"What? Are you growing a beard?" said the colleague.

I had not looked at my reflection, I couldn't place it. When I looked at it in the washroom, only then did I realise that I had a couple of weeks' stubble on my face.

No big deal. I looked a little aristocratic in the beard. But I couldn't just forget the red rimmed eyes which stared back at me—a little askew, as if they searched for some other meaning. Also, my clothes seemed rumpled.

I couldn't remember whether I had ironed them.

She used to iron and give them to me. Yes, yes, I had seen her ironing. Then how come the reflection had rumpled clothes, crazily askew eyes & untidy hair?

I had a space to myself in the train, as I fished for my mobile in my pants pocket. My eyes darted here and there, as I couldn't find it and I saw people around me—with handkerchiefs against their mouth. My wallet too was not there. And as I brought my bag in front of me, I looked in surprise that it wasn't my DELL laptop bag but a large patched up handkerchief, rumpled and smelly.

I looked at the people again, and they still had handkerchiefs at their mouths. A foul odour, but from where?

I didn't smell anything bad. People bumped into me but recoiled and stood a couple of paces away. I could feel their ungenerous gaze on me, as if I didn't belong in the compartment.

"Should have gone in the vendor's compartment."

The middle-aged man was addressing me. He wrinkled his nose and then spat through the door.

I turned away as my station was approaching. I nearly fell out the door as someone shoved me out. A sharp pain shot through my right leg, and as I looked at my feet, I couldn't believe that my feet were bare and the ends of my pants were in tatters. Dark smudges of dirt were on my feet, and the pain in my right foot was excruciating. It was swelling up.

I hobbled through the platform and reached the rickshaw stand. Strangely, the rickshaw wallah slapped me and pushed me away. Somehow, I maintained my balance but then lost it as some drainage water stung, as it came in contact with my ruined foot.

I must have smelled like a septic tank, for people got away from me in the teeming station road.

Only some rest in my apartment, I thought. A nice hot bath and then will go see Dr. Patel.

Somehow hobbling I reached the complex, but the security guard wouldn't let me in. He raised his lathi and brought it on my hand. The resulting pain made me nearly run, as my throbbing hand cried for relief.

"Get off you bum," he called after me. "The likes of you are not welcome here." He spat.

Something drew me, I couldn't be sure what, but my one ruined foot and another good one pointed to the railway station. I don't know how much time it took for me to reach the railway station, as when I looked at my watch it's glass was shattered. The legacy of the guard's lathi, no doubt.

The crowd at the station road had thinned and the street lights painted the roads yellow. I tried catching the iron banister of the foot-over-bridge to get to the 'sky-walk', nearly missed but finally caught it with my other hand. I heaved myself up the flight of stairs to the landing. The box in the corner of the landing seemed incredibly inviting and I sank on it. I don't know when I fell unconscious.

The next day I ruffled through the box but found nothing. I clenched my fists and tried standing, and at that time I saw her.

She wore an orange salwar kameez with my DELL laptop bag slung on her shoulder. On her left shoulder she carried a Gucci hand bag. Her hand fished inside the bag and she threw something at me. It landed near my head which was resting on the landing.

It was the same old one-rupee coin, minted 1995.


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