The train chugged into the ink black horizon dotted with grey tufts of the melting dusk. She sat by the window on the side berth of a sleeper coach, her hair blowing wildly along the horizontal bars on the window with her face turned outwards serenely gazing at some place faraway in the dark. Her lithe frame was softly draped. The end of her saree flew free with her reckless hair strands creating mayhem outside the window. As though it was a waving flag signalling the onset of a race.
The train halted at several stations in the course of the night. Seeing the young lady still up at such a late hour a lot many passengers who did not have confirmed bookings came inquiring if the berth was free. They were trying their luck just in case she was like one of them without a confirmed ticket and had temporarily taken over the berth. Who knows, she would probably be able to give them some space to squeeze in for the night? She shook her head wordlessly with a blank expression as each of them moved away disappointed.
The ticket collector moved about in a matter-of-factly manner mechanically switching on the lights of each cubicle as he demanded to inspect the tickets of the groggy passengers who were rudely awakened after the gentle rocking of the coach that had put them to sleep. When he got to her berth, she greeted him quietly with a cold steely stare unfazed by the sudden glare of light blinding her eyes. She handed him a crumpled ticket that she seemed to have held to in her tight balled up fist for a long time. He struggled with the ill-treated piece of paper trying to read the details of the ticket as she smoothly glided past him, heading down the aisle appearing to go towards the loo.
He strained his eyes poring over the ticket. The details were okay except that something seemed off. She was traveling from Vijaywada to Delhi by G.T. Express. He peered once again adjusting his glasses to look at the faded piece of paper cracking up at precarious places making it hardly legible. The berth and coach details were correct. The day was today, alright. 1st January it was, but wait a minute! The year. What? He blinked and rechecked the year again to confirm that it wasn’t sleep and exhaustion playing on his mind. He was right. The year should have been 2016. But it said 1929! The cloud of initial confusion was replaced by realization that struck him like a sharp bolt. Oh hell! The date mentioned was exactly the day this train had started its very first journey! The 1st day of the year 1929. The Grand Trunk Express is one of the oldest train running in the country. A droplet of cold sweat trickled down from his bald pate to his brow as he turned around stupefied to see her slowly dissolving along the farthest end of the aisle, as the loose end of her white sari swept the floor trailing off with the last remnants of her fading silhouette blending into the dark alley of the night.
*This is purely a piece of fiction with no reference to any individual, event or place. The Grand Trunk Express does exist and is one of the oldest trains running in India from the year 1929. It still operates along the Chennai-Delhi-Chennai route. Please note that no such untoward incident has been reported on the particular train. The entire narration above is a figment of the author’s imagination.