"The next train to Flinders Street station via the city loop will be departing at five”
The recorded voice was played when I pressed the information button at the station. There was still time. I went and sat on the near by bench inside the safety zone. There had been incidents of Indian students getting attacked and harassed in public places. They are tipped as soft-targets for crime and advised to stay within the safety zones at railway stations. Although I am from Sri Lanka, little difference it would make if I tell it to someone with a knife threatening to stab me.

Epping station was in its usual quietness. I was visiting my cousin’s home at Dandenong to attend my niece’ sixteenth birthday party. It was a Saturday morning spring weather of 21 degrees, more than enough for me to leave my jacket inside my car parked at the station. Bit of breeze made it feel sixteen. I felt cold. I held my bag close to my chest. Should I quickly run back to my car and get the jacket? I decided against it. Some drunken teenagers were playing Footy with an empty ‘VB can’ at the platform. Two of them looked like Vietnamese; another Lebanese and an African origin. Among them, there were couple of Anglo-Saxon guys too. They all shared a single smoke and were laughing on something. They talked in a typical Aussie slang, which was something I was still struggling to adapt even after this many months of living in Melbourne.

An old lady came and sat next to me. She greeted me with a pleasant ‘Hi’, to which I nervously responded. She took her time to settle in the bench, then pulled a newspaper from her trolley bag. It was previous day’s MX news edition. Straightaway she went into the crossword puzzle page and continued playing from where she left off. Though she seemed to have finished most parts of it, she was still stuck with one last word. The word starting with ‘G’, forth box was ‘O’ and ending with ‘E’. The very next page had a coverage on the tenth year commemoration ceremony of Serbian mass killings and another exclusive section on a nude celebrity scandal. The lady didn’t appear too much bothered about this page. She was fully into the puzzle, that word in particular. I thought I knew that word, but was reluctant to tell her. Firstly, I wasn’t sure how she would take the suggestion, and then I was’t sure how to pronounce that word either. Ever since I moved here, I started to question my English proficiency. Even the easiest of the words was giving me troubles. Their phonetics sounded different here. I couldn’t even pronounce the word ‘tomorrow’. Is it “tomaarow” or “tomorow”? I wasn’t even sure whether I pronounce my own name correctly.

The train arrived. It was near empty. I got into the first compartment as usual. The teenagers have ceased their game, lit another cigar and shared it again before boarding in. I started reading the novel I bought last week. "The Namesake" by Jhumba Lahiri. When the train was just about to leave, I closed down the book and started staring through the window. I noticed a girl running towards, waving her hand to stop the train. While running, her jacket and the handbag slipped to the floor. She swore something, which must be "Ow shit". The train driver must have have seen her too. He stopped the train for her. The girl bent down, collected all the things fell on the ground and then stepped into my train compartment. When entering, she gave a big thumbs up to the driver with a big laugh too. The driver responded with a honk. Typical Aussies.

Incidentally she straightaway rushed to the seat just in front of me. She greeted with a usual "Hi, How you doing?", I hesitated, confused on whether to say back "Good, Yourself?" or “Very well, Thanks, how you doing". I ended up saying nothing. Most of the times people don't care what we respond anyway. So did she.

The train reached Lalor station. Few more people boarded. I moved to the window seat to give room for the guy just got in. I hated his cigar smell; always keep away from the guys jumping into the train. They bring that bad smell with them. He smiled at her, bantered something about the weather, and then tuned his iPod in. By then she already pulled her sweater out. Now although I kept the book open in my hands, I couldn't concentrate on it. I started staring at her completely. She wore a long V cardigan with lace tank top inside. She was little shorter than most of the Aussie girls. She was all over place, occupied the whole front seat with her sweater, handbag and the jacket. She wore a piercing with silver pearl. The colour matched her shiny lipstick and the dress. She was looking outside the window, closely watching the traffic in high street while humming a song. I thought it was lady gaga. The old lady was still figuring out that puzzle work. 

Reservoir station reached.

The girl suddenly turned and looked at me. I wasn’t sure she realised me staring at her. Probably not. She gently smiled. May be I should talk now.
"Rocking weather, isn’t it? You guys going out today?”, I said. 
I knew she was traveling alone. So using the word 'guys' to a single woman was little odd. Bottom line was, I just didn’t know how to start a casual chat like this.
"Yea, Bit chill ha. I’m going to Collingwood game. Big game for us today.”, she said.
She was referring to the Australian Football League. I hardly follow AFL. I just don’t understand its rules. It almost looks like Rugby. Then again I don’t understand Rugby either. All I know is, Aussies are mad at it and Victorians in particular are crazy about this game. Fortunately, my niece is a Cats fan and she told me some of her favourite players' names once. They came to my rescue.
"Well, I love cats, Gary is great. …”, I said.
"Fair enough. He is a legend. Sexy too”, she winked. 
There was a burning smell. I felt jealous. No wonder why there are many sex scandals in AFL.
"Anyway you Indians are cricket crazies, aren’t ya, I stopped watching the game after Warnie retired”, she said.
“I am. Just for the matter of fact, I am a Sri Lankan, not an Indian.”, I said bit irritatingly.
“Oops, my bad … I had many Sri Lankan friends in school. Hows the situation there now?”
 She was referring to country’s civil war. I was bit surprised to see it coming from her.
“Its gone from bad to worse”, I said.
“oh, That’s terrible. Why can’t Arab spring happen in Sri Lanka?”, she asked. 
Just then Arab spring was spreading across north Africa. I replied with a smile.
“Because, Sri Lanka is not in the middle east. We don’t have oil”
She nodded. Then she was excited all of a sudden.
"Hey what’s that? Is that “Namesake?”
I din’t know what was she talking about.
“I mean… the book .. the book you read”
I checked the cover of the book in my hands again. I was bit embarrassed.
“Oh, yeah, The Namesake, I just started it”
"Its pretty good. My ex gave it to me. I loved it… Errgg what's his name? Ahh Gogol, the story hangs around him. Second generation migrant. He marries a …”

"Don't go there please, I just started. I don't like people telling the story of novels and movies !”

She was taken aback.
“Oh sorry. Please you enjoy”
I realised I was being rude. She looked little annoyed with my response. But then of course she didn’t know its my communication problem. I usually struggle to get right vocabulary at the right time. Anyway damage was done. She didn't pursue the conversation afterwards. She went quiet and started staring through windows again.

I was back to reading now, but my mind was still trying to read her. The fact that she read "Namesake" irked me a bit. She must be a literature fan. I continued to have a secret peek at her. It’s a mistake to say she was beautiful. She was gorgeous. She had retouched her lips three times already. Also unwittingly she adjusted her cardigan to hide her mild cleavage. Was she trying to hide it… or show it? I wasn’t sure. But whenever she did it, it drew my attention. It was pleasant. Not so comforting, but pleasant. My eyes went down. She didn’t wear long heels. I thought she might just look equally gorgeous in traditional Indian Saree too.

The guy next to me had already left. She, the old lady and me were the only ones in the compartment now. The old lady seemed to have given up on the puzzle; 

Merry station reached.

I couldn't help myself thinking about her again. The fact that she read Namesake, meaning she should have had some Indian connection through her ex. May be he is an Indian too. She might have done some research study in Indian contemporaries. Does she know A R Rahman? Jeez, She probably likes Indian music and food, the things I can't just live without. Who knows, she might even get along with my parents too. My father is bit conservative, but who cares? Mother might find it difficult to speak in English with her. But I can always teach English to my mother. That too, wouldn't be a problem. In case my asylum case gets rejected, she could still sponsor me. What if she does get to know that I am still living with my parents? Oh my goodness, I should never utter a word about it. May be, I should settle my parents in a separate place.

She at times turned towards me and smiled. Or did she? I wasn’t sure. I noticed she got a cute little dimple when she smiles. We were now two stations away from Collingwood. I didn’t even know her name. What could I do? Nothing came to my mind. Should I ask her name? May be "By the way, I am Kishore, your good name please?”, damn, that's too old fashioned. What shall I say? Why don't I ask her for a coffee? I can even join her for the match. Can I skip the birthday party? Asking coffee would be fine, but is it too early? We just met. What if she says “You bloody Indians", should I react politely then? Surely she doesn’t seem to be a racist. She said she had ex which means she is single and free now. Is he the ex-boyfriend or ex-husband? What if its a girl? Hope its not. What was their problem? Why did they break-up? I am sure he was wrong. She probably was too good for him. Why am I thinking about her ex now? Damn.

May be I will ask her name first and see how it goes.

Next station was Collingwood. Now, only two of us were in the compartment. It was strange. On an AFL match day, the whole compartment was empty. Certainly the day meant for us. The weather was neither too chill nor too hot. The stage was well setup for us. Now I made up my mind. Let the party go. I am going to the game with her. How do I ask her out? Ergh… "Hey I am also thinking of coming to the match, You free to join with me?”, no, that's bad, may be "Hey, I think it would be fun if we both went together"... Well, it sounds cool, but should I use the word 'go' or 'went' there? Go to hell my English. It’s my father who didn't teach me English very well. Why everybody got good parents but not me? Forget it. Focus. The best thing was to introduce myself and then check with her whether I could join. Collingwood was nearing, just a few seconds left. Nothing to lose, lets ask. I was getting myself ready.

Then suddenly she got up, thought for a moment, and then asked me nervously.
"Hey mate.. I kinda thinking, why don't you join with me to the match? May be a coffee after that?”
She winked and smiled, with that cute little dimple. 
“Holy … moly”


Original Version was written in 2009

1 comment :

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