The click of heels could be heard through the long and quiet platform. Arya couldn’t remember what happened the previous night. There were mild blurs of a beeping monitor, and some tensed faces who had masks over their mouths. At present, it was fifteen minutes past three, and naturally the station had only a select few people scattered away.
Arya dragged her mid sized suitcase along with her to the dingy waiting room, which had two tube-lights covering the entire room, giving just enough light to know if somebody entered or left. She looked down to see that she had worn her favourite skinny but comfortable black trousers. She perched the suitcase on top of the bench nearest to the door and looked up at the ceiling in frustration.
Although the room was unoccupied, it felt gloomy and creepy to her. She could have gone out into the platform, walked some more minutes and found a women’s waiting room, which was filled with three other women who had been waiting since the entire night. Instead, she stayed at the room she was currently in and didn’t make any move.
There was a ten-inch round clock in the middle of the room, which hung from the ceiling. It made a ticking sound every second, and Arya counted along with it to pass the time.
As the wind grew chilly, she wore the sweatshirt which had been tied around her waist, and zipped it up. She stood up to go about the huge room and explore, when she heard somebody’s voice from the outside.
She didn’t want to follow the voice and get into trouble in an unknown place. The voice stopped within a few minutes, but was again replaced by the noise of someone’s steps. Curiosity was getting the better of Arya, so she ventured out of the room.
A tall, stout figure stood at the edge of the platform, with his hands behind the back. Arya contemplated talking to him; she could step inside the room quietly and pretend as if she heard nothing, or take the risk of talking to a stranger.
Hands inside the pockets of her sweatshirt, she cleared her throat. The man, wearing black suit, turned around with a bounce and clapped his hands together.
“Arya!” he said with an excitement in his voice, “Which train are you waiting for?”
Arya got confused. Was she supposed to wait for a train?
The man now looked at her straight into her eyes and let out an awkward laugh of realisation.
“Oh, forgive me, Ma’am,” he gave a slight bow, “I didn’t realise you are new to this place.”
Arya didn’t know how to react. “Um… yes.” She said slowly. “How do you know? Who are you?”
The stranger smiled. “Me? I’m a… what do you call them? A gatekeeper for this place.” He stretched his hand so as to show the way around. Arya followed without making a fuss.
“Tell me one thing, do you know why you’re here?” he asked. Arya simply shook her head and looked at him as if she were lost.
“Okay, Ma’am. If I tell you the real reason you are here, would you be able to handle it?” he asked politely.
Arya scoffed. “Sir, I don’t remember what happened last night but I do know that I’m an officer of the law. I am responsible for the safety of more than a hundred thousand people, so I’m damn sure I can take any kind of information.”
“Ah!” he said, “now there you make a mistake, Ma’am, dare I say. Unfortunately, you are not an officer of the law here, and for that matter, we do not have a law that needs to be abode by!”
“What do you mean there is no law? Every community, every country has a law!”
“Yes, I’m sure that’s what happens down in your planet, but—”
“My planet?” Arya exclaimed in shock. “Where the hell am I?”
“I was coming to that bit. You, my dear Madame, are not alive on Earth anymore.”
Arya’s face turned pale when she heard this piece of information.
“You’re kidding,” she said, although at the back of her mind, she understood from the stranger’s face that he was dead serious.
The gatekeeper’s mouth straightened into a thin line and his eyebrows shot up and he tilted his face, as if to say that it is what it is. Arya began shaking her head slowly, trying to get out of a particular two a.m. dream, but she was not successful.
“Oh, this isn’t a dream, just to clarify. You’re dead. For real.”
“How could it possibly happen?” Arya gulped the knot that had formed in her throat. “How did I die?”
“Ooh we are going to step two already?” the gatekeeper became excited again. “One moment, before I forget I’m supposed to show you a contract which you will sign before you board the train.” He took out a piece of napkin from the inside of his jacket and straightened it out.
“You have written out a contract on a piece of napkin?” Arya asked, to which he rolled his eyes. “Oh, yeah, of course you do. There are no laws here.”
“Before your train arrives, there is one special… offer, you may say, for you. They have an offer for you.”
“What offer? Oh, that’s why I am in this station! To board a train?” realisation hit Arya.
“Yes, that’s why. Now I don’t know whether you are interested in this offer or not, either way, I’m supposed to let you know about it. So, you may or may not listen to what I say henceforth-it’s all up to you.”
The gatekeeper went inside the waiting room, followed by Arya. He sat down on the bench and crossed his legs, resting his hands on his knees. Then he cleared his throat to make it sound as if he was making an important announcement.
“According to the records I have gained from the public library, which keeps a record of all new births and deaths as well as their entire life journeys, you have lived for a span of 32 years, eight months and two days. Most of your life has been healthy for your body, although the same could not be said for your mind. You are experienced in how to deal with people who steal, who take other people’s lives, who get influenced under alcohol and use young women and girls’ bodies as objects. From what I’ve seen, you helped put more than a 100 such people to justice.”
“A hundred and twelve, taking my last case into consideration, but who’s counting.” As soon as she said these words, her eyes went wide open in realisation and she gasped. “That’s how I died?” she expressed surprise and shock.
“M-h'm. Anyhow, back to what I was saying. You did all these things and blah-blah, everyone up here loved you, but then you also did one other thing that made them question your existence.”
“I never prayed?”
“Oh, prayer is not what they want, lady. You did far more than pray in Earth, believe me. The reason this contract is even put forth to you is because of how you lived. How you helped other people without expecting anything in return—”
“That’s not true. I sometimes did help people just so that I’d receive something in return.”
“Eh. That is normally expected from all you people down there. It doesn’t make a big difference because when you expect things in return, you are the ones who generally get hurt. The problem is people barely realise that. You did though, when you were merely entering your twentieth year.”
The mention of her twenties brought back vivid memories to Arya’s mind. She remembered all the nights she went to bed crying, because of the hits and abuses hurled at her. Her mind went back to that one time—
“But you survived all of that. Believe me when I say that you were supposed to be an inspiration for everyone out there, but you chose not to be one. This is something even I don’t understand—why would you not want anybody to know what happened to you?” he cut her from going back to that dreadful night. “Is it so embarrassing that you chose to keep the events of that night a secret from everyone?”
“Embarrassing?” she scoffed. “If I didn’t say things about myself because I felt embarrassed about them, I’d be a closed book. You know I am not.”
“True! Then why did you not try to make people aware about it?”
Arya sighed. She couldn’t believe that her most miserable crime was to hide a particular incident from everybody. “I was not comfortable talking about it to anyone. You know, ‘I got abused by my father’ isn’t a great line for a conversation.”
The gatekeeper smiled at her politely. “I understand, I understand. You don’t have to think about it for now,” he said, and patted off an imaginary speck of dust from his pants. “So where was I? Yes, your offer. The people have decided to provide you with two options to choose from.
“One, you wait for your train, hop into it and begin a new journey. The place where the train stops will have someone waiting for you, and they will show you the way ahead.
“Two, you don’t get on the train.”
“Where will I go if I don’t catch a train?” Arya asked, still unsure there was a train coming to the station.
“You get to go back to where you came from.”
Arya sighed. “I’m thinking there must be some kind of condition attached to the offer.”
“Yes, there is one condition. You will lead your life as we tell you to, and if you ever want to end it, you will let us know immediately, after which we will arrange for you to come here again.”
Arya could not believe her ears. She thought for a second that she was having a really bad dream, but soon realised that she had been shot in the area right above her heart the previous night by the man whom she had been eyeing since the past seven months. Oddly enough, she wanted to know what happened to him right after she had fallen unconscious, and she asked the gatekeeper about him.
“Aha! I knew you’d be interested in knowing that monster’s destiny. You’d be happy to know that as we speak, he is on trial and soon, the judge is going to give him the punishment you wanted him to have.”
Arya smiled with satisfaction and prayed for the young girl’s family. In a way, she felt that the death of the girl was a good thing; she didn’t want to imagine what would entail for the poor girl remembering such a horrible event from her childhood.
“How should I live my life if I choose to go back?” she asked.
“First of all, you’ll have to meet a person. After that, you will tell the world what you went through.”
“Why should I do—”
“You are getting another chance, so it’s only fair that you do some things that may change the course of your life for good.”
Arya didn’t like the sound of ‘getting another chance’. All her life, she had learnt one thing over years of making mistakes-to live for yourself but not at the cost of any body’s happiness, but at the same time, not to cost anybody their happiness by not doing something.
This was a dilemma that she never thought she’d get into. Telling the world about her real childhood would mean shedding all her inhibitions and vulnerabilities, and she didn’t want others to look at her with pity. That was the real reason she hid those facts from everyone she met. She had created a new and fearless personality; one that didn’t give her emotions any importance. She had joined the police force at a young age, becoming the youngest in the history of the academy. Her career took a rocket’s launch when she entered the field; people did look at her as an inspiration. Did she want to let people know about her past?
The clock chimed, as if to say that the time was up. The gatekeeper stood up, and Arya mimicked his actions.
“Oh! It’s been more than an hour already! Arya, your train will be here any moment. Remember, once you step into that train, I won’t be able to help you in anyway. I hope you make your mind until then!” he said cheerfully as if the choice was too easy to make for her, as if she was choosing between vanilla frosting and chocolate cookie frosting. As he stepped out of the room, a faint horn could be heard by them. “I think the train has started its journey! What do you say Arya?”
The monitors inside the hospital room began beeping furiously. Unclear about the sounds, Chris, her only best friend since school called for help when the doctors came in and checked Arya’s pulse, and looked at Chris with shock.