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A Short Story by Richa J

Day 1:
The rattling of the train seemed like the only constant in my life. The lights passed by, the crowds on the station platforms dissolved in front of my unseeing eyes, the dark waters of the creek could be felt as the train hurtled noisily over the bridge.

I got out of the train mechanically, walking along past jostling people out of the station gates and I kept walking. The crowds thinned away, the street became dimmer, a few looks of askance passed my way but I was oblivious to them. Soon the street was filthier, only a few cars screeched by, a few leers thrown out from its peering faces, a few loitering women with gleaming red lips and painted faces, the straggling men. By the time I realized my surroundings, I didn’t know where I was and almost didn’t care. Two men with reeking breath got too close and I felt clammy. As I quickened my steps, a whirlwind zipped past and zipped away with my purse. I could hear a man’s laughter, when a voice called out, “hat ja, bibi ko mat pareshan karo (Move away, do not trouble the lady)” . “Bibiji, aap yaha kya kar rahi hai?” When she asked me what I was doing here, I think my blank look answered her. “Rasta bhool gayi ho bibiji, aap ghar jao nahi to sach much kho jaogi.”(seems like you have lost your way, go home or you shall really get lost)  When I didn’t reply, she hailed a taxi: “Bhaiyya, bibiji ko ghar chod do”(Brother, please leave the lady home). As a currency note was thrust into his hand, he replied “Theek, Kajri (o.k Kajri)” Kajri opened the door and gently shoved me in. The door slammed and I saw a lipstick smeared smile and two beautiful eyes- kind, wistful and yet full of life. The voice of the taxi driver jolted me out my reverie. “Kaha ko, madam?(where to)” “Pali Hill, Bandra” I replied.  His eyebrows went up ever so slightly.

Her eyes lingered on my mind till the taxi climbed up the hill and I automatically gave instructions to the driver till my apartment block, as on so many countless normal days. Today was not a normal day for me – a regular office going middle management single woman who had been leading a regular busy life- a comfortable flat, a fairly satisfying office job, evening with a steady boyfriend with whom a marriage was on the cards soon. WAS.
He had just jilted me today. It ended -  just like that-“ it was great, but..,..over…goodbye”.

Was it just this afternoon that he ended it – just like that: ‘ It had been great but… blah,blah…’ The coffee in front of me sat untouched as he spoke on ‘.. but it’s over… blah, blah… maybe we can meet up sometimes.. , goodbye.’  The End.
The end of a girl’s dream.

Day 2:
The doorbell pierced through my muddled dreams. I sat up; I was still in yesterday’s jeans. I opened the door and picked up the milk bottle. Yesterday was not a nightmare. It was reality. I looked up at the face staring at me from the mirror. Fourteen hours and these eyes had lost themselves. ‘ Jab uto sooke to chehere ko tatolu pehle..’- the strains of the ghazal meandered through my mind.

The coffee woke me alright. I picked at the toast. I couldn’t stomach the idea of a full breakfast though my stomach was mumbling. I was not going to office today – I couldn’t face them – not today- not so soon- all those sympathetic eyes, knowing looks and whispers behind my back  and that pep talk by Radha . After the weekend I shall try putting myself into one piece. For now, I started with clearing the bedroom. If you want to keep your body busy and the mind too tired to think,  try spring cleaning. By evening I was exhausted and slept soundly in front of the television set.

Later in the evening the apartment guard came to inform me that I had a visitor- a taxi driver. I was surprised but asked him to accompany him up. It was the taxi driver of the day before. “Madam, your purse.” Kajri had asked him to come and return it. The money was gone but the papers were all there. Kajri had pulled Chotu’s ears well, he said laughingly.

Kajri’s eyes came back to me. One among the millions who cared for a lost city bred. I asked him where he had picked me up that day. “Kya, Madam…L.M.Street, Mahim.”  My heart skipped a beat. I would never have ventured there in daytime on my own, let alone at night. “Where does Kajri stay?”I asked.  “vahi, footpath par”  The street had rows of makeshift shanty homes. “ Kisi se bhi pooch lo Kajri ko sab jante hai” (on the footpath. Ask anyone . Everybody knows Kajri).  I handed him a crisp five hundred rupee note and thanked him, feeling very inadequate.

I finally attended Radha’s call. Yes , I was fine. .. I will survive…. I would come to office on Monday…No, she couldn’t come home to meet me… No, I was going to be out on Sunday.

Day 3:
On Sunday morning I got ready and walked to the station. The city was also celebrating the Sunday break. Fewer cars, fewer people, regular church goers. It was ages since I had taken the train on a Sunday. It was ages since I had spent Sunday without him…

I walk out of Mahim station along L.M. street, past the auto stand, the bus stand. Even in the bright morning sunlight, the road looks desolate and dirty, but the shanties alongside were busy: children playing, women washing, gossiping, cooking. I had started getting strange looks but this was Mumbai, anything goes. I ask a boy playing cricket with a wooden plank for Kajri’s house;  he points ahead. “peepal ke baad, laal parde wala” (the house after the peepal tree, the one with the red curtain).

I clutch my bag closely and walk straight ahead till the peepal tree. A young girl is playing hopscotch on the footpath. I don’t know how to knock: I call out Kajri’s name and lift up the red cloth hesitantly.  A face looks up from her cooking, “Bibiji, aap!”  She pulls out a stool for me and starts making tea. In between she pulls the string of the make shift crib in the corner.

Kajri and me: two worlds apart, yet we sat like two soul mates in that tent. I tell her bits about my life. She gives an outline of her life with set eyes: A girl in a poor but simple life in the village, orphaned due to poverty, brought to the city by a greedy relative. Sold to a brothel- ran away to do the streets on her own – fleeting men in her life – and then motherhood.  Here her eyes soften – her daughter is her life, her aim in life now.  As we sat together sipping the tea, we were two women alone in the world. She had found her goal in life and I had to search for mine.  I felt ashamed. This girl had lost her whole world and had been subject to the worst humiliation for a woman at half my age and yet had fought her way back. And I had broken down just because a man who I thought loved me had jilted me.

I tried leaving her some money but she took only the taxi fare.  I left my visiting card:  “just in case if you need something”.

The Short Story Kajri continues here...