The Girl on the Train
I had the compartment on the train to myself up to Rohana, and then a girl got on. The couple seeing her off were probably her parents, they seemed very anxious about her comfort, and the woman gave the girl detailed instructions as to where to keep her things, when not to lean out of windows, and how to avoid speaking to strangers.
As I had become blind by then, I could not tell what the girl looked like, but I knew she wore slippers from the way they slapped against her heels, and I liked the sound of her voice.
“Are you going all the way to Dehra Dun?” I asked her as the train pulled out of the station.
I must have been sitting in a dark corner, because my voice startled her. She gave a little exclamation, and said, “I didn’t know anyone else was here.”
Well, it often happens that people with good eyesight fail to see what is right in front of them. They have too much to observe, I suppose, whereas those who cannot see take in what registers most telling on their remaining senses.
“I didn’t see you either at first,” I said. “But I heard you come in.” I wondered if I would be able to prevent her from discovering that I couldn’t see. I thought, provided I keep to my seat, it shouldn’t be too difficult.
“I’m getting down at Saharanpur,” the girl said. “My aunt is meeting me there. Where are you going?”
“To Dehra Dun, and then to Mussoorie,” I replied. “Oh, lucky you! I wish I were going to Mussoorie. I love the mountains. Especially in October.”
“Yes, this is the best time.” I said, calling on my memories when I could see. “The hills are covered with wild dahlias, the sun is delicious, and at night you can sit in front of a log fire and drink a little brandy.
Most of the tourists have gone, and the roads are quiet and almost deserted.”
She was silent, and I wondered if my words had touched her, or whether she thought me a romantic fool. Then I made a mistake. “What is it like outside?” I asked.
She seemed to find nothing strange in the question. Had she noticed already that I could not see? But her next question removed my doubts.
“Why don’t you look out of the window?” she asked quite naturally.
I moved easily along the berth and felt for the window ledge. The window was open and I faced it, making a pretense of studying the landscape. In my mind’s eye, I could see the telegraph posts flashing by. “Have you noticed,” I ventured, “that the trees seem to be moving while we seem to be standing still?”
“That always happens,” she said.
I turned from the window and faced the girl, and for a while we sat in silence. “You have an interesting face,” I commented. I was becoming quite daring, but it was a safe remark, few girls can resist flattery.
She laughed pleasantly, a clear, ringing laugh. “It’s nice to be told that,” she said. “I’m so tired of people telling me that I have a pretty face.”
Oh, so you do have a pretty face, thought I, and aloud I said, “Well, an interesting face can also be pretty.”
“You are very gallant,” she said. “But why are you so serious?”
“We’ll soon be at your station,” I said rather abruptly. “Thank goodness it’s a short journey. I can’t bear to sit in a train for more than two or three hours.”
Yet I was prepared to sit there for almost any length of time, just to listen to her talking. Her voice had the sparkle of a mountain stream. As soon as she left the train, she would forget our brief encounter, but it would stay with me for the rest of the journey, and for some time after.
The engine’s whistle shrieked, the carriage wheels changed their sound and rhythm. The girl got up to collect her things. I wondered if she wore her hair in a bun, or if it hung down loose over her shoulders, or if it was cut very short.
The train drew slowly into the station. Outside, there was the shouting of porters and vendors and, near the carriage door, a highpitched female voice that must have belonged to the girl’s aunt. “Goodbye,” said the girl.
She was standing very close to me, so close that the perfume from her hair was tantalizing. I wanted to raise my hand and touch her hair, but she moved away, and only the perfume still lingered where she had stood.
There was some confusion in the doorway. A man getting into the compartment, stammered an apology. Then the door banged shut, and the world was closed out again. I returned to my berth. The guard blew his whistle and we moved off.
The train gathered speed, the wheels took up their song, the carriage groaned and shook. I found the window and sat in front of it, staring into daylight that was darkness for me. Once again I had a game to play and a new fellow traveller.
“She was an interesting girl,” I said. “Can you tell me — did she keep her hair long or short?” “I don’t remember,” he replied, sounding puzzled. “It was her eyes I noticed, not her hair. She had such beautiful eyes, but they were of no use to her — she was completely blind. Didn’t you notice?”