The yellow and black taxi cruised through the gloomy and lifeless street. Maya sat listlessly leaning her head against the open window. As she turned her face towards the clear starry sky her face was bathed in white light. The cool gentle breeze fanned her face blowing her thick black hair as if waving goodbye to the past she was leaving behind. Her face broke into a smile. The drive had long dried the tears.
The night had looked daunting only a little while ago. Now she felt calm. It was so typical of him to behave irresponsibly.
The ‘him’ of course was Nilesh. They were on their way to Ranthambhore for a week’s break – a trip they had been planning for two months now and should have been perfect. But with Nilesh nothing was ever perfect.
Having known him for four years now, Maya had insisted on taking care of everything herself except booking the train tickets.
‘I don’t have time.’
Many an argument and several reminders later Nilesh finally got the tickets for Sawai Madhopur from where the receptionist at Ramthambhore Bagh resort confirmed to Maya that a car would receive them.
She’d rushed through chaotic evening traffic directly from work to the Mumbai Central station only to realise that Nilesh hadn’t arrived yet. Oh! Why couldn’t life be simpler? Why did she always have to call? The sinking feeling of helplessness crept in. Did he always have to make her go through these trying periods of waiting, praying, calling, and hoping? She dialled his number. His phone rang out.
Tapping her foot agitatedly she looked around the crowded platform for ways to keep herself busy. Ah! Food – that should help.
The scene inside Mac resembled a riot zone where people had been given only minutes to buy ration. Hugging her red and black haversack Maya side-stepped over luggage and elbowed her way to the front where there was space only to balance herself on one foot. As she jostled for the waiter’s attention she suddenly felt something cold trickling down her pink jeans. Furious she screamed and found herself staring at a knee-high, buck-toothed skinny little boy with an up-turned paper glass. He smiled toothily forcing her to curb her anger. She stared at him blankly. No, she couldn’t muster a smile.
What a great start!
She managed to pick up burgers and then went searching for a quiet place. The station was a madhouse with people running around each with a purpose and no quiet corners. Maya smiled, that’s Mumbai. No one had time for anyone else, anything else, always scampering for time, fighting for that little inch of space. Making her way through the chaos she managed to find a narrow gap between cartons lying on a lone trolley.
Her phone rang.
‘Baby I’ve just left, the traffic is terrible so I should be there soon.’
As she sat munching, she heard the announcement, due to a technical fault the August Kranti would arrive 3 hours late, inconvenience caused regretted. Maya’s heart sank. A collective sigh went around.
Enterprising travellers took out bed sheets; newspaper laid them down and either played cards or went off to sleep. The lull descended on the platform. Maya began to read her book.
Still no sign of Nilesh.
Sometime later she felt as if someone was staring at her. Looking up she found herself staring back at the same buck-toothed skinny little boy. Another toothy grin. This time she smiled. She called out and he came readily. He was Rithi, which Maya assumed was possibly Rishi and so they started an animated discussion as he made himself comfortable on her lap. Soon a lady similarly thin and buck-toothed introduced herself as Rishi’s mother and queried if he was disturbing her. Turned out that they were also travelling by August Kranti, on their way to Baroda.
Oh great – it would be nice to have company even if it meant only halfway especially since she knew that Nilesh would be busy reading his photography books instead of keeping her company. His latest hobby had turned into an obsession.
While they sat chatting Rishi’s ma suddenly asked, “So which train are you taking to Sawai Madhopur from Baroda?”
“What do you mean? We have no other booking.” Maya inquired hesitantly. Something didn’t feel right.
“This train terminates at Baroda. Don’t you have to change and take something else?”
Her phone rang. ‘Nilesh calling.’
Maya couldn’t believe it. She rummaged through her bag to check the ticket. Her hands shook. It read Mumbai Central to Baroda. And then she was ready to scream. Besides their seat numbers were the letters WL – no, this wasn’t happening. They were waitlisted!
Where was Nilesh? Forgetting about Rishi and his mom, she dialled his number.
“Did you check the tickets when your agent gave them? Did it ever occur to you that the tickets read Mumbai Central to Baroda? Did you see the letters WL beside the seat numbers? Do you realise that we’re waitlisted on a train that doesn’t even go where we want to go? Forget that, we can’t even board the train in the first place. Two months of planning and this is what you do. Can you ever do anything right?”
As she screamed oblivious of her surroundings, Rishi jumped onto his mother’s lap and shrank back. She held his hand and walked away – Maya definitely needed to be alone now.
‘I’ve just entered the station. Where are you?’
A little later as Nilesh walked towards her sheepishly, he saw Maya’s face flush red. She was breathing hard. He could almost visualise her transforming into Goddess Kali – red eyes, tongue sticking out, and standing on him while holding on to his severed head in her bloodied hands. He immediately clutched his throat.
Oh god, of course, he didn’t check the tickets. He didn’t have time to do that. His secretary did say that the agent wanted to talk to him but he was too busy.
‘Just ask him to book the tickets.’ He had said.
He knew Maya’s temper. Frantically he tried to figure out what to do. Call the agent!
He dialled his number but it was busy. He tried again…and again.
‘I’ll check if we can take another train.’
‘Honestly, Nilesh. Another train? At this time of the night? What makes you think there will be one? And there will be seats available?’
Nilesh tried the agent again. This time it rang.
‘Mr Nair, why didn’t you tell me that this train only goes till Baroda? You knew we had to go to Sawai Madhopur. You even gave me tickets that are waitlisted. Can’t you do anything right? Why didn’t you inform me earlier? Your agency has been working with us for so long and we have given you so much business. We’ve never failed in our payments. How can you give us such bad service? I will ensure that you lose your contract.”
On and on he went about how Mr Nair had failed him and the company.
Maya stood furious more so now that Nilesh instead of finding alternatives was actually ranting about his company’s relationship with the agent. Unable to listen any longer she snatched the phone from his hand. She only wished she had taken care of all the arrangements herself.
‘Mr Nair, this is Maya, Nilesh’s wife. Can you suggest if there is any other train that we can take? We have to reach Sawai Madhopur by tomorrow or else we’ll lose money on the hotel booking I’ve made.’
‘I’m sorry madam. I had informed his secretary that he should call me as I wasn’t getting direct tickets. But he never called. I tried speaking to him to ask if he was ok with a break journey or if would fly from Jaipur but he was never there. He just said, book the tickets. So I did. Too late now. There is no other train tonight and the last flight to Jaipur would have departed. I will see if there are tickets available for you to go to Delhi and maybe from there to Ranthambhore via Jaipur. I will call you back.’
Maya just sat staring nowhere in particular. What now? Why did she trust Nilesh? What was she doing with him? Whatever made her think he would be an ideal partner? She had often thought about killing her aunt for introducing them. He arrived late for their wedding, always forgot to call her, had to be reminded that they were meeting or going shopping, left his shoes and clothes lying around, on weekends he would sit reading a book while she managed to timely pay the utility bills or fix things herself, he wouldn’t help her with the housework, refused to accompany her to family gatherings and if he did go, he would be dressed the same way for every occasion. It annoyed her when relatives and friends made fun of him but it failed to bother him.
It did seem like God had hinted discretely that he wasn’t the right choice but Maya had fallen head over heels for those beady eyes, curly hair and a smile that stretched from ear to ear.
Mr Nair called back.
‘Nothing available madam. You should go till Baroda and try for a connecting train or hire a car.’
Nilesh walked to the counter to check if he could do something about their tickets. Nothing.
Two hours later as the train arrived at the station buzzed with activity. Maya looked on mutely while Nilesh hurried to find the ticket checker. Time ticked by.
The station started emptying slowly– though it had been such a long wait, people rushed excitedly to board the train. She watched the noisy rush of activities. She saw Rishi waving out to her. His mother looked at her questioningly. Seeing her blank stare she mouthed, “I’m sorry”. Maya blew a kiss to Rishi, heaved a sigh and smiled at his mother.
A while later the train started rolling out. Maya stood alone staring at its receding outline till it blurred from view.
It was just one of those things yet again. Now what?
Nilesh walked towards Maya and put his hand over her shoulder.
Maya picked up her haversack and turned towards him. Tears were streaming down her face and her voice choked.
Nilesh gave her a quizzical look but before he could react Maya had walked away.
She hailed a cab.
It was time to take the plunge. This relationship was long over and it was always her initiative that kept it going. No more.
Nilesh would continue shying away from committing himself to this relationship completely and she did not want to continue to be his mother anymore – taking care of him at every step. It was time for him to grow up, on his own. She wanted to be the one to be taken care of. She wanted to be able to depend on him during trying times and share equal responsibilities of a lifetime together.
It was time for her to begin life afresh. She loved him, maybe that’s why she had to let go. She owed it to herself.