The train was 2 hours behind schedule. I was at the Matheran city station waiting for the train that would take me to Neral. From there, I was headed back to Pune.
It was September and the Neral-Matheran railway had just resumed their services after a 2-month break due to the rains. Heavy showers had lashed the city disrupting the train service.
I cursed. I cursed heavily.
All I’d wanted was a quiet place far away from the din and bustle of the city. I was frustrated with the course of life.
Work was not good; I was slogging day in and day out and was desperately in need of a break. That’s when I decided to come to Matheran, alone.
I wanted a holiday with nothing to bother me just for one weekend. The serene landscape and the tranquil hills evoked a sense of joy within me.
And when the perfect weekend was about to end on a perfect note, why did God choose to play spoilsport? As usual, I had no answers.
I could not go back to the hotel as I had already checked out. Though I did not have much luggage, even the small bag that I was carrying seemed irritating at that time. Carrying luggage always irritated me.
I carried my bag and sat under a shelter on the platform. It was still raining. The water gushed out of the vents, gurgled through the pipes and splashed into the nearby drains.
Matheran is a small picturesque hill station with misty hills on one side while the other side has a pathway going down. Green foliage covers the entire area. It was an eco-friendly town and the only way to get there was by train or on horseback.
I was petrified of horses yet I had to take the dreaded horse ride to reach Matheran. For my return journey, I decided to take the train. The Neral-Matheran narrow gauge line is one of the most scenic train journeys, especially after the monsoon.
In the rainy season, the Sahyadris looked ethereal with lush green peaks sneaking out from the dense mist. Adding to the charm were the innumerable waterfalls gushing out of the mountain range.
As I waited at the station, I realized that I needed a hot cup of tea. There were very few people waiting at the station. Most of them had taken a horse when they heard that the train was delayed.
I located a tea stall. Carrying my bag, I went up to the shop and asked for a cup of tea. As I lit my cigarette, I heard a sweet voice saying, “Bhaiya ek chai dena.” I turned back and saw a girl. She was wearing a white salwar kameez and had left her hair loose.
She was drenched due to the rains and her hair covered half of her face. She tried in vain to prevent a small strand of hair from falling on her eyes. The wind kept adding to her trouble. Though I couldn’t get a good view of her face, she seemed beautiful.
I personally liked long locks and had this prejudice that any girl with long hair had to be beautiful.
A puff of smoke escaped my mouth. This seemed to have irritated her. She moved her hand vigorously to avoid inhaling the smoke. Annoyed, she stole a glance at me and I finally saw her face.
She was beautiful. My preconception was right. I kept staring at her for a while but I just couldn't get enough of her.
She hadn’t given up on her earnest endeavour to prevent the strand of hair from falling on her eyes. I smiled. I noticed that she too had a wry smile on her lips.
I took my cup of tea, paid him and started walking towards the bench on the platform. The situation had a sense of déjà vu.
I had seen this smile before; I had seen those eyes.
After walking for a few seconds, I stopped and turned back. I noticed that she was looking at me with a smile on her face. I walked up to her and was about to say something when suddenly, she said, “Sameer?”
I gave her a half-confused half-customary smile and replied, “Yes.”
“Oh my God, it has been seven years,” she exclaimed. She asked me how I was doing but I was still trying to figure out who she was. Finally, it struck me! I asked, “Is it Priya?” And it was her!
I couldn’t believe how much she had changed.
She’d put on weight and had also grown her hair. I teased her saying, “Are you trying to look more girlish?” She burst out laughing.
Priya and I were in the same college. She was in Arts while I was in the Electronics department. She was a complete tomboy during college and was actively involved in elocution and writing. I remember being amazed at her skills with the pen.
She smiled and asked, “How have you been and where are you now?” I explained that I was working with an IT giant in Pune and was settled there. I told her that I’d come to Matheran for a weekend break. I learnt that she worked with a newspaper in Pune.
“Oh nice, so you are a journalist. You always had a penchant for writing,” I was impressed.
She was amazed at my memory and how I remembered everything about her.
She smiled and I too could not stop smiling. She explained that she was not a journalist but was editing for an upcoming magazine that revolved around the city of Pune. “We’ll focus on the good stuff initially, to gain mass appeal, but eventually the aim is to highlight the problems faced by the people of Pune,” she added.
I was mighty impressed and complimented her saying, “Not bad, Miss. Editor or should I call you Mrs.? She mentioned that she wasn’t married.
She asked about my marital status and I informed her that I was going to get engaged soon. “Oh really, it’s nice to hear that. Who is the lucky girl?” she asked. I told her that her name was Riya and she was a teacher. I even invited her to the engagement.
She smiled. We ran out of words. I looked at her eyes; they were really beautiful. To break the ice, I said, “Let’s go and sit there.” We walked up to the small bench on the platform and sat there.
I had ordered for two more cups of tea to be delivered there. The shop owner was initially hesitant, but when he saw that I was with a girl, he smiled and agreed.
“Why does everything seem easy when you have a girl with you?” I wondered.
My thoughts took me back to that day in college. I was sitting in the college canteen after a sumptuous lunch, lazy to go back to my classes when I noticed a chirpy girl entering the canteen. She wore jeans and a T-shirt and was with her friends.
She sat on the table opposite to ours. I looked at her; her eyes were really beautiful.
Although I’d always found girls with long hair attractive, yet this petite girl with hair that was above her shoulder had something that drew me to her.
Her eyes spoke a lot and I immediately fell for her. I could not help but stare. She noticed that I was looking at her. Immediately, I asked my friend Ajay if he knew her name because I’d never seen her earlier. Disinterested, he mumbled that he had no idea.
She suddenly stood up and started walking towards the canteen counter. I stood up and walked in the same direction. There was a small queue and I deliberately stood behind her. I was looking for an opportunity to speak to her. She ordered a cold drink and took out a 100-rupee note.
The person at the counter returned the note and asked her for change. She argued, “I don’t have change. Please uncle, take this note.”
I was mesmerized by the sweetness of her voice. Suddenly, it dawned on me that this was my opportunity. I took out a 20-rupee note and handed it over to the man and asked for two cold drinks, one for me and the other one for her.
She was taken aback. “Why did you pay for me?” I coolly replied, “It’s fine. You can repay me tomorrow.
I have an inherent desire to help all beautiful girls.” I tried to be cheesy but she was a smart girl.
“Don’t try that on me,” she said. She thanked me for the cold drinks and said that she’d repay me the next day. Just as she was about to leave, I introduced myself and asked her name. She replied, “I am Priya, Arts, first year.”
“Oh, is that your full name?” I tried to be humorous but was pathetic at it.
She gave a disgusted smile and asked, “Do you always talk trash?”
I apologized.“It was nice to meet you, Mam,” I said and walked back to my table. The start was not good; I had screwed up. I was disappointed that I could not create an impression. But I hoped to correctly utilize the next opportunity.
“What brings you to Matheran?” her question jolted me back to the present. I told her how I'd wanted a few days off and chose to come to Matheran. “What brings you here? I asked. She said that she was on a holiday and was waiting for her friend who was coming by train.
“Ah, boyfriend?” I quizzed with a fake smile. I was mastering the art. “No, just a friend. We too wanted to take a break,” she replied.
“Is it Rahul, your best friend from college?” I was sarcastic and curious as well.
She replied that it was not him and they were not in contact anymore. “It’s my friend Pooja. I had taken a horse, but could not coax her to take the ride. I came up early to make all the reservations in the hotel.”
She spoke frankly as always. I liked her for this very quality.
I was curious to know what happened to Rahul. I asked her why they weren’t in touch anymore. I tried to act concerned. She said it was a long story and would tell me some other time.
Taking a sip of my tea, I adjusted myself in my seat and tried to be amusing, “I have all the time in the world. The train is yet to arrive.”
She smiled and started talking about Rahul, how he had changed after getting a girlfriend and had slowly snapped all ties with her.
“I became busy as the editor of the college magazine but I tried to contact him a lot. On some occasions, he didn’t pick up the phone and on others, he said he was busy.One day, we met at the canteen and he said that he wanted to reduce our conversations, as it was not going down well with his girlfriend,” she continued. She was pissed off but did not want to pester him further.
“Relationships are never the responsibility of an individual,”she said.
I was stunned, bemused and for some reason awkward. I wanted to empathize with her but could not. “Oh,” is all I could utter. I respected her because she understood relationships better than anyone else.
The small nuances of a relationship mattered a lot to her and she understood the priorities in every relationship.
“Maybe a girl and a boy can never be just friends. Problems galore will definitely arise, I guess you were right,” she said.
Though she had a smile at the corner of her lips, I could sense that she did not approve of this thought. I protested saying I'd never said that.
Maybe not directly, but that was the reason why you left me,” her response stunned me.
Read the next part of the story here: I Promised To Be Hers Forever But I Made Her Pay The Price For My Mistake