To make up for the accounting hours she had missed last Friday, Honey had to do over-time at her city office that evening, even as it came at the expense of her missing her usual train. After work, she managed to reach the station just in time to catch the 19:30 shuttle.
The crowd in the ladies’ compartment was oddly sparse. The moist night breeze, which filtered through the compartment’s tarnished window-grills, played with her hair while she mused over how peculiar, trains smelt of, especially when loco-pilots hit the brakes.
She had been this late only once before but was unsure if that was in January or December, though she had a vivid picture of the night as it had happened. That night, even as she had informed her hyper-anxious mom that she’d be running late, Ms. Christina waited out for her in the cold, holding on to a flashlight outside the gate.
This time too, she let her mom know.
The train reached Seethafalmandi station around 9 o’ clock. The platform was poorly lit by three or four flickering fluorescent tube-lamps.
She had to walk down a dark alley that ran by the third platform to reach home, which was a kilometer away.
If my dad was around, he would have escorted me home, Honey thought as she dialed up her mom’s number. This call, apart from serving as a heads-up, was to inform Christina that supper has to be ready as soon as her sweet-one gets home.
Famished and exhausted, Honey strolled out of the station’s entrance-gate fantasizing about how delicious dinner would taste.
The sky was dark and the earth damp from the evening’s shower. The night’s silence was cut open only by some crickets’ chirping from behind the tall grass near the railway quarters; them establishing some sort of a nocturnal dominion.
It was only after covering half way along the road that she realized that it wasn’t just the crickets that was keeping her company.
She was being followed.
Alarmed, Honey looked around for familiar faces, seeking help, only to find the alley deserted. Not bothering to look back, she started walking hastily.
Even a simple task like fishing her cell phone out of the bag seemed impossible then.
The stalker, who was old and scrawny, gained on her with every step and she, sensing it, ran as fast as she could, which set him do the same.
The old man hollered something in his coarse voice but was unintelligible as Honey was terror-stricken. A cold sweat broke down her spine when she had felt his arms reaching out. He screeched again and this time its sheer shrill paralyzed her.
Frightened to the bones, Honey froze there rock solid, her eyes tightly shut. All she could feel was his warm breath on her neck.
He then sauntered past her and subsequently took a confrontational stance.
This was it, she had a gut feeling.
She opened her eyes hesitatingly to look at the man she was running from but her eyelids could not stop twitching.
The old man pulled out something from his dhoti and said, “Why didn’t you stop when I called?”
She didn’t say a word; she couldn’t have said anything even if she wanted to. In fact, it took her a couple of minutes to even make sense of everything- He had with him her purse, which she might have dropped at the station.
Without even the slightest of acknowledgments, he handed it over to her and shot away, into the darkness.
Relieved and thankful, Honey then walked home a lighter spirit.
And just before reaching home, at the last turn, she saw her mom, waiting far down the street, anxious as ever, with the same old flashlight.