There are some faces that tell me I know them, no matter where I see them, like this man standing near the other end of the door. I prefer to stand near the door to catch some fresh air though it was difficult when people huddled in and out at the stations. He was wearing clean and neatly pressed white kurta with dhoti. His attire and thick black celluloid spectacles told me he was a teacher. No, I did not know him by name or profession. I just knew that he took the same local train as me every morning.
I sometimes wondered the way people know each other in these train journeys. Every day when I get on to the train, my eyes meet some of the people I know. A few unspoken words are exchanged, but that tells me everyone is fine. They are just normal mango people. Of all that changed past couple of years, these hitherto unnamed relations stay put, for whatever reasons.
Today I missed my usual 8:15 Naihaty local. I took the next Ranaghat and before long I knew I was traveling with a complete set of strangers. No looks were exchanged; I took a corner near the door. Then my eyes fell upon him. He too definitely missed the train. I smiled. Strangely he did not smile back. I guessed he was not feeling comfortable. Well, the train was far heavily packed than what it takes to travel in comfort. I was somewhat surprised. Going by his age, he was an avid daily passenger and those of his age happen to travel in more than one circles like compartment number five on 6:40 Krishnanagar or number five on 7 Kalyani and so on. I guessed he was not like those who can mix very well, or maybe he was not well. There was something in his face that I failed to read.
“Hey, what do you think you are doing?” I heard a shrill voice. A voice that was high pitched enough to be heard over the noise of a moving train. I turned my head in curiosity. The woman continued to shout, “Did you think you will get away with that?”
“But… but it was only my wristwatch.”
“Your watch? Hell with your watch. Do I look like an idiot? You scum, you filthy pig. Your watch tore the stitches on my blouse.”
More and more people were tuning into the conversation now. It was after all, kind of story that everyone like to hear, talk about. Right then something moved near my blindspot and with a blink a scream faded away. The old teacher had jumped out of the train. The shock took everyone. The argument subsided. The train was slowing down. Somebody had pulled the chain. Clamor burst into my eardrums.
The train came to a halt, finally. I heard some people jump off enthusiastically. I wanted to go too. But I could not move. I had not recovered from the shock. I knew it. He must have been determined to do this. So he missed his train deliberately. He did not want to do it when familiar faces were around. Then he saw me and looked away. Did I remind him of a student?
I whispered, “I know him.”
“How did you know him? Was he so frustrated in life? Was it his family? What did he do?” Questions were whirling around me. I just did not know how to tell them how I know him.