Arun was my best friend. I knew him from my school days. We shared everything in common. It was the 24th of December when Arun came running to me.
“Can you accompany me?”
He told me about the two lakh rupees credit he had taken from one of his uncle. His uncle, who lived in Mumbai, wanted back the entire amount before New Year.
Arun already arranged for the cash and I bought the earliest tickets available to Mumbai. We quickly packed our bags, taking the minimum luggage required. I asked Arun to be careful with the money.
“I wrapped the cash in a red scarf and hid it under my clothes,” he said, as if it was the wisest thing he could ever do.
In the evening we reached Howrah. The Howrah Junction Mumbai Cst Express arrived on time. I had the tickets. We looked for our compartment and made it to our seats. The middle and the upper bunk was ours. I placed my luggage on the upper bunk and Arun placed his under the opposite seat. An old man with black glasses occupied the window seat from before. He stared at Arun’s bag. The man seemed unusual and strange.
The whistle blew and the journey began. I sat between Arun and the mysterious old man. In order to break the silence, I turned towards the old man, who was now staring outside the window.
“Sir, you are from Kolkata too?”
The man simply nodded.
“Are you travelling alone?” Arun added.
This time the old man did not respond at all.
The man seemed strange from the very start. Night fell. Arun and I decided that one of us would keep a watch on the bag as the other sleeps. The next morning we woke up late. It was Arun’s turn to keep a watch. We were so tired that we both fell asleep. Arun, who slept in the middle bunk, peeped down to see the old man.
To our surprise he was not there.
Arun unzipped his bag to check his money. The money was not there. The red scarf was missing along with the entire amount. The old man and his luggage was nowhere to be seen. One passenger informed us that he had seen the old man leave three stations before. Arun and I got down the very next station.
Arun asked me to wait and he left taking the earliest available local. I watched Arun as he left. When the train could not be seen anymore, I went up to the ticket counter and left for Goa. When I reached Goa and found a hotel of my taste, I unzipped my bag and pulled out a ‘red scarf’. I always wore a diamond watch that showed the time and date. My watch was missing. I untied the scarf. There was no money. It was filled with books.
Meanwhile, Arun reached the junction where the old man was. He watched the old man as his son came to receive his blind father.
A stranger asked Arun the time. Arun walked away as he read the date by the diamond watch on his wrist.
BY PAYAL DUTTA
PC: royalty free images from pexels