Fiction: The station

Nilamadhab Kar

-Nilamadhab Kar

It was a very cold, wintery December morning in Delhi. It was all foggy. The fog was so thick that you would not see one standing at arm’s length. 

We were boarding a very early morning train. All the boxes and suitcases were around us. Ravi was on his mom Mamta's lap; Sanu, our daughter, close by. The train came, the coolie loaded the boxes, and we all got in. There was chaos, with a crowd getting in and out of the train. Mamta was just checking the luggage, still holding Ravi, all in; but Sanu. Where is she? Mamta shirked and shouted, Sanu? 

She was just behind her mother. Did she go to the toilet, unlikely? She didn't know, and she would not go without her mother. She was just six years old. There was sheer panic. We searched in the boggy, on the platform. People could guess someone is missing. They tried looking in all directions. 

The train whistled. It was starting the roll. It was going off the station. We did not realise. Someone suggested pulling the chain. The train stopped... these moments appeared really really long. Frantically we searched the compartments, hundreds of passengers. 

What about if she was still on the platform? Did someone pick her up? Kidnap? Oh, all these negative thoughts gathered so suddenly. Mamta was wailing while looking for her and calling out her name.

We both were looking everywhere on the train. The train manager said, “We can't continue making the train wait for long. Let the police handle this. Decide, you can stay back, or travel.” We could have stayed back, but what if she was on the train? The police came, and we checked each compartment. No sign of her. We stayed back, the train moved on. The transport police took details; I had a photo of Sanu on the phone, taken a few months back, but that was fine for the time.

We didn't know what to do. We sat there silently in the station. I didn't remember how the hours passed, it was almost evening. The police tried reassuring us that they would look for her, and we should go back home and come back the next day sometime. We had nowhere to go. We were returning from a visit to Delhi. Police helped us to find a hotel nearby, later in the night. A whole day had passed. We were all exhausted and very silent. Mamta lay down on the bed, eyes open, tears rolling down; the breaths were occasionally loud, and broken. I was feeling choked sitting on the chair. Learning about the situation, the hotel owner had sent some food in packets; those were on the table, unopened.

I was in the police station early morning, really early. There were different officers; some just learned what has happened yesterday from me, and some checked files. They reassured me, asked me to wait, and I waited. Nothing happened. Everything was going on as usual; there was no restlessness or any hurry in the air to match my mind.  I waited till late in the evening before I came back to Mamta and Ravi in the hotel. 

I went back the next few days, every morning, wishing for some news. They were reassuring me, suggested to go back home, and that they would let us know if they had any information. I wasn't sure if anything was being done really, whether the information moved from those papers and files. Whether any action was taken, anything at all … 

Reluctantly, absolutely hesitatingly, we booked another ticket home, almost a week later. There was no news of Sanu. Many gory stories were told, how many little girls go missing each year, and where they land. What happens to them? How some are rescued, all broken, and devastated. Bruised for lives, unrecognisable selves.

There were lots of talks, pity around us. Families, relatives neighbours. But these came down rather soon, people were busy. Soon no one was talking about it. As if life could move on from here. There was a feeling; people did not want to talk about it, lest it might be painful for us. But we needed them, even to share our silences. 

The days continued to keep coming with every sunrise; and turned into nights with sunsets slowly, as if nothing has happened. 

We both just lived our life, respiring, sheepishly, in silence. 

There were innumerable phone calls, letters and visits to the police station in Delhi. We would repeat the story and hear out their reassurances and kind words. But… these did not add up. We did not get any information. Any.

The waiting never stopped.  

Not a single day has passed without missing her. We bargained with God. Temped him. Wished for miracles. A miracle. One day, she will be home. I would be opening the door, and there in front of me, she would be standing, smiling. How would she be looking now?

It has been almost twenty years! Since that darkest morning, it’s playing in our minds each day, each moment. We have become different beings, not ourselves. Nothing has been as forceful to pull us back to the life again. 

Mamta still goes to the station, looking for Sanu, almost every day. As if one day she would come by on a train and alight. I find no reason to explain to her, to dissuade her from this. I just accompany her. She is the one with hope. She prays, she believes miracles happen, that Sanu will return to her. One day … 

I just wish to see Sanu again, before I die.

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