Pulling my suitcase, I opened the coupe door of the Rajdhani Express. My co-passenger, a lady in her mid-thirties  beamed on seeing me. “Ramkumar! Where have you been all these years?” She gave me a warm hug.

“What are you gawking at? Didn’t you recognize me? I am Geethika. We both were in the same school.” She smiled.

“I was in an all-boys school. Looks like you are mista…..” I hadn’t finished, she laughed, hitting her forehead with her palm.

“Sorry, sorry,” She apologized, “I meant the same college. Look, I am so excited upon seeing an old class fellow after eons that words are faltering, not even able to tell our college name.” She began coughing incessantly, holding her chest.

I offered her water, and she gulped a bottle in one go. She seemed excited.

“Yes, I remember you too were in Wilson College,” I paltered, not wishing to look like someone with dementia. Honestly, I couldn’t place her.

“Those were such nostalgic days. Our college is the most famous, even today, opposite the Chowpatty beach,” She giggled. “You boys generally frequented the bhel-puri stalls on the beach more than the library.”

“I was the studious type,” I protested, though I couldn’t deny having frequented the bhel-puri and chat stalls.

The discussions steered safely not to expose my ignorance. She asked about my life after college. I spoke to her about my job in Mumbai. I showed her pics of my wife and son. I said they were at a pre-wedding function in Delhi, and I was going to join them.

“And what about you?” I asked.

She told me that her marriage failed within two years. She chose to remain single and lived in Delhi, working as a teacher. She had come to Mumbai for a friend’s engagement.

As the train left Surat, my dinner came. Geethika said train food didn’t suit her and opened her food box. The coupe was filled with the aroma of homemade parathas. I must have drooled involuntarily; she offered me some, saying her friend’s mother had packed enough. “I keep it in the fridge and eat it. You, please have.” She generously served the parathas.

I tried being courteous by refusing, but the very look of it forced me to give up my stubbornness, and I began relishing the parathas. My food plate was left untouched.

“You carry on; I will be right back,” Geethika excused herself to go to the washroom before eating.

I do not know when I fell asleep. On waking up I realised that alongwith Geethika, my wallet, and my suitcase were missing.

My name and age were on the railway list. Fortunately, it fitted the groove perfectly to play her cards. She tactfully made me blurt the college name. Everyone in Mumbai knows that Wilson College faces Chowpatty Beach, famous for its chat. But a smart female like her must have found a landmark to speak about any college or school.

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