It was the usual scene on the platform. Passengers rushed past to get to their coach in the train due for arrival in some time. Porters carrying heavy luggage, families with babies and children in tow, crowded around the sitting area. As the train hurtled in at the platform, Reena picked up her bags and trudged towards the door. The coach was teeming with noise and chaos. A porter haggling for extra money for the heavy luggage, a child howling, two passengers squabbling for space to fit in their stuff. Reena settled on her seat, pushed her bags under her berth and sat down to observe the frenetic commotion.
A wedding group waiting besides her at the platform entered the same coach. Men, women, children, all happily hugging and waving to people who had come to see them off. Stacks of boxes full of food and sweets emanated a lovely aroma all around. Reena was hungry now. On the berths opposite to hers, two men settled. Both had backpacks with them and no luggage. Thank God, some breathing space in the already congested space, Reena thought. The lights were blinking at the platform; it was almost dark now.
Train slowly left the station and picked up speed. Food packets were open at the neighbouring berths, Reena could tell the distinct aroma of the sweets fried in ghee. Antakshari was on in full swing. A little girl from the wedding group was dancing to a Punjabi song playing on her phone. The wedding party was still in celebration mode.
The men on the opposite berth kept staring at Reena. Reena heaved a sigh of relief that the coach was crowded and few families were around. A heavily decked up woman from the wedding group came over and extended a sweet box towards her. She looked at the two scruffy men and sensed Reena’s discomfort. She hissed to Reena, ‘You can come to our side and sit with us, are you travelling alone?’ Reena smiled. She grabbed her bag and joined the antakshari melee.
At about ten o clock, everyone was yawning and they decided to resume the singing in the morning. Long journey indeed, thank God I found good company, Reena muttered.
It had been a hectic day for her, working all day in office, packing and then rushing to the station. As soon as lights were switched off, she slipped into a deep sleep.
At around midnight she heard a murmur. The man on the opposite berth was up. He hadn’t opened their beddings till now. His companion was nowhere to be seen. The train slowed down and came to a halt with a sudden jolt as if someone had pulled a chain. It was pitch dark outside. ‘Is that a station?’ Reena wondered.
In a few seconds the other man rushed in with two more people. The one sitting opposite joined them and they walked past towards the other seats. Suddenly Reena heard a woman shriek.
She tried to crane and switch on the light when the noises turned louder.
The men had caught hold of a woman, the other two were beating up someone from the wedding group berths. She could see all of them in the faint orange night light in the passage. One of them had a gun and threatened everyone to keep quiet and hand him all valuables.
Reena quietly took her phone out and quickly typed a message. Before she could do anything, one of the men from the gang walked towards her. He snatched her phone and pointed a gun. Under normal circumstances she would speak her mind, but, with a gun against her head, she decided to play it safe. She raised her hands to indicate she meant no protest, and handed her watch, gold bracelet and wallet. The others were going from one seat to the other and gathering valuables from the passengers.
A phone was beeping somewhere. The gang shouted, ‘Stop, cut it, whose phone is it?’ Reena knew the ringtone. The guy suddenly distracted by the ringtone looked behind. Reena without wasting a second pounced and snatched the gun, threw it under the seat and with a swift move pinned the guy to the floor. From the far end of the coach few people came rushing into the coach and overpowered the robbers. Within minutes, they took all four of them towards the toilets and locked them inside.
After sometime armed police guards arrived and took the gang away.
The passengers applauded Reena for confronting the robbers. How did help arrive, how did Reena brave the burly men, they wondered.
Sensing the puzzled look on everyone’s face, Reena revealed, ‘We are from an army unit, travelling together on work. I got reservation at the last minute here, the rest were travelling in last coach. I messaged them quickly and once they arrived outside our coach they signalled with a call, that’s when I attacked the armed guy and dislodged the gun from him. so they don’t fire at anyone.
‘But you look so innocent?’ The lady who had offered her sweet last evening exclaimed. ‘I thought I was saving you from those men last evening!’
‘Haha, looks can be deceptive. Don’t underestimate the power of an innocent looking woman! No?’
The coach echoed with laughter once again.