“This is wrong, all of this”, a voice inside me kept harping. I wanted to brush that voice off, ignore it, cast it aside.
I wanted to say to myself, “This is it, man. You have things in your control. There is no need for a do-over. There is no need for another chance. You have all that chances you wanted, needed.”
“Shut up! The fucking both of you”, I yelled at the voices in my head. I needed this think and decide, quickly. The rat-pack at my feet was about to get to its feet.
I needed some sort of clarity, a sign that confirmed one of the two: the evidence in front of me or the voice in my head. And there is only one sign, one clarity, one beacon and it had always been … she.
Yes, she would know answer. Yes, yes, yes, she would. I looked around for that sign. Though the strobe shone bright, it shone straight as well and reflected haphazardly in all directions. This mean that there were more shadows than objects. Amongst those shadows, I couldn’t spot her. My eyes tried, in vain, to dart past the bodies of darkness to find my source of light. I knew that she was there, waiting for me to set us free.
“Fuck man, take this chance, take your shot, seize it before …”.
I found myself in the past. I knew I couldn’t risk “taking that shot”. That meant only one option; I took myself back and gave myself some time. More unsure about everything that I had been earlier, I needed time and that’s what I got. More of it that I had before.
This time, I found myself, or ourselves, further in the past than I had been earlier. This seemed eons ago as now, we were in the original train which was just about to slow down.
Still, there was no time to think; in fact, there hardly was any time to act.
“Quick, come with me”, I said. I grabbed her hand and looked around. We were at the head of the car. In front of us was a long corridor and along the corridor, at regular intervals, were doors, which opened up to the car’s cubicles. We were at the first such door and we took that first door.
Bad move? No! Fucking good move.
Normal psychology dictates that, when one is just about to be confronted by an ugly situation, one would run farthest. That’s what everyone, including the rat-pack, expected it. This, I know would make the closest door the safest door.
Inside the door, there a narrow alley to the left and to the right, there were cubicles with four berths each. Two, one above the other facing another such pair. I led her down that alley to the middle cubicle. I held her as she climbed to the upper berth. She looked down at me, as if she was waiting for something.
I stared at her, for half a second as that's all the time I could afford, and turned on my heel. I left her there, knowing fully well that she would be as safe as she could be, given the circumstances, when she is as far away from me as possible. I ran outside as the train was able to come to a halt. I got out of the door, locked the door from the outside just before the train stopped.
I ran to the other end of the carriage and along the way, I bolted all the doors from the outside. All, expect one, the last one. I got inside that one and left it slightly ajar. I wanted to give a hint of where I was. This in an attempt to catch and not be caught. I wanted to lay a trap that led them right to me and not me to them.
The compartment was similar to the first one that I had just seen. There were cubicles and berths, lined up along the aisle. As I stood there, at the entrance, I could see that there was one set of berths to my left and around five of them to my right. I knew which way I would head; I relied on the same psychology and turned left. I climbed to the top berth on the cubicle to my left and waited.
As I waited, the train came to a complete halt. I waited some more to hear sounds. In a way, I wanted to both hear them and, at the same time, not. If I heard them, it meant that the same future will repeat itself. If I didn’t hear any, it could mean that this future could be different; that the rat-pack might not even show up. This parallel future could mean that … I had to stop that thought process there.
“Time”. I heard that familiar stranger’s voice. That shut that parallel future’s door.
“ ... is money”, I thought to myself as I took a quarter out of my pocket. “It may not solve all of the world’s problems but it might solve this one”. I held the quarter in my hand and waited. The light at the beginning of the tunnel, the light that shone through the ajar door would give me a faint picture of any changes in the landscape.
The second ticked by. And then, in the midst of silence, I heard sounds of boots on the train corridor. They came slowly, steadily, and got louder as the time went by. The good thing, I felt, is that they didn’t stop. I smiled, without knowing.
A few more moments later, there was an interruption to the light pane. One of the rat from the rat-pack was here. From my earlier future, I remembered that there were four rats in the rat-pack. Three more interruptions to go.
“Time to show ’em my money”, I decided. Just when I heard the door open, I threw the quarter to the other end of the aisle. It startled the rat-pack for a second. The next second, they assured themselves that they ‘got to me’.
The door opened fully. Glad that this was the first and only door to be opened. She was safe!
In spite of being fully confident that they ‘got to me’, they walked slowly towards the other end of the compartment. The second break of the light pane and then, two second later, the third break. Now, I know that three rats were in and the fourth rat was waiting outside. The feet of the first three rats landed, cautiously, as they made their way along the compartment. The rats took their time getting to the other end.
After a few moments, there was the fourth break in the light pane. And that break was my break. I, slowly came to the edge of the berth and noticed the fourth rat peering down the aisle towards the other end. I jumped with my legs folded and my knees pointed out, out towards my target, which was the fourth rat’s shoulder blade.
“Aaaaargh”. The agonizing grunt shattered the silence.
The next sound was the thump of him landing face-down on the floor. I clung to him, my knees still pressed to his shoulder blades and landed over him.
The next sound was of his bones crushing under me.
The next sound was the gun falling away next to me. He had to let it go in order to grab something to hold lest he fell on his face. Too bad that his plans didn’t work out.
The next sounds were of the other three rats turning around towards the entrance. They were unable to decipher what they were seeing in the dim light.
The next sound was from me … as I grabbed the gun, rolled away from the fourth rat and was out of the door.
As soon as I rolled outside, I got up and bolted the door from outside. I heard steps running towards the door. Before I gave the rat-pack any chance to say anything, I took over the reins.
“I have a gun”, I yelled. “Want to try your chances?”
No response. That’s good. It’s better to implore them to dare rather than lecture them about their safety. Tell them to do something; they’d do the exact opposite.
“The door isn’t locked”, I lied. “Who wants to go first?”
There wasn’t even a peep. “I have all the time in the world, and the best view”, I lied again.
This was when it hit me, why the voice in my head had warned me about things being wrong. I, suddenly, realized two reasons, very valid reasons.
1. I would never kill anyone. These had been the first times I saw a gun, up close let alone aiming one towards a live human being. I could never kill a spider let alone a person.
2. One of the rats in the rat-pack was an undercover and I didn’t know who.
In a way, she helped me make the right choice. She remained in the moving shadows and I could never see her. Had I seen her, I would have remained in the other parallel universe as I would have wanted to save her. Could I have been such a hypocrite to discard my beliefs and gun a man down, men down, innocents included. Now, I don’t have to answer; all I had to do was to thank her.
The train started moving. This was a good sign. This wasn’t their hijacked train, but just a regular train serving its regular stops. So, the rat-pack, too, has things outside their control.
I took my shoes off and placed them right opposite the door. I knew that the rat-pack would try to peek under the door to see where I was and plan their exit/death strategy. They’d see my shoes and know where I was, which was right there, waiting, and they’d step away. Shooting at the door is useless for two reasons: it was a thick steel door and even I have a gun. They’d be bigger fools to attempt.
In my socks, I walked away to the first door. I opened it, walked inside to the middle of the compartment and looked up. There she was, just the way I left her. Her eyes shone towards me, a moment I knew I have to capture as I wasn’t sure when or if they would ever shine towards me again.
“Let’s go”, I whispered more due to the lump in my throat rather than to stay silent.
She climbed down and took her shoes off, after noticing that I didn’t have mine. I looked around and found a thick comforters lying around, one on each berth. I grabbed a few and walked out, with her following me. Even though I was completely sure, I hesitated a second at the door just to look outside. Things were as I had left them.
The train, still, was moving slowly as hasn’t picked up speed yet.
I turned around and faced her, with my eyes down to her hands. I gave one ends of the comforters. I couldn’t bear to look at her eyes as I gave her the instructions.
“Hold on to this end, tightly, very tightly. No matter what happens, hold on to it till you come to a complete stop”.
There was no response from her and so, I had to look up at her eyes. They gave away nothing and yet, gave away everything. She knew what I was about to do. She said nothing and did nothing. She just held on to the ends of the comforters. I wrapped the rest of the comforters around her and fastened them to her with a rope.
In a way, she was mummified with the comforters. Every inch of her was enclosed as I wrapped them over her head and under her feet as well. They added inches of padding to her, padding that would help her when she lands. I took a knife and cut some gaps in the comforters so that she could breathe.
I lifted her up and took her close to the car’s open door. The train started to pick speed up, slowly but surely. We were on a small bridge. I waited. The moment we passed the bridge, I hurled her out of the car. She landed on the thick grass covered land and rolled along the slopes. I could see her rolling away, in spite of the darkness around her. The moon, full moon, added enough brightness.
She rolled away and the train rolled away, with me in it. After a while, she stopped and after a few more moments, I could see that she was unraveling herself from the cushions. One after the other, they gave away and she appeared.
As I stood there, I knew why I did what I had done, and why I didn’t do what I hadn’t. I hadn’t jumped in order to save myself as well. The rat-pack knew me and only me. They had no idea of her, which meant that had I jumped, I would remain a target and because of me, she, too, would be in the line of fire. I had to stay.
I threw her off board. One reason I did that was to save her. The other, equally important reason, is that, after putting her through so much, I wanted to be selfish and needed something.