The Commute

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11 PM. End of Shift. The main road outside Chennai Central Railway Station. Traffic snarls. Rushing commuters. Abusive pedestrians. Unruly motorists. Long wait at the zebra crossing. 

And then I felt the spells coming. 

The therapist had given my condition a name, Agoraphobia, fear of crossing roads, evolved out of a harrowing incident many years ago. 

I feel my baby Shanaya free her grip on my hand and dart across. The school bus approaches from a blind corner. I gasp as Shanaya spirals upwards. I let out a voiceless scream. 

I was already late for the last MRTS train home. In a daze, I turned around and made my way to the dilapidated subway. In stark contrast to the melee above, the underpass presented a pall of silence. Homeless people slept on newspaper beds. The grubby beggar stared at me lecherously. The prostitute at the exit steps scanned the sparse crowd for customers. I swiftly traversed the underpass finding my way through filth and its uncouth habitants to the station. 

The mucky subway threatened my physical welfare every single night. But it spared me the spells.

Things changed after I met Varun, the charming new Ticket Collector. We met at this subway and became good friends. With Varun in tow, I didn’t worry about the beggar’s filthy stares. The prostitute did spit out an occasional lewd comment at us. We just ignored her. 

Companionship and trust served as wonderful therapy. I confided with Varun on my condition and helplessness. He was quite considerate and almost convinced me to try crossing with him. I wasn’t ready yet but was hoping that it could happen soon. I didn’t want to rush it.

It rained suddenly that night. Hurrying through the downpour we reached the subway. It was dark, deserted, and smelled of sewage. We carefully strode down the steps. At the landing, Varun suddenly turned towards me and held me close. I shot him a look of disapproval and tried to push him away. He pinned me to the wall and hugged me forcefully. I tried to disengage, but he was way too strong. He tried to kiss but ended crashing his teeth on my chin as I resisted, cutting the soft skin. My chest hurt; my breath strained. 

Suddenly, from nowhere a blow landed on his jaw. Varun momentarily staggered and fell. I strained to see in the dark. It was then that I noticed the prostitute and the beggar kicking Varun who lay sprawled in a dirty puddle. I seized this opportunity and raced towards the exit to the Train Station.

This night, I stand by the edge of the road, indecisively. I feel a tap on my shoulder. The prostitute holds my hand and walks along till we reach the other side. With a quick hug, she disappears back into the crowd.

My spells are waning.

I haven’t met Varun since then. But I see his kind every day. They are sicker than I was ever! 

Glossary

MRTS- Mass Rapid Transit System 

 

PC: Michael Fernandez/Unsplash.com

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