Runaway Journey

Medha Bhatt
The first thing people noticed was her scar. Then they would be embarrassed about staring and try to ignore her. Sandhya was not ugly. Neither was she very good-looking. She was extremely plain, or so her mother seemed to tell her whenever she got the opportunity.

That day she boarded the train to go to her uncle’s house in Patna. She was looking forward to meeting her uncle. He was a gentle man and always seemed to calm her inner turmoil. She saw or rather felt that most of her co-passengers had already seen her scar. There was a time when she used to ask her friends what they saw when they met her first, they always told her they saw her good qualities, but nobody sees qualities when they meet first. All they see is the physical appearance. She had stopped asking now, it didn’t matter.

Trains always managed to elicit a strange kind of calmness in her. She didn’t know why. Trains were inherently a chaotic place. There was always a crowd of people trying to go somewhere. And with them came the excitement of the journey they carried. It was the feeling of both belonging to someplace and not belonging to it. 

She went and sat at her seat. She had settled down and put on her earphones before she noticed the small girl sitting opposite to her. She was maybe 7-8 years old and was staring at her curiously. She gave her a smile, which made the girl squirm and try to hide. But surprisingly she seemed to be alone. Sandhya tried to look at her co-passengers and see who she might be with. But the child was attached to no one and seemed to be all alone. 

“Hi”, Sandhya ventured slowly taking out her earphones.

The child looked away immediately and refused to acknowledge her greeting. 

Sandhya decided to give her a little space. Sandhya was a schoolteacher and handling kids was part of her job. And this one, she could sense would need some help. She was also hopeful the parents or a guardian who might have got down at the station might turn up.

When the train started from the station, she realized she had a situation at hand. The girl was alone and from the looks of it, scared. Whenever she caught the girl’s eye, she gave her a reassuring smile. 
A smile, in her experience, bridged many valleys.

After a long time, the girl gave her a hesitant smile. Sandhya beckoned her. The girl got up and came and sat with her.

“What’s your name?” Sandhya asked her conspiratorially.

“Gudiya” the girl whispered back.

Sandhya grinned at her and took out her phone. She opened the last group photo of her class and pinpointed a girl with a red bow and a confident smile to Gudiya. “Her name is Gudiya too.”

She could immediately sense Gudiya’s excitement. Everyone loved to see somebody who had their name. Adults at least would hide this curiosity, but Gudiya was too young to understand this. She started studying her namesake closely, though she was careful not to touch Sandhya’s phone.

After observing the other “Gudiya” for a good 5 minutes, the “train” Gudiya seemed to lose interest. 
“What’s your name?” Gudiya asked.
“Sandhya.”
“What do you do?”
“I am a teacher.”
The answer gave Gudiya a pause. Maybe she was thinking of her own schoolteacher, thought Sandhya.
“Do you teach English?”
“No. Maths.”
This elicited a frown. Sandhya smiled and thought, another Maths hater. 
“What is that mark on your face?” Gudiya asked innocently.
The question was not unexpected. She got it within 5 minutes of meeting someone new. Her usual response was childhood accident. And her tone made it clear she would not give any more details. But this time she thought of a different approach. 
“It is a scary story. Are you sure you want to know?” She asked in a mock scary voice.

Gudiya gave an enthusiastic nod. And settled down more comfortably in the seat.
Sandhya started her story, “When I was your age, we had a big Mela in the neighbouring village. I absolutely had to go. Every year we went to that Mela and it was big and had these big rides and so many toys.

All of my friends were going. We had made plans to first have an ice cream and then go on the biggest ride in the Mela.

But that year my parents were very busy. My papa was coming home late with office work and my mama was busy taking care of my younger brother who was not keeping well. So, I was told that we were not going. And we would definitely go next year.

What did I do? Did I behave like a good girl and listen to my parents?”
As Gudiya looked at her, Sandhya shook her head in a No. 
“When I told my friends the next day that I was not going because my parents were busy, I cried. This made my friends sad. And one of them got the idea that why can’t I come by myself. My best friend stayed barely ten houses away, she was going to go with her parents.

We made plans. I was to go to my friend’s house and from there I would travel with her family. It seemed easy and we all were happy that a solution had been found.

On the fateful day, I dressed up and lied to my parents that I will be going to my friend’s house to play. I took my purse which had little money and went. Busy that my mom was, she did not notice my taking money to my friends’ house. As soon as I had walked a little distance, I saw our neighbours’ dog right on my path. 

Now Gudiya, that dog did not like me. Why? I don’t know. It growled every time I came near, and this usually ended up in me running fast in the opposite direction. This time I had to cross it; otherwise, how would I reach my friends’ house?

So, I thought I just have to do it, the only way out would be to run towards it and hope it didn’t hurt me.
I took a deep breath, held my purse in my hand a little more tightly, and ran. As soon as I crossed the dog, I turned to see if it was chasing me. It was not. But because of me running fast and looking behind I didn’t notice one of our neighbours coming in his scooter. I crashed hard into him.”

Sandhya paused to catch her breath and for some dramatic effect and was happy to note Gudiya was waiting in anticipation.

“When I woke up, I was in the hospital with this huge mark on my chin. My mom dad scolded me badly. But the mark never left me. 

It is why after that I never did anything without making sure it was correct. Nothing that I would need to hide from others.”

She smiled at Gudiya sadly. Gudiya was now looking at her thoughtfully. Questions were forming in her head about the story. She waited for the questions. Kids are always perceptive. They can think and deduce very correctly all situations. Sometimes adults would try to rush them since we are always in a hurry. But she knew if the questions came from Gudiya and the understanding came to her, she would never forget this lesson. 

Gudiya was now fiddling with a small rope tied on her hand. Slowly she asked Sandhya, “Do you think you should not have tried to go to the Mela that day?”
“No. I shouldn’t have. But I really wanted to go, and when you are a kid, you sometimes think you know better, but you don’t. I could have explained to my parents that I can go with my friend. That might have prevented the accident.”
“What I did wrong”, explained Sandhya, “was lying to my parents. If I would have told them calmly that I can go with my friends, they would have agreed. But what I thought was they just didn’t want me to go. That was not true. They did not have time to take me. That’s all.”

Gudiya sat quietly after that for a long time. Two stations went by. A few more passengers came and sat in the opposite berth. 

Just when they were about to reach another station, Gudiya tugged on Sandhya’s hand. 
“I made the same mistake that you did.” She told Sandhya softly. 
“I ran away from home. I wanted to go see a movie but my parents did not agree. They said I could not watch it because it was not for kids, but all my friends have watched it. And I got mad. So, I thought I will go to Patna and watch the movie.”
“But now I am feeling scared.” Gudiya finished in a small voice.
“Do you want to go home now?” Sandhya asked.
Gudiya nodded in the affirmative. 

They got down at the next station and Sandhya bought a bus ticket to Gudiya’s village. The ride was not long, but it was quiet. Gudiya sat looking out of the bus window and only looked at Sandhya’s scar once. Sandhya sat thinking about that faraway day when not going to a mela seemed like the end of the world. 

Gudiya fidgeted more and more as they neared her village. No wonder worried about the punishment she would receive from her parents. The punishment, Sandhya thought, would be nothing as compared to the relief they would all feel when she was back home. 

Sandhya gave Gudiya a reassuring smile. As Sandhya smiled, the scar across her chin widened. The scar that had first intimidated Gudiya reassured her that everything would be alright.
***

Bio: Medha Bhatt is a Goan, Maharashtrian, Karnatakan, and Telangana writer. She was born in Karnataka, raised in Goa, and stayed in Maharashtra for a substantial amount of time. Her ‘karmabhumi’ is Hyderabad (Telangana). 
She completed her B.E in Electrical from the Goa Engineering College and worked extensively in the technical field and then she did a logical switch to Technical writing and is currently working in an MNC in Hyderabad.
Her hobbies include reading, writing, collecting quotes, painting, learning a new language, and music. She has been published in Navhind Times (Goan newspaper), Women’s Era, and the Caravan. 
She currently stays in Hyderabad with her husband and her son. 

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