Simmi pulled out the crumpled notes from my waist belt and eyeballed them quickly before shoving them back in. She wasn’t sure she had enough for the train ride but if needed she could fish into her backpack for the tidy notes that smelled fresh from the bank. She’d just have to find a way to do it inconspicuously. She looked out at the train platform, the fervor of activity belying the early morning time. But in India it seemed places never slept. It was almost like all the time zones of the world happened in India because someone was always awake while others were asleep.
There was no free corner on the platform. Her eye landed on the public toilet a few steps away from her and she crinkled her nose involuntarily. She had found a way to avoid public restrooms for most of her life, and India was no exception. But today, she had to do it. She was already delayed on her itinerary through India and she needed to get to her destination. She had endured the throbbing heat of Delhi and the clammy air of Mumbai for this. She had visited grandparents and uncles and aunts along the way, but she had yearned all along to make it to this leg of the journey. She was hoping it’d be the end of a much larger journey. The journey that had left her writhing on her bathroom floor, sucking in air in between wails. After things ended with Kris, she had been on that black and white tiled floor for what seemed like days, unable to steady her trembling hand or her convulsing head. It seemed like her entire being was rejecting that moment, who she was, how she had ended up. Things had been awry for a long time; she had felt that in her gut any moment she was alone, so she made sure she never was. And she clung to Kris for dear life, desperate for his presence so she was never left alone with herself and the voice inside her that was crying for help. Kris in turn sensed her need for him and squirmed away from her outstretched heart, shrinking in the gravity of it. And then it happened. He left. His parting words were, “Relationships shouldn’t be this hard. If it is, then it’s not right.” She crumbled. And then she ran.
She walked gingerly into the toilet, deliberate with every step, taking care not to look too long at anything - or anyone. Once in there, she shuffled into the nearest open stall that looked agreeable and breathed a sigh of relief as she hoisted her backpack on the hook. Opening it up, she rummaged around for her purse with embroidered swans on it, stuffed with cash she had gotten at the currency exchange at the airport. She was already concerned she would run out soon. And then she’d have to withdraw from her bank account where she had no income coming in. She was on a leave of absence at work and while she had never in a million years thought she would take this much time off, her team had moved on quick. The emails still kept flooding in the first few days of her leave and she would respond feeling altruistic in doing so when she didn’t have to. And then she got a stern message from her boss telling her she couldn’t work on her leave. Then the emails slowed to a drip, coming in once a week when someone forgot to take her off the distribution list. If Simmi had known she was so easy to replace, she might have left a long time ago. And it might have saved Kris from hearing a lot of frustrated outpouring about her job. Outpourings that usually ended with, “So why don’t you just quit then?” And Simmi would feel hurt by his nonchalance at proclaiming that she was that expendable at the company she had put the better part of five years into. And she would jab back to cover her hurt saying he was only that laissez-faire because he was a white man and could get a job as easily as he could quit one. That would usually shut him up and he’d walk away from the conversation like he did so many, leaving incomplete artworks in the air, never to be finished, never to be made sense of.
Now safely out of the toilet, she looked around for the ticket counter furnished with rusted grills and parted the crowds on her way to it. A family stood ahead of her in line, the mother, stout and rambunctious, doting on the youngest of three children, a scrawny little thing with a palm-tree-resembling gathering on top of its head. The kid was stripped down to its diaper and the mother proceeded to wrestle the toddler to a standstill to put on a new dress while it clearly preferred to run wild through a maze of adult legs striding the platform unknowing of the tiny speedbump. Meanwhile, the father, a lanky hunched man with a bristly mustache stood by, bored by the happenings, expending most of his energy on chewing the betel leaf in his mouth. In between the awkward mouth contortions, I could see the beetroot color coating inside, his teeth already painted terracotta from previous chews. His older children meanwhile entertained each other with a game of thumb wars. It reminded Simmi of the games her brother and she would play on long car and train rides. Her brother she hadn’t spoken to in almost a year. Because he had disapproved of Kris and said some hurtful things to her in making that known. “You pretend you are this strong, badass woman, and then you reduce to a husk when you are around Kris. What’s the deal with this guy? Why are you so pathetic around him?” Tact was never her brother’s strong suit but this one was a line too far. She wasn’t yet ready to hear the words out loud that she had been screaming into the echoes of her lungs.
Simmi finally made it to the ticket counter and found a man, impossibly even more bored than the father who was now spitting betel juice into a nook. The ticket attendant didn’t bother making eye contact and kneeled back in his chair with what looked like a basketball under his shirt protruding. Simmi could feel her irritation rise up to her throat, at this guy, the father in line, her brother, Kris, and all the men who let her down. But the anger soon turned inward, as she chided herself for expecting these men to take care of her. Why had she leaned so far into Kris knowing he was a hollow wall? Why had she given up on seeing herself through the fog? Where had her fight gone? She steeled herself and demanded the ticket agent’s attention, “Bhaisab, ek ticket for Dharamsala,” holding up one finger for emphasis. She slipped the crisp notes into the opening and watched as they disappeared and got replaced by a ticket. As she saw her destination printed on the slate gray cardboard, she smiled. She might have lost herself but she knew the journey she was on would take her closer to where she had left off.