Sachin waited till the train started moving before jumping in. The disgusted looks he got from the women standing near the door didn’t bother him. He still hurt all over from the thrashing his father had given him last night. He smiled wryly – just another drunken boor for a father. The chawl was filled with lives like his.
It had been only two weeks since his mother had left them and he had dropped out of school. His father had insisted on it. But he was glad. School had only added to the tediousness of his life. He liked the colour and bustle of the local trains.
Amol had taught him how to do a sales pitch. Though two years younger to him, Amol was a veteran on the trains. Start out with the ladies’ compartments, Amol had told him. Women like kids, so that’s already a point in your favour, he said. Sachin experimented, modifying his babble till he got it right and then vocalised it with a mix of cuteness, impishness and audacity. The women will swoon, Amol avowed.
Yesterday he had made his first sale. He had been about to get off the train after passing three stations when somebody called out to him. He took a deep breath, then turned around wearing his broadest grin. There were three college girls. College girls loved trinkets. As the girls rummaged through the box of earrings, he sat on the edge of the seat and offered his opinion. “Take this one madam. This blue colour matches your dress perfectly… Try this long one. Your face is round, so it will look really nice… It’s only Rs 10 each madam. Buy all four…”
Sachin got off at the next station and sat on the bench, counting the money over and over again. He then bought a wada pav. My money, he thought. When he decided to go home, the last wisps of twilight had faded away. He sat at the edge of the door of the train, his eyes closed, letting the wind whip his hair into disarray.
He was whistling when he had walked in the door. “So you’ve finally come?” He turned around to see his father sitting against the wall, bottle in his hand.
“Yes,” Sachin mumbled and went towards the kitchen.
“Wait,” said his father, “where are you going? Did you make any money today?”
“So where is it? Hand it over.”
Sachin stood staring at his father.
“What happened? Have you been struck by paralysis?”
“Well, that’s nice to hear. Now give me the money.”
“No!” Sachin wasn’t sure he had actually said that.
“What did you say?”
Sachin did not reply.
His father got up.
“What did you say?”
Sachin took a step back.
Sachin lay on his stomach all night, his eyes dry and awake. He had tiptoed out of the house this morning before his father woke up, taking with him a few clothes in his school satchel.
He spent another good day in the trains. At , he alighted at VT station. He bought some food and found an empty bench at the far end of the platform. He watched the people and trains come and go for a long time. He lay down along the length of the concrete bench, using his satchel as a pillow.
He woke up with a start. There were very few people around now. They spoke in whispers that echoed off the walls. The lights were dim and the shadows towered up to the ceiling. He shivered and curled his body in a little closer. He didn’t go back to sleep.
When morning came, he bought a pair of scissors, a spindle of thread, and a needle. He sat down on the pavement and carefully removed the stitches of the lining in his satchel. He put Rs. 20 inside it and carefully sewed it up again. He put the remaining Rs. 30 in his pocket and made a running jump into a train as it pulled out of the station.
His father was still asleep when he got home. Sachin got into bed, and looked at his satchel for some time before closing his eyes. Some day, he promised himself.