It was the day I was to go back home for vacations. The train station was four hours away from my college in the hills. There was slight traffic on the way, but I was hoping to reach on time to catch the train. I reached the station at 5 O’clock in the evening – the time of train departure. The trains usually ran behind schedule, so even though I was rushing, I was still hoping to catch it. But what I saw shook the ground beneath me. My train was chugging away on the adjacent platform.
I was stranded on the station with just 40 bucks, not enough to get another reservation on the train. Even if I had enough money, I wouldn’t get a reservation at such a short notice. I needed more money in any case. A while later I saw a college junior – an acquaintance; hesitatingly, I requested him to lend me 500 bucks. This was a big amount for a student in those days. He reached out for his wallet and generously handed out the 500 currency note to me. I was so thankful for the help. I bought a general ticket to board the train. I had to keep checking the train’s arrival time as the train was delayed a few times. It was late in the night and I was extremely tired having not slept the last couple of nights. There are delays when you least want them! Luckily, I was allowed to rest in the Army resting area while I waited for the train.
Finally, the train arrived at 1:30 AM. I boarded the train and occupied the corner of the lower side berth in an AC coach. I told my co-passengers in the compartment about my situation and they suggested I talk to the ticket collector and get a seat reservation. If there was an availability, the ticket collector would charge me a hefty price in exchange for a seat to sleep on. He came after a wait and informed that there was no availability, though, I might get a reservation late in the night if one of the passengers didn’t turn up. He demanded 500 bucks for his service, leaving me with just 40 bucks.
In the wee hours, more people had boarded the train and entered the compartment. These people had reservations in the compartment, so I had to squeeze myself in a tight spot. A middle-aged, shabby looking man had entered the compartment too. The man unlatched and occupied the middle berth. He offered to share the seat with me. I gratefully accepted his kind gesture and seated myself as comfortably as I could in a middle birth with my back hunched. After a while, he offered me some snacks but I hesitated. He insisted. I hesitated again, and finally accepted; after all, I had seen him open a new packet right then so there was no real fear of it being poisoned. And yet I became wary of him for being too nice! Where I lived then, men were notorious for behaving too nicely and later taking advantage of young girls.
A couple of hours later, it was dinner time and the train’s pantry guy came to check who all would have liked to have dinner. I asked him about the cost of the dinner plate. It was 30 bucks. I love the train meals but I decided not to get it, after all, I had planned to buy a water bottle for 10 bucks, a dozen of banana for 20 bucks to last me for another 15 hours and save the remaining 10 bucks to call my parents from the station in case I didn’t find them there. I was prepared for what lay ahead of me; at least I thought so. The pantry guy came with the dinner plates and placed one in front of me. The man insisted that I accept it. I hesitated but then accepted it, thinking that I could still pay the pantry guy from the 40 bucks I had, still leaving me with10 bucks to call my parents. I was not only tired and sleepy but famished as well! I ate to my heart’s content. When the pantry guy came to collect the plates and money, I offered him 30 bucks but he informed that my meal was paid for by that man. I was in a daze, to be thankful or to be suspicious. I thanked the man but I knew I had to be careful.
It was time to sleep and I decided to seat myself at the edge of his berth, leaving him more space to stretch. I decided to stay awake and keep an eye on my belongings. Yet again, the man insisted that I sleep on his berth and I refused. He insisted again and I refused again, before finally giving in. How hard it is to say ‘No’ to someone who has showered you with so many favors? I decided not to sleep but to lie down to rest so I could keep a watch, the need for which felt even more pressing now. He sat at the edge of his berth while I stretched myself on his seat. As time passed by, I noticed the man looked relaxed and not dubious, I let my guard down just a little bit, relaxed just a little more.
I got up to the sunlight and the hustle bustle of the morning scene in the train. I had fallen asleep! And the man was gone! But I was alright and so were my belongings! I had been taken care of! He had protected me and kept me out of harm’s way! He was an angel and I – an ordinary person projecting my fears onto his goodness.
A couple of hours later my station arrived and I got down. I was received by my concerned parents. I was overjoyed not only to see them but also to experience the selfless care and protection from an angel disguised as a perfect stranger. It’s been fifteen years since then and I haven’t forgotten the lesson he taught me that day on the train, without uttering a word of advice – there is selflessness and goodness in this world and this is what truly keeps us alive.