‘Do you think that’s possible?’
‘Yes, I think so.’
‘I should like to think so’, he rephrased his answer.
The evening grew harsh with each passing hour, the abandoned station with its bleak possibilities thrived in its garb of gloom as Rinchen and his uncle, tried to get comfortable in the single iron bench at the Rangpo Railway station.
‘I would love some tea right now’
Both swept their glance as far as they could either side of the bench for a sign of life but in vain, save for a mangy cur in hot pursuit of a rat or a shrew along the tracks, the station was deserted.
Ganden, the station master looked intently at his cards, it was a risky hand, two of nines seldom bode well for him, his eyes furrowed to a shrewd slant in anticipation of his opponents cards, despite attempting to hone his senses at every opportunity he failed to perceive their hands. Tashi and Karma Loday had wagered the second round with a hundred rupee each, the rest two had called it packs.
The trains that passed Rangpo were few and far in between, Ganden had all night, the next train would come in the morning. He decided to play his hand.
‘A hundred’ he sounded belligerent as he yanked a hundred rupee note onto the threadbare mat.
‘Could we not ask the station master to help us,’ kaka had a nervous hopefulness in his voice.
‘Hmph! Why would he help us?’ Rinchen was getting more and more irritable; he turned to look longingly at the stand-alone State Bank of India ATM. It looked like a space ship, a blue space ship with a bright white light in the middle of a dark isolated station, some red lights blinked far away in the distance adding to the surreal.
‘You better cough up the money boy or I’ll make sure you end up in jail’ Bhutia’s words reverberated in his head, those slit of an eye summing him up in a cold bloodshot way gave him goose bumps even here, hundreds of kilometre away.
‘I don’t know where this man disappears every time he is needed’ Saila’s wife grumbled, more out of habit than urgency.
‘Rinchen’s here’ she announced the reason for her early morning rehearsals of the ever impending war.
Saila’s younger sister’s son Rinchen was somewhat of a village hero, having been educated in the city and also being kind of handsome to look at.
Saila had always harbored a soft spot for Rinchen. His own children two girls had married young, they went to the village school but were never really into academics. Good city education had turned the boy around, he was very refined although a bit outspoken.
Saila’s father had recently passed away and now that the cremation was over he was supposed to go to Benaras with the ashes for submergence in the holy Ganges for a better afterlife of the deceased. Since Rinchen was one of the few in the village who had travelled the world outside their own, the task of accompanying his uncle naturally was assigned to him.
‘Wouldn’t that make us thieves?’ kaka voiced his doubt in the most subtle of suggestions.
‘If we huddled in this bench till tomorrow that would make us dead, which one do you prefer?’
‘I have never stolen anything till now’ kaka sounded hurt
Rinchen lighted the last cigarette muttering curses under his breath; the filter-less cigarettes were cheaper but burnt your fingers and lips, while it had never bothered him before, tonight he felt he was being cheated by the cigarette company out rightly.
‘You know Rinchen, last year they showed an English film in the mela, there was this thief who tried to rob the ATM and all of a sudden there were sirens everywhere and loud noises and very smart police arrived before the man could run.’
‘Will you just shut up?’ Rinchen shouted so abruptly that kaka was startled.
‘Do you see anybody around? Do you even know where we are? Besides that dog over there do you believe anyone lives around here? What police? If there was a police wouldn’t there have been a station master or a guard or at least a tea stall?
Kaka stretched his crouching frame and got up from the bench, he ambled his way out towards the platform in search for a bathroom.
‘I am sorry’ the words fell like lead, heavy with effort.
Kaka did not reply.
‘I am in trouble’ Rinchen carried on.
Kaka looked at him.
‘What are you talking about?’ He tried to sound firm, after all he was his uncle.
‘If mother gets to know she’s going to die of shame’
Kaka waited patiently but his heart started racing.
‘I got a girl’ Rinchen could not look at his uncle in the face
‘We sort of live together…..(pause) She’s pregnant’
Kaka was now paying full attention, his hurt had disappeared and a new kind of emotion was now ebbing that was close to panic
‘Good lord! What was this boy up to?’
‘That ain’t such a bad thing boy’ kaka did not believe the words that were coming out of his mouth.
‘I have been into other things as well’ Rinchen was facing the darkness ahead.
‘Rinchen, what are you saying?’ kaka faced his nephew with sincere concern.
‘I might go to jail’
Kaka was relieved to have been sitting down, had he not, he would surely have taken a staggering fall. His Rinchen, what had he got into! he loved Rinchen like his own son.
‘I have to come up with three lakh rupees otherwise….’ Rinchen was distraught.
‘Kaka there is no one about, we could take the money from the ATM and everything would be alright’
‘Who is this girl?’
‘Why the money?’ the questions simply weren’t ample.
‘Just this once, please help me’
They had now moved closer to the ATM for the rest of the area had been engulfed in complete darkness and only the ATM stood there with its white flood of light, looking like an angel in disguise. Sorely tempting.
‘It wasn’t my fault, I never wanted to borrow the money’ Rinchen’s frustrations were evident in his raised tones again.
‘Oh why did we have to be poor?’ his accusations were now aimed at Kaka
‘But we are not poor Rinchen’ Kaka sounded bewildered.
‘What do you know!’ it was more of a statement of desperation.
‘The girl, who is she?’
‘We go to the same college’
‘What about the.. the three lakh rupees’ kaka wasn’t sure if he had pronounced it correctly, it was a huge sum after all.
‘I just didn’t think it was that much’ Rinchen seemed lost
‘But why did you take the money?’ Kaka was helpless the questions were simply not coming out right.
‘We went to Kathmandu and then to Bombay, he lent us the money so easily’
‘I bought a motorcycle too’ Rinchen added as an afterthought.
The fog was getting thicker, Kaka had collected some twigs and lighted a fire which began to fizzle out so he got up and started gathering some more twigs, leaves, paper whatever he could lay his hands on in that darkness. But more than the fire he needed some time to digest all the facts that he was hearing right now, he wanted to think alone.
‘You know you could tell Didi about the girl, she would understand’ (Didi being Rinchen’s mother).
‘She is not even the main problem right now’ he sounded exasperated
‘He made me deliver a packet to some people in return for his money and now I am being questioned by the police’
‘I don’t know for sure but I don’t think it was legal’
‘Oh Rinchen! Why did you?’
The fog was thick now, it was past midnight and both of them shifted their focus to the fire to keep it going, Rinchen collected some more trash and wood from behind the ATM and now that he had found a nice log the fire started crackling merrily.
They sat in silence warming themselves for a long time, there really was nothing to be said.
‘Just this once please help me, we could break open the machine together, and then go on foot to the next station and board the train from there’
‘It’s about ten miles, we cannot’
‘Why don’t you just tell the police about this other thing maybe it will be ok for you’
Rinchen sniggered at his uncle with sarcasm.
‘See Rinchen, I know it might be difficult but this solution you are suggesting does not feel like a solution to me’
Rinchen looked crestfallen.
‘What other solution could there be?’ he sounded edgy.
‘First you could tell your mother about the girl and then….’
‘But I told you she is not even the problem here, why don’t you understand’ he was desperate.
‘Yes I know, ok forget the girl, maybe if you tell the truth to the police maybe they will help you, maybe this Bhutia is a really bad man’
‘That he is…now I know that’
‘See, even police might be knowing of his dealings, there might be other boys like you, you are just a student, the police will believe you’
Rinchen opened his mouth in protest but stopped.
Silence engulfed them, even the owls had stopped hooting and the cicadas that rattled till a little while ago had gone silent. The lights inside the ATM blinked a couple of times and stayed put.
Both stared at the fire for a rather long time.
Kaka looked towards the sky, ‘Isn’t it interesting, the sky is never pitch black at any time’
It was a random statement but Rinchen followed suit. He stared at the sky which had some stars left, it was still dark but a hue of light could be sensed. He got up and made his way towards the bathroom. A rooster started crowing somewhere in a distant village