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The Stranger; three short stories

The cold winter wind blew in hushed tones through the barricaded train window near which the Thirty-five-year-old woman sat huddled in a brown woolen shawl. Small wisps of snow had settled on her black hair, which appeared a bit frizzy in this chilly weather.

This was a nearly empty compartment given the time of the year when not many opted for a visit to a hill station, and as the late November train sped past quaint Indian villages in the extreme north of the country well past dusk,  Tania drifted off to a dreamless sleep.

She had been planning this trip for quite a few months now, and something or the other kept delaying it. A journey that had been scheduled for early September, when the apple orchards were laden with fruit, had stretched into gloomy November when most of the valley began preparations for a harsh winter ahead.

The train screeched to a halt at a lesser-known station, and a tall, heavily built man clad in a thick overcoat entered her compartment. He brought a gush of freezing air with him that stung her, despite the half-open window. His face was partially covered by a muffler, but she could see his eyes. Thick tufts of dripping blackish hair fell over his forehead.

He was carrying a small dark brown handbag that he placed overhead before taking a seat opposite hers.

She gathered up her already gathered skirt and huddled a bit more into her corner. The train whistled as it roared back into life again, leaving the partly alive yellow lights of the station behind inch by inch till all that was visible of the place was a faint glimmer and a hazy memory.

The stranger was gazing at her, and it made her uncomfortable. She didn't want to speak or acknowledge his presence, though. So she kept looking out of the window at nothing in particular.

"Nothing existed between these stations,” she thought. Just like her boring and uneventful life was, like stations interspersed with nothing.

“There actually is a lot of life in there, and in broad daylight, these places are teeming with activity, but if you look at them now, all you'd see is nothing.”

Had he spoken to her right now?

“You think a bit too loudly,” he said, his voice sounding distant but coherent.

Maybe she had just whispered out her thoughts. She was used to talking in her sleep. An eerie feeling overtook her suddenly, and she was scared.

There were just the two of them in this huge compartment, and he wasn't exactly the kind of company that she would have liked on a journey that had taken her decades to decide and months to plan.

It was her journey back home after fifteen uneventful years.

Nothing significant had happened in her married life of more than a decade and a half; though she always craved for some spice, there was none!

Once upon a time, she had been a hopeless romantic girl, having grown up watching romantic movies, ‘Ooh’ ing and ‘Aah’ing every single moment the protagonist whispered sweet nothings in his beloved's ears.

She had wished for a man who would sweep her off her feet. She wanted a fairy tale, but all she got was stardust..!

All her stars broke one by one and left a dark black sky behind the day she got married to a potbellied, five-foot two-inch tall salesman at the local grocery store who was chosen by her parents to be her bridegroom.

“You wronged me! I deserved better than this, and I will never forgive you for this..!”

She whispered in her mother's ears as she left to begin her happily ever after.

Her mother looked at her, flabbergasted. She didn't understand.

 

Dreams aren't made up of plausible stuff; otherwise, why would they be known as dreams? They might not appear sensible enough to others, but they are ingrained into our psyche. They define us, and we, in turn, define others through them.

Tania died the day she buried her dream in his five-foot frame, and she thought that she had buried it forever. She put heaps of soil over it and thought she had buried her parent’s memories too.

They could have given her a chance; they could have waited!