manali, Dubai to Bali, she wanted to know it all. Her mind was alive with questions, about the people, culture, money, festivals, food habits. We didn’t sleep anymore, and for the first time in many days, I watched the sunrise, across green fields running backward.
“I can’t believe you have seen so much,” she said after I reached the end of my long narrative. “You think someday I’ll be able to see them too?”
“To be honest,” I replied pensively. “Most people don’t see the World at all, in spite of having the sight. They just live in one place the whole life.”
“That’s so stupid,” she sighed. “I bet there are innumerable number of things to see.”
“There are,” I agreed. “Most people don’t even see the stuff on Earth, and it is just one tiny planet in an ordinary solar system. I wish I could visit the billions of galaxies and see what’s there, but I don’t think that’s gonna happen. Those will stay unventured.”
“Welcome to my World,” she winked. “It feels lousy to know how much you can’t see, right?”
“It sure does,” I agreed. “But also, it makes me grateful for what I do get to see.”
She stared at me for some time, the sightless eyes unseeing me for a whole minute. “You are a weird person, Mr. Rajarshi.”
I laughed. “Thank you, that’s all I have ever wanted to be. Why, though?”
“You talk of things I’ve never heard anyone talking about,” she replied. “And you don’t talk about anything normal.”
“Normal? Like what?”
“Like money. And diseases. And lousy jobs. You also never asked me anything about my blindness.”
“What’s there to ask?” I replied. “You can’t see, I can. I’m sure there are plenty of things you have that I don’t. That’s only natural.”
“That’s not how others see things. Wherever I go people are always badgering me about How I got blind, Will it heal, how will I get married, how much my parents are spending for my medical expenses…these are all very popular topics.”
“Do you let this stuff bother you?” I asked.
“Most of the time, I try not to,” she replied, curling up in her seat, her eyes staring out the window. “But once in a while, when I’m in a bitter mood, it gets to me. I mean, I am blind. There’s no getting around it.”
“True,” I said. “But also, in today’s technology, your disability is just a minor inconvenience. Your mobile can get you any info you want, any book you want to listen to, any food you want to order. I have seen blind people abroad even using social media without any problems. The more you think and talk about it, the bigger it will seem.”
She shook her head again. “Weird…weird…but in a sense, true, I guess…”
When the morning breakfast arrived, she prepared both our tea. She went to the toilet alone this time and returned just fine. Our conversation kept pace with the train, the topics jumping from family to society to history to art to music to Bollywood. Just two regular twenty-somethings chatting on a journey.
Delhi arrived in no time. As our train stopped beside the New Delhi railway station platform, exhaling after it’s a long journey, we rounded up our belongings.
“Okay then, here we part,” I told her after she had cleared up everything.
“Man, can’t you just say bye?” she retorted. She extended her hand, and I took it. She pulled me in and gave a tight hug. “Thank you. For letting me see the World the way you see it. It was beautiful.”
I broke the hug but held her hand a little longer. “Yeah? Well, so were you.”