“Here is your seat. Call Ramesh when you reach Bangalore. I have given him the coach details. And.. just take care okay?”
Being instructed of travel cautions by her daughter made her feel like a helpless young kid. Her attention drifted with a gentle tap on her shoulder accompanied with the words,” She is calling you.” The old lady turned her head and waved a final goodbye.
She was re-adjusting the bag when the girl next to her offered to help. She resisted,” I.. will do it. Thanks!” smiling politely hiding a bit of irritation. With a new found determination she pushed the bag that was too stubborn to move into the inadequate space below the seat. Celebrating the little accomplishment she dabbed the beads of sweat with the loose end of her soft, white cotton saree. It had faint prints of blue buds splattered across the white in a systematic fashion that splashed an aura of calmness around the woman. A pair of grey clothed half shoes wrapped her feet in comfort. She looked at her fingers noticing the waves of wrinkles floating on her skin. The oldness struck her and a discomfort spread through her chest. It disturbed her- how the identity gets erased with age- old woman is how they all define her -no mannerisms, no attributes and no personality! Can I help? That’s all they ask. As if incapability was stamped on her face.
She finally paid attention to the girl sitting next to her, looking at her for the first time. A fashionable haircut with the hair covering half her face was the first thing that caught her notice. A cheerful green t-shirt with a huge red heart at what seemed like an inappropriate location for a print was the second thing. The old lady predicted that pretty soon a pair of music blabbering earphones will be taken out of the girl’s bag shutting her off from any possible conversation. She was reminded of her own daughter when in twenties. She turned her face away and stared blankly at the window presuming the young girl wouldn’t want to be bothered.
After a little unplanned nap the old woman looked around to figure out where she had reached. Her feet felt tizzy with the constant movement of the train. She turned around to find the girl’s face beaming. She was looking at her with a smile. Words were banging through the corners of her lips as if she wanted to talk. She smiled back, little hesitant if she should enquire about the need for a conversation. Noticing her smile the girl spoke with joy and unknown familiarity, “I got short listed for a play!“ The old lady was battling on choosing the possible positive reaction. She glanced around to find the usual crowd- some people who were of the similar age of the young girl. She was struck by surprise as to what would have made her- a sixty seven year old lady a part of this unusual conversation. Masking her surprise she extended her hand and conveyed her happiness and best wishes to the girl. The girl talked animatedly about the drama classes and about this big play that was to be staged in front of some reputed actors. The words- so cool, horribly good, incredibly hot, OMG darted in and out of most of her statements but there was never a mention of words like- old, help or amma. The old woman had read about the play. Had overheard a conversation about the possible purchase of tickets- she struggled as she responded back trying to match the excitement of the young girl with the handful information she had.
She was being talked to like a friend- by a girl who was of the similar age as her daughter. The observation that the girl was almost over a decade younger than her daughter added an additional delight. The next one hour went by with conversations about movies, about artists and the old woman found her herself up to date with each piece of information the girl had to offer. Being a silent spectator to the conversation between her growing and now grown children was the source of this knowledge. She noticed how her words, statements and participation was well received with eagerness by her friend, a young girl,
like -her daughter younger, much younger than her daughter. The old lady recollected all the moments when she had willingly extended her presence as someone more comforting like a friend rather than a mother. There is an age when being the mother to one’s own children can be hurtful and not being able to be looked upon as a friend is even more painful. She had crossed this phase long ago. The hurt had healed. Her children were now grown up man and woman and took utmost care of her well being. Yet she yearned to be included in the discussions they assumed would not suit her- age? What had interest got to do with it? And here she was juggling words with a young thing, in a conversation about the current world- their world, the world her children belong to.
The journey was nearing its end with the Bangalore platform vaguely in sight. The girl pulled out her mobile and asked the old woman’s number- to keep in touch. The old lady looked at the screen as she spoke out each number while her eyes matched it with the number that was punched. She was about to say her name,”Revat……” when she saw the girl type- Old Aunty- Shatabdi Ex where her name was supposed to appear- probably with a aunty or Mrs. tagged along with it. The girl picked up her bags in a hurry, gave a warm hug to the lady. Before dashing towards the door she tucked a piece of paper with her name and number in the old lady’s hand as she spoke, “Take care aunty.. it was very nice meeting you! This is my number.”
Revathi’s eyes found Ramesh who had made his way into the coach to HELP her – the old mother, the old lady- the old aunty?
Later that night along with other discarded belongings of the travellers a tiny unnoticeable piece of paper with a name and number was dumped in the railway trash.