Chapter 4 – Two for Eloping
Ubaid inhaled deeply and the station smell entered his lungs; a peculiar smell that can be felt only on Indian railway stations, a unique combination of frying vada pav, simmering tea, sweat, and toilet.
He tapped his feet impatiently. The train was on time and yet he feared he would be caught before he got on board. Nasir had dropped him at the Badnera railway station a few minutes ago.
This is it! My real life begins now.
He surveyed his surroundings – an activity people inevitably do at railway stations and airports. Two large groups occupied the platform and ranted on. A few nuclear families whispered to each other.
Only a few people seem to travel solo.
In that crowd, one girl in wearing abaya stood out who had just arrived at the platform. Her veil showed only her eyes and yet she seemed familiar. Her friend also had her face covered and helped her to drag her bag. The abaya girl looked at her wristwatch and whispered something. Her friend handed her something in a small pouch, the two girls lugged and left. Abaya girl looked around and chose a bench where a bearded man was already sitting, only two benches away from Ubaid.
Those eyes were recognizable, but he could not place her. How could one confidently identify someone from just looking at the eyes? Those big black eyes and curved eyelashes were familiar. And the way she glared at him brought a sense of déjà vu. Where have I seen her before? Have I dated her in the past?
He could not recollect, and nobody could blame him. With a college life as colourful as his, it would be a miracle to remember every girl he had dated; except this one was not one of his many girlfriends.
She kept looking around as if waiting for someone. She had a big airbag of ridiculously cheap quality, perhaps purchased in a rush.
And then she uncovered her face to drink water. A pale white complexion, big dark eyes like deer and long curly eyelashes, high cheekbones, luscious scarlet lips with a natural pout and a small nose… she was perfection. And, familiar.
He had first met her for a community gathering which included several competitions. A carrom match flashed before his eyes. The girl who lives in the same locality, the girl who beat me in the carrom competition, the girl I had a crush on, the girl who caused Tayyab scandal…
At 5 feet 7 inches, Hiba was the tallest girl in her class. She was perfection, almost. She had no flaw, except she was too thin, by her own admission. Her face looked serene, but her anxiety was unmistakable.
Ubaid could not help his curiosity. He went to her talked.
“Hey,” he said. “I am Ubaid, your senior.”
Her eyes reflected recognition, but she refused. “I do not know you.” She covered her face. Ubaid was taken aback. He returned to her spot, remembering that he was on a mission. He kept glancing in her direction, aware that she kept looking him discretely.
It was only ten minutes for the train to depart when she addressed him. “Ubaid, can I borrow your phone?”
Ubaid cocked his eyebrows and asked. “You do not know me, right?”
“Of course, I know you,” Hiba sneered. “How could I forget the man who lost to me in a game of carrom?”
Ubaid rolled his eyes. “Must you talk about that?”
Hiba did not beat around the bush and came straight to the point. “I need your phone; mine is switched off.”
“I have a power bank if you want to charge.” Ubaid offered.
“I cannot switch it on.” She admitted in a soft voice.
“Are you running away as well?” Ubaid asked excitedly. The prospect of meeting an eloping friend was quite encouraging.
Hiba narrowed her eyes, unimpressed by his eagerness. “Who else?”
“I am,” he said, happy to find a partner in crime.
Hiba asked with such abomination, Ubaid almost wanted to remind her, hey, you are running away yourself. But he caught himself and casually said. “My father… He wants me to marry, take his business and settle down. I want to work, do a corporate job before I succumb to the pressure of business. I meant shouldn’t I be allowed to experience life?”
Hiba sighed and lowered her head. “Parents spend their lives to raise us just so they can force us to follow their whims,” she said staring at her hands.
“What’s your story?” Ubaid asked casually, not wanting to seem nosy.
Hiba dodged the question. “I need your phone.”
Ubaid handed her the phone and she dialled a number – once, twice, thrice. “He isn’t picking up,” she murmured, panic written across her face.
Is she running away with Tayyab? “Oh, you are running away with a boy. That is… so Bollywood-like.”
“And the boy has abandoned me. That is so Bollywood-like, indeed.”
“He must be on the way,” he consoled, for reasons he did not understand. Perhaps seeing a damsel in distress was just not his style.
“I sure hope so,” she said and dialled again. The train arrived at the platform, and everybody had huddled to board.
“Do you have a ticket?” Ubaid asked.
“It is not confirmed,” she replied, still peering at the entrance for any signs of her missing boyfriend.
“Can you afford to go back?”
“I can’t. I left a note and everything…”
“Then Let us board the train. If he’s late he will catch the train he will call you. Or I will call him.”
“Come!” He picked her bag as well.
“No…” Her protests were weak.
He walked to the first-tier bogie and Hiba followed her obediently. “I have a 3-tier ticket, unconfirmed.”
“We will manage. Come on, now. Do you want to miss the train?” he asked. A man with practicality insight, he wanted to ensure his Mission Escape was successful; that their Mission Escape was successful.
Hiba paused, as if unsure. The train signalled. Ubaid threw the bags on and boarded. She was still standing.
“Hiba, please!” He extended his hand. The train began to move.
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