Gentleman in the Station
THE GENTLEMAN IN THE STATION
The Cochin express was delayed by two hours and it did not take long before situation went out of control in the ticketing counter. It was jammed with people – some demanding an explanation and others for refund. The small needle of a large round dirty clock hanging on the grimy wall, pointed to eight. The platform was strewn with people in groups, some sat on the floor others on their luggage, and still others ate from Tiffin boxes using their fingers. A mother was feeding her three children, one after the other, like a bird feeds its hatchlings. The noise of her wailing children, who never seemed to get full, drowned the tinkling of her bangles, as she quickly spooned in a yellow substance dripping with grease, into their wide open mouths. A man walked in. He scanned the station through his dark glasses and spotted an empty bench, and took unhurried steps towards it. As his shoes tapped on the cemented floor, the rest of the noise in the station began to fade and turned into a muted hum. It was like a classroom full of naughty children trying to behave themselves when teacher walks in.
The man sat on the bench of the train station. Specks of silver shone on his full head, and he looked in his mid-forties. But you never know with these types, with their nourished clean skin, well worked out physique and the fancy clothes. He became the centre of attention, dressed immaculately, in expensive looking coffee colored suit, a long cream colored overcoat, and polished pointed shoes that matched his coat. The dark glasses he wore, was a mystery since the lights from the sparsely lit naked bulbs was dim and did not contribute much to the night.
It has been some time since he walked into the station. The rapidly moving life seemed to have come to a halt since. His back straight, one foot on the top of another, left well manicured fingers holding an unlit cigar, right hand holding a lighter, he stared ahead at nothing or perhaps something. Although the glasses covered half his face, the stiff lines that ran along the sides of his face suggested, lack of interest in the world outside of him; the world that was so different from him.
He was however, the subject of great interest to all that surrounded him. The families waiting in groups on the floor – the mothers, fathers, their children, the beggars, the coffee and tea sellers, the janitors and even the passengers of the trains, struggled to tear their eyes off him. It was not every day that a fine looking man, sat on the bench of the grim railway station, whose lighter seemed to cost more than the entire family’s monthly wage. Nobody went and sat beside him, although there was plenty of space available. He provoked interest, curiosity and a lot of excitement and yet people kept their distance.
The man had started looking like a statue frozen in time, having sat there without moving, for maybe an hour now. Finally when he moved, the world around him became still. They watched as he stood up stretching his body a little. Leisurely he bit off the cigar, put it in his mouth, lit it with the lighter, and then squinting he took a few powerful drags blowing clouds of smoke and then sat down again. A thick cloud of smoke engulfed the spot. Two boys jumped and tried to catch the smoke with an unfaltering attention. Little girl in a dirty pink frock joined them shortly. No sooner did the smoke disappear and they looked for a fresh batch to travel towards them. Unaware of the excitement he had caused behind him, the man continued to gaze ahead. The TT blew the whistle. The train declared that it was time to depart. Loud puff and chuk…chuk…chuk filled the station as it picked up the speed. People were saying good byes, some with tears and some with last minute instructions.
“Don’t forget to lock the door when you go out!”
“Send me a letter every week!”
“Have your dinner on time!”
“Make sure you feed Bunty two hours before bed time, he’ll wet the bed otherwise!”
“Give Daddaji my Namashkar, and don’t let him eat all the sweets!”
Cigar, I know all about Cigars. I may be a lowly uneducated, unemployed painter, hoping to get noticed someday for my talent and my sketches would appear in all the major magazines and newspapers, but I know about Cigar. First of all I know it is a Cigar and not an extra large bidi like the rest over here might be assuming. I’ll rant about the Cigar later, because now, I must talk about my latest sketch – my masterpiece – The gentleman in the station. My best work so far. I’m not going to sell it even if someone offered me a million rupees, or a big house and a car, or a large box full of Cigars. I was so engrossed in these delightful possibilities, that it took a while before I realized someone standing behind me. I looked back. Lord! It was the gentle man with the Cigar.
“How much do you want for it?” He asked me. His crisp well formed voice seemed to slice through my delicate ear drums; they were not accustomed to such refined way of speech up close.
Oh dear! He asked me how much. I started picturing a million rupees, the house, the car, all the Cigars…I gaped at him with my mouth open. I could not believe, out of all the people in the station, he chose to speak to me!
Sliding a hand inside his coat pocket, he withdrew a fine leather wallet, took out a brand new hundred rupees note, and waved it at me. “Will this do?”
It had been a long time since I saw a hundred rupees note. My stomach started growling at the sight. I wondered how long it had been since I had a decent meal…I wondered how it would feel to have a full stomach. I grabbed it like a flash just in case he changed his mind, and handed him the sketch. The gentleman walked away; as he did, all eyes followed him until they lost his sight. The station resumed its normal chaotic state after him and I was left with a hundred rupees and anticipation for another such remarkable day.