There are times when you are in a dark place within yourself.
Many years ago, when I was a young schoolboy, this incident occurred.
Picture yourself in those days, when there were no smartphones, no video games, no internet, and not even CDs or DVDs to speak of. Especially for young boys growing up in small towns in India, going to the movies was a form of entertainment. A dusty, small town on the east coast of Southern India was my home.
During that time, we lived in a small, rented house near the railway track. This railway line was notable for almost cutting the town in half. They weren’t called Chennai and Kolkata then, but Madras in the south and Calcutta in the northeast were served by this line. The majority of the old town was located west of the railway line, while some of the newer developments were located on the eastern side of the railway line…
When we were children, we eagerly awaited the arrival of the movie theatre because these were rare occasions. I wanted to watch a black-and-white film from the past. At the time, it was a huge hit, and it was being re-released. So, I was incredibly excited.
A theatre called Vijaya Mahal screened the film soon after. It was east of us, while Vijaya Mahal was on our west side of the railway line. I decided to watch the late-night show for some reason that I can’t recall now. Despite some grumbling, I was granted permission by the family to enter the building.
After a late dinner, I jumped out of bed with excitement. The fights, the songs, and all the usual stuff had me spellbound. Around 1:00 a.m., the movie was finally finished. There were only a few people who came to watch the late-night show, and they all took different routes to get where they needed to be. I, on the other hand, was ecstatic! I was in awe of the situation. I kept reliving the scenes in my teenage mind as I walked back!
About a kilometer from the theatre, there was a railway gate where all traffic was supposed to cross over. As a result, the town was fast asleep at 1:00 am. Only beetles could be heard in the bushes along the road. Since the gate was not guarded, I decided to just walk across the tracks and take a shortcut.
My path was interrupted by thorny shrubs that served as weak barriers around the railway line. I finally made it across. Even the beetles fell silent as I approached. On the cushioned tracks, I began climbing the steep embankment made of crushed gravel. Dim lights were set up around the railway gate in the distance to my right, but they were very far away and difficult to see. I trekked up the embankment, crunching over the gravel. It was quite dark, but I didn’t feel threatened by the situation. Actually, I was unaware of my surroundings. I was a boy lost in celluloid fantasies!
In the next few minutes, I crossed the first railway track and began collapsing. The second rise with the second track was just a few feet away. Taking my time, I slowly made my way into the hollow that existed between the two embankments. In the middle of it all, I sat.
My feet were touched by something soft.
However, I couldn’t find anything when I looked down. Not even my own feet. In the hollow, the darkness seemed to be thicker. Moonlight and starlight were nonexistent in the sky. What was it, and why did it happen? I acted without thinking because my mind was still distracted. What was it that was rubbing against the soles of my shoes? I knelt and reached out my hand to touch whatever was rubbing against me. There were a few moments of silence. I slowly awoke from my slumber. In the darkness, I could hear crickets singing again, and I could feel something soft against my feet and on my fingers.
The dim world began to come into sharper view. Their whites were barely visible in the dim light, but I could tell they were staring at me. They were inches away from me when they looked at me. Then I looked down and saw what my fingers were grasping at. Those were hair strands — soft and loose with long, lifeless locks. I was staring at a female’s head when I noticed it. I stood where her body should have been.
Something inside of me clenched. Slowly… very slowly… Taking a step forward, I let go of the hair and stood up. I went back a few steps. I began to move away from her slowly, deliberately, and silently.
I scrambled up the other embankment, watching for loose gravel.
At a time, one step, one breath.
As I crossed the second track, I once again noticed what appeared to be a body without ahead in the distance. I didn’t know for certain. But I didn’t want to be certain.
I slid down the second berm without looking. A pair of dead eyes were staring at me from behind my back. What if a dead mouth whispered my name out of the blue? If that headless, blurry body behind me turned over and reached for my ankles, what would I do? It’s time to stop it! Stop trying to figure things out! “One breath at a time.” I was soon back among the brambles. Because I wasn’t paying attention, I made a mistake this time around. The thorns scratched me, but I didn’t notice them. On my exposed calves and knees, I didn’t feel the web of bleeding lines that they caused. I knew I had to keep walking, so I did just that. On the other side, on the road that ran along the track and then away from it, I was finally able to get to my destination. A lamp post and the flickering light it produced caused me to look down at my feet. They were unaffected by anything around them. My slightly wet right hand was not something I wanted to look at. So that it wouldn’t come along with me, I only wanted to leave it behind.
As I ran, I kept my voice low so as not to wake the dead.
It was only a few days later that Dainik Prachaar published news about a woman who had committed suicide by jumping in front of a train. Her actions were motivated by desperation and hopelessness, which no one knew.
Weird is the way memory works! All your life you may recall some silly incidents, but you may have forgotten some important ones. Some incidents, on the other hand, leave a lasting impression, as if they were branded with an iron. As an example, this was one of those situations. For a long time, I was afraid to talk about it with anyone. Not my family, for sure.
That night, I slept improperly. The only thing that happened was that I did not develop a fever or go into a state of shock. I appeared to be a normal person from the outside. But it took me a long time to realize that darkness was just darkness and not something with silky hair and staring eyes.]