To the Stranger on the Train (From the Gropophobic Girl)



It’s been 15 years since we first met. I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was my first day as an undergraduate at Delhi University. I was barely 18 then, filled with excitement and nervousness about embarking on the biggest adventure of my life. I was ready to enjoy the freedom of college, realize my true potential (which was hitherto bottled up, due to the restrictions of school life), and finally spread my wings.

However, before I could do that, I needed to catch the local train, the royal carriage that would transport me to the kingdom of my dreams. Immersed in the enthusiasm and eagerness of starting my new life, I completely forgot the only advice my sister had whispered in my ear when I left home that morning – “No matter what happens, do NOT board the general compartment of the train. Find the Ladies’ coach, and get on it.”

When my train arrived after an hour-long wait, I did not have the patience to locate the Ladies’ coach. The only thought racing through my mind was to not miss the train at any cost; to reach college in time and get in on all the action. After all, who wants to be late on the very first day of college? Not me! Moreover, the moment the train stopped at the station, I lost all touch with gravity, as the swarm of people around me lifted me and threw me into the compartment right in front of me.

I had asked for action that morning, and action I got, when the train left the station two minutes later. Sandwiched in the middle of the crowd, with no room to move, or even breathe, I suddenly felt your hand on my chest. It took me a second to understand that the road to my dreams had unexpectedly catapulted me straight into a perverse nightmare, orchestrated by your filthy mind. You groped me unabashedly until the next station, your face carefully hidden by the faceless bodies that filled up the train to the brim.

I wanted to scream my guts out, but I knew that the noise of the train would drown any sound I could muster up the courage to make. So, I just stood there in complete shock and embarrassment, immobilized by the horror of the shamelessness and cowardice you displayed at that moment, while I tried desperately to catch just a glimpse of your face, something other than your touch to remember you by.

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the day I met you; the day you forcefully made contact with me; the doomed day you gave me gropophobia. Today, as I sit on another train, a million light years away from the one whose memory you scarred so brutally, I think of you. I think of you and immediately, I am filled with disgust and mistrust, as I make an effort to identify your spineless face in the crowd.

Today, I sit on this train, and I inadvertently clutch my bag tightly in an effort to cover my chest the moment a man dares to come in my vicinity; praying that I reach my destination quietly, without any adventure of any kind. My only dream now is to keep away from nightmares, a gift that you thoughtlessly gave me 15 years ago, on this very day.

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