Praful banged the door shut violently. The frame trembled, the glass in the window next to the door shivered with a tinkle of alarm.

Unheeding, he ran down the steps and did not stop until he reached the bus stop. He did not want to go anywhere. His was using the bus stop as a refuge; it gave him an illusion of purpose.  He threw himself down on the cement bench under the awning. Thankfully, the shelter was deserted. Had someone been close enough, they might have been witness to the rare spectacle of an adult male- in a public place- with tears threatening to spill out of his eyes.

He was woebegone as he sat there, brooding. But this was not his habitual state; on the contrary. His face was a testimony to the sunniness of his disposition. His mouth’s upturned corners spoke of the laughter that bubbled within him. His alert eyes usually danced with impish gaiety. The dimple in his left cheek played hide and seek with the smile that played forever on his lips. Contrarily, it disappeared when he smiled and held the fort when the smile was gone; like now. It held the promise of a smile, keeping hope alive.

He sat brooding for almost an hour. It was lunch time. He began to feel ravenously hungry. Mulishly, he decided not to go home for lunch. Let them worry he thought, grimacing peevishly. He decided to punish ‘them’ by letting his hunger rumble like an aggravated tiger in his stomach. He shifted his position irritably. The stomach growled louder.

A few minutes later, he couldn’t bear his hunger pangs but he was determined not to go home. He knew he hadn’t brought his wallet so he riffled through his pockets for a chance currency note. He found a tenner crushed almost into pulp. It probably got washed a few times along with his jeans. Gleefully, he congratulated himself on his careless haphazardness and took off towards the railway station which was the only place where he would find something filling in ten bucks.

The station was deserted in the drowsy afternoon heat. He wandered around, eyeing the snacks displayed at the stalls. Nothing attracted him. He was almost out of the covered area of the platform when he saw a sari clad girl sitting on the floor with two cylindrical steel containers selling warm idlis with chutney. The aroma of chutney drove the hungry tiger into frenzy. He rushed to the girl and asked her to give him a plate.

As he stood on one side, tucking into the fluffy, moist idlis and polishing off the tangy chutney, he idly looked the girl over. She sat huddled into the wall behind her, wrapped in a clean sari of a somber hue. Her skin was dusky and smooth as polished marble. Her nose was short with delicate nostrils. Her chin was a soft curve melting flowing down from her delicate cheeks. Her eyes….. Here Praful drew a blank. He couldn’t describe her eyes because she kept them lowered- even during their brief transaction.

Curious, he kept hanging around after he finished his idlis. He loitered aimlessly for over an hour. Many people came to buy idlis from her but not once did she raise her eyes. Soon her containers were empty and she set out for home. Carrying her now empty containers in a large misshapen and grimy bag, she walked slowly out of the railway station and was soon lost in the crowd.

Praful developed an inexplicable passion for idlis. Every afternoon promptly at four, when the station was almost deserted, he came to eat a plate of soft idlis. If she noticed his regularity, she didn’t show it.

He began noticing other things about her.

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To be continued….