Someone must have pulled the emergency chain for the train, I thought, as it stopped so suddenly. The sudden cessation of movement caused us all to fall forward.
Shaken, we stood up and put our heads out of the now motionless train's windows. Most passengers crowded outside.
It wasn't long before the police arrived on the scene.
It appears that someone had been crossing the line, and had been struck by the train. It was just one station before my intended destination: Baharampore.
Someone remarked that the body was still lying there. I was about to have a look for myself when someone caught my hand firmly. It was none other than the fellow passenger with whom I had been talking throughout my four-hour journey from Kolkata.
"There's nothing to see in that lifeless body. There is only a lot of blood and some mutilated limbs," he said. "It would make you very upset."
I carefully hid my curiosity.
It was half past four in the evening. My fellow traveler told me that he was also going to Baharampore, so we hired a one-cycle-van, being the only available transport for hire locally.
We talked ceaselessly as we traveled along. Sometimes about politics, sometimes about the present education scenario and sometimes about the high casualty rate in the traffic system. However, I couldn't help my mind returning to that unseen body. Who had lost his precious life, I wondered. I was twenty-six years old. There are so many things to see in life. Death was something I just didn't want to think about.
It was my first trip to Baharampore. A friend had invited me to spend a weekend at his home. I thought it would make a good escape from the clatter of Kolkata. It would be a change from the monotonous and weekly hustle-bustle of my everyday life.
On finally reaching my friend's house, I decided to say nothing about the accident or my ten-minute cycle-van journey. Actually, I'd enjoyed that open cab ride. Other than that mishap on the train, the whole journey had been most pleasant. I didn't want to make my friend unhappy by discussing sad things. Ankush, my long-time friend, was a good person, and his mother was anxious about the dish she was preparing for me. I didn't want to spoil anything that evening.
Since I was a city dweller, they were worried that I might find their rural home, which lacked electricity, difficult to get used to, but I really enjoyed sitting on the roof of their home on that starry night, soaking up the atmosphere, drinking coconut milk, eating fresh vegetables and fruits, and listening to his friends, whose native pronunciation of the very Bengali words I used was so very different from mine.
They asked me endless questions. About my work, my family and myself, which I was pleased to answer. I tried to respond in as much detail as I was able. They seemed pleased to hear that I am a writer. But, before long, I was rescued by Ankush.
Then one of his friends mentioned the accident that had killed an eighteen-year-old girl that very afternoon.
Ankush said to me, "Hey, I think you must have been there. Didn't you see anything of it?"
I told them everything I knew, and explained the reason for my silence.
To my utter surprise, they laughed uproarishly, as though it was a common happening.
Ankush said that, indeed, it was not a rare thing thereabouts. They were quite accustomed to accidents on the railway line.
I listened to what they were saying to each other without taking any further part in the conversation.
Ankush smiled at me, and tauntingly asked me if I was scared.
On hearing this, I became angry. I didn't see that they had any right to accuse me of this.
Bhuvan, one of the friends, said to me, "Well, could you go to where it happened? Right now. Alone? If you can, we can presume that you are not scared."
Accordingly, we immediately went to the place where the accident had happened, but deliberately kept a fair distance from the exact spot. They dared me to walk right up to the place where the young girl had been killed. It was barely visible as it was lit only by the light from the stars and a partially concealed moon. Only the signal glowed red.
Despite Ankush's protest, I started walking forward. It was really difficult for someone like me, to accept this as fun. Nevertheless, I wanted to demonstrate to them that I was really a brave man, and that I could accept their silly dare.
Walking in the dark was difficult as stones were scattered everywhere. I found I was sweating as I walked. But it was a challenge that I simply had to win.
Suddenly, before me, I saw a shadowy white object quivering exactly where I was heading. I stopped for a moment. It could be an hallucination, I reasoned. I started walking forward again. But, now, the apparition was quite visible. It was a person draped in white. And that wraithlike person was doing something. Who or what was it? Was it an illusion or ... ? The possibility that it was something paranormal sent a chill was running down my spine. I almost died with shock as someone put a hand on my shoulder. I just stopped breathing and closed my eyes.
In that gloomy light I found it was none other than Ankush who had been following me. He also saw what I had been seeing.
We drew closer and found what we had seen was an old person swabbing the place with water. There was no body, nothing of the dead girl remained.
"Eto rakto! - So much blood!" he was quietly saying to himself over and over.
It turned out that he was the stationmaster, whose son had died in the same way in a train accident twenty-five years previously. On one such cold night, such as this was, he was being chased by police officers and, without warning, a train thundered along and ran over him. After that sad incident, the stationmaster became mentally disturbed, and always took it upon himself to erase all evidence of such accidents.