Despite the early morning rush, the peon's bench outside the Deputy Station Superintendent's room in Chennai Central Railway Station was vacant. Kusum sat down on it.
'Let us go in to the Deputy Station Superintendent's room. We are bound to get our reservations. My friend Kale who is the DSS in Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai is his batch mate,' her husband Samarth said.
'I do not want to meet your loud friends. They have the manners of a boor. I am fine here,' Kusum said.
Chennai Central Railway station had indeed become double its size. To make matters worse, there was a local train terminus just a furlong away. The busy ticket counters had been shifted to the new building. Kusum didn't care. For her all railway stations were the same. Crowded, dirty, full of cheats and bag lifters.
Carefully she planted her big suit case by the side of her left leg. There are many who are right or left handed. Kusum was neither. She was left legged. Had she taken to playing soccer, she would have been a terror on the field, if she had been a forward. But then she was neither. She had been a beautiful maiden of 17 years and nine months when she had been married to Ramdas Keshav Samarth.
Kusum was a looker. A dusky beauty – though not in the mould of the leading ladies of movies. She knew that she was attractive to males and avoided leers.
Suddenly a young, handsome man clad in a uniform accosted her.
Kusum looked away.
'You are Kusum Samarth! From Pant Nagar, Ghaktopar! In Mumbai. I recognized you the moment I saw you.' He was speaking in fluent Marathi.
The new comer had a baritone voice. He was clean shaven. And he was much younger to her.
'I don't know you. Go away.'
'I have met you after close to 12 years. And you haven't changed. The same curly hair. The same beautiful face and physique to match. The large bindi and dozens of bangles on either hand. Tell me how do you tell the time in a hurry. The bangles would take ages to separate before you look at your tiny wrist watch.'
'I said I don't know you. Please go away.' There was steel in her voice. But her eyes begged him to leave.
'Has Keshav uncle come as well? I don't see him. I am an assistant station master here. If you have a problem getting a reservation, I can tell the TTE.'
Kusum absentmindedly looked at the DSS's room.
'So uncle is inside.' The newcomer opened the door and went in.
The duo came out in a minute.
'Didn't you recognize Ganesh Koparde?' He was a teenager from the second floor. He always beat you at carrom.' Samarth was practically yelling in happiness.
'Now I do,' Kusum said with a matter of fact tone.
'Come Ganya! Let us have a cup of coffee. I hear that you get good coffee in the south.'
'No uncle. In the railway stations all coffees are the same. Your train is a good one hour away. Come I will take you to Egmore, where you get good coffee just opposite the station.'
Koparde hired a three wheeler after duly bargaining. Kusum sat deep inside the rickshaw while Samarth sat with her in the middle. Koparde sat at the left end of the seat.
Coffee at the Sri Krishna Bhavan was heavenly. Though Kusum appeared to relish the coffee, she remained glum.
'Hey Ganya, have you married?'
'When I got this job in the railways ten years ago, my parents moved in with me because I got a quarter. Father passed away in two years. Heart attack. I fell in love with a south Indian Brahmin girl. In more ways than one, she used to look like Kusum. But her parents didn't allow me to marry her. They took her away to Madurai and now I hear she is married to someone else. In the meanwhile my mother passed away. Now I am all alone.' The tale was told over the cups of coffee.
'Can I tell you something? Now that I have met you, I want to spend a day with you. Our reservations are for today. Can you cancel the tickets and will you be able to get us reserved tickets for tomorrow's morning train to Dadar?'
'Hohoho! That is easier done than said, Koparde said happily.
Immediately they returned to Chennai Central, then Koparde fixed the tickets applied for half a day's leave and the three of them took another rickshaw to Perambur – where the young ASM had a quarter.
'My cooking is bad, Kusum. There is everything in the kitchen. I will pick up the vegetables of your choice. Make some chappathies, aaloo methi and kadi. Haven't eaten them since mother passed away. Come to think of it, you used to cook them very well too. We will have lunch and see the Chennai beach – the Marina. It is quite a sight.'
'Good idea, Ganya,' Samarth chimed in.
It was almost 10-30 p.m. when they returned from their sojourn. In the bargain, they had visited the lighthouse, seen a bit of the museum, saw some of the newly constructed flyovers and had a heavy home cooked dinner.
The master bedroom with the cot and all was left to the Samarths. Koparde slept in the hall on the sofa.
The bachelor woke up the couple at 5 a.m., helped them pack and rushed them to the central station by autorickshaw – in time to catch the train.
Koparde was wearing his uniform. He looked dashingly handsome in it. Kusum and Samarth got side berths as they were on the shorter side.
'You will get lunch at Renigunta and dinner at Guntakal. Have a nice trip back home. And write to me from Mumbai.'
The train whistled out of the station.
Kusum avoided looking at Koparde throughout. Samarth looked at her understandingly. 'There is no problem Kusum! Last time, when Ganya impregnated you, you suffered a miscarriage. Luckily this time, we stayed at his house. Hopefully you two surely met when I was sleeping. I am sure, this time, it won't be a miscarriage. At least you have remained faithful to one man in marriage – me – though I am totally impotent and sterile - and another man – Ganesh Koparde - out of marriage. I knew your had only one indiscretion with this boy a dozen years ago. The guilt feeling kept you away from men. Now you have had pleasure again and who knows, you will have a baby too!