“What is your good name sir?” inquired the ticket inspector as he fondled my train ticket with his greasy hands. His skin was leathery like sun-dried tannin and I could make out the dirty and frayed cuffs of his shirt. He had a skinny neck that protruded like a giraffe between two ill-fitting collars and an unruly paper tie.
“Wasim” I answered
“Where are you from Sir?”
“Please stop calling me Sir” I said tartly. “For I find the whole business reeks of imperialism”
“Yes, jee Sir”
I had seated myself in the economy class carriage next to the window that looked onto the platform. The seats (or benches) were wooden, hard and slippery. It was stiflingly hot, a long difficult journey beckoned and yet here I was feeling rather content. It was only this morning that I had awoken and pretty much decided, on an impulse, to traverse the continent by train. I was wearing a pair of loose airy khakis and a white T-shirt. Well it was white when I had pulled it on this morning, now though a dull magnolia thanks to the dust thrown up by the chugging arterial traffic. I had taken a refreshing shower before checking out of my hotel room, but now as I sat simmering as if on the boil, that shower seemed pointless; economy class has no propeller fans and the midday sun was venting its fury outside, scorching the already brittle and parched earth. Luckily I had my shades and presented them to my eyes for some sun relief. I took the book from my bag, turned it over and blinked at the cover ‘The Railway Bazaar’. I flipped it open but couldn’t start it. I had to wait for the train to start moving.
Suddenly a young women seated herself on the seat opposite me. She was slim, with thick flowing black hair, a little well placed nose and dark eyes set underneath a pair of inconspicuous eye lashes. Her skin was flushed flamingo pink from the heat. She was wearing a little petticoat with ruffled collars and her hair was neatly trimmed at the front but had a mind of it’s own around the sides. Underneath she was wearing a T-shirt (with a pair of sunglasses hanging from the neck), faded jeans, dusty sandles and some bronze anklets that made the mind disappear someplace naughty. In fact she was very pretty and I was attracted to her right away. I looked at her and simultaneously smiled, puffed my mouth and raised my eye brows; you know the way you do when you acknowledge someone without saying hi. She responded with a little smile, blushed slightly and then stared out of the window.
It’s when you become acutely aware of somebody because you like them that everything you do becomes conscious. It’s strange how I suddenly became aware of the flies suddenly buzzing around me and the hardness of the seat. You try and act nonchalantly but there’s no disguising it. Swift, natural flowing movements become huge, lumbersome sweeping statements of intent as you see the individual freeze-frames that make up the motion picture of the world. If she had been a man or an old woman it would have been different. But sexual chemistry; hah! male-female chemistry, is something else and never to be underestimated for its potency. Two individuals, both young, single, sitting opposite each other. Its pure chemicals in your brain man.
I didn’t want to look at her directly or she’d think I was a pervert, so I attempted to avert my gaze or pretended to look at something interesting in the corner or in mid air. I began imagining what she was thinking and started hearing her thoughts in my head like ‘why is that strange man staring into thin air?’ Finally I picked up the book but alas! I couldn’t concentrate; the lovely women sitting opposite me and teasing me by flicking her anklets side to side was speaking in whispers to me. How she craved to be understood, to be held, to be kissed and loved and dressed in salad cream…Or was that my imagination?
The pretence would have gone on forever if she hadn’t spoken first. She introduced herself with a smile and gazed incandescently into my pupils, dispatching a probe on a seek and find out everything mission
“Hi, I’m Vanekka. It’s nice to meet you”
I could tell she felt the same about me. Why else would she start a conversation with a total stranger, on a train, in economy class?
“Hi, my names Wasim” I said (making sure to emphasise it was Waseem not Wazeem)
The polished English accent and the quality of my delivery (perfect pitch and tone with a twist of testosterone) must have set some flammable substance ablaze as I felt her whole body innervate. Or maybe she already knew I wasn’t from these wee parts and the movement was her bowels attempting to jump out of the window?
“So where are you from Waseem?” She probed further
I felt a surge of electricity as she said my name correctly. I felt that I was on the home straight. Such an open question! – I knew we’d be talking for hours. I could talk about the fact that I’m currently living in Dubai (5 points) though I’m originally from London (10 points). She’d ask me what I do and where I work (3 points + 10 points). Then we’d go onto our interests and what music we like (Queen: 10 points). Then I could talk about the ‘The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy’ (-20 points) and my expensive headphones (-20 points). Finally we’d talk about her (30 points) and keep talking about her (30 points) and then finally, for the coup de grace, we’d move onto our families (another 30 points). I felt that I had been handed a full toss and that I would whack it for six out of the stadium.
Then her boyfriend came and sat next to her. He gave her a little hug and both of them looked at me wondering why I had such a happy and gleeful expression frozen on my face. Needless to say the expression thawed to a torpid and insipid smile…