A Lemonade Tale
Until You Were Gone
She stood patiently, waiting for the arrival of her train amongst the unapologetic crowd at Kurla station. She was in a state of simultaneous hyper-awareness and detachment, apprehensive of her surroundings. Battling with severe depression and PTSD, everything around her seemed to push her closer to teetering off the proverbial edge. She felt every passing breeze, almost like a solitary reaper, lost in her own melancholy- a withering flower in a sea of thorns. The hustle of the throngs of people all around her, marching ahead with purpose in their stride, served as an emotional linchpin. Sardonically, she thought, despite all the hype surrounding it, Mumbai truly can make one feel quite lonely and cut off from the rest of the world.
The horn of the incoming train sounded like the song of a siren calling her to a shipwreck. As the train halted, she waited for the crowds to disperse before quietly boarding it. On board her carriage, she suddenly felt vulnerable with the gazes of her fellow straphangers on her, judging her. The train seemed to move painstakingly slow, and she suddenly wished she was back home, curled up on her couch with a book, lost in a literary dream. Ironically, her very own, was a broken dream in the famed ‘City of Dreams’. As the people in the carriage parted, she saw a lone seat next to an immaculately dressed young man. She grudgingly took the seat, feeling light-headed, and hoping to ease her nerves. She realised how dramatic she was being. It’s not like she’d never commuted via a local train before. A small smile (more of a grimace, really) tugged on her lips, thinking about her friends jokingly calling her behaviour akin to that of Lana Del Ray, singing about looking pretty when crying.
The past few years had been tough on her, and though she had the infinite support of friends and family, it just wasn’t enough. Shaking her head to clear her destructive thoughts, she took in her surroundings. The train compartment was like a slice of Mumbai, itself. From the worn fish-selling ‘kaki’ returning home, with an empty wicker basket perched on her hip, to the young hot-shot business men and women, to office workers returning home after a tedious day, to snot nosed vendor boys selling pricey tea and snacks. But somehow, her gaze was drawn to her neighbour, who seemed quite out of place in this setting, carrying a worn out copy of Hemmingway’s tragedy, ‘Islands in the Stream’.
With a pair of Ray Bans perched upon his nose, stylishly gelled back hair, a sculpted jaw-line and that particular book in his hand, he would have been a man after her own heart in a perfect world. But sigh, a broken mess like her, with enough baggage to sink a boat, was not fated to have a white picketed-fence happy ending. He drew his fingers across the intricate illustration on the cover, seemingly elated with the experience. She almost felt jealous of his tranquil state. She traced his delicate movement with her eyes, drinking it all in. Suddenly, she felt his eyes pierce into hers, and her face burned with the embarrassment of being caught in the act. Once again, her paranoia took over and she shrunk back into her shell, imagining him trying to decipher her.
“So, what are you guilty of?” he questioned leisurely, facing ahead. Jolting her out of her transient state, she stuttered,”A-are you talking to me?”. “Your actions speak volumes… It’s far too distracting.” She immediately stopped her nervous fidgeting, feeling self-conscious. “Maybe you should just talk about it and get it off your chest.” Well, now he was just being intrusive. “Thank you Dr. Seuss, but you are not my therapist.” she replied snarkily. “You cannot keep living in a constant state of fear. You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” he mused aloud, laying his head back.”Sure, that will be a cakewalk”, jeered her pragmatism. But, for the first time in a long time, she felt like letting go of her jaded past. She always thought that one day hope would come to her in the hallowed form of a grooving, preaching Whoopi Goldberg, pulling her out of her misery. Never had she expected its harbinger to be a mysterious mumbaiker travelling on a local from Kurla to Panvel.
While she mused about her predicament, she noticed her station approaching. Apparently, so did her neighbour who stood up to gather his belongings, before mumbling, “Your life isn’t a movie, don’t end it. I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.” Even after knocking the wind out of her with the impact of his words, he never turned to even look at her. It was only while he moved towards the exit, that she noticed the Bluetooth earpiece he continued speaking into.
Alas, gone was the hope she had discovered in the bliss of the past few moments, as her fight song ended off-key. She came back crashing down from the proverbial La-La Land. Noticing that he had left his book on his seat, she immediately pounced upon it, savouring the remnants of her close encounter with a shot at happiness. As she jostled her way through the humdrum of the elbowing crowds hurrying to pile through the exit, she noticed her mysterious stranger a few paces ahead of her. Suddenly he turned back to look at her, with a ghost of a smile on his face before disappearing among the sea of people. Releasing a breath she didn’’t realise she was holding, the girl looked down at the book in her hands. Picking at its worn cover, she smiled for the first time in a long time and crossed her fingers, wishing for her own fortunate stroke of serendipity.