This article is a part of the series 'Only Story I Know'. You can check out its first episode here: Chapter 1

Shabnam

Standing at the Andheri station, the train for CST Mumbai had not come half an hour past its arrival time. The later I get this train, the later I'd get a connecting one from Vadala to Panvel. Already 11.30, my panic had struck me with all its rage and I couldn’t take it anymore. I’d never been this late to get home ever.

There come the tears. Stop it! Remember your rule to never cry in public, what about that, huh? An Ola driver just refused to drop me because it was too late for him. I’m allowed a few tears, am I not?

Praying for every possible miracle that would take me home, my sad personality won over the strong one. And just when I thought that this feeling cannot claw the life out of me enough, a hand touched my shoulder. She said, "my daughter and son-in-law also stay there. They’ll drop you. Take a taxi and leave with them, it’s okay, it’s a family and everything will be alright. Just don’t cry."

How do I react to these people?

And there it is, the wretched train. The lady tells me to go with her family because it’s safe. Because you’re travelling to Navi Mumbai at an extremely odd hour. Because her daughter did that two days ago and she, as a mother, couldn’t take it. Because she understands. Because I couldn’t stop thanking them enough.

She sat beside me and started talking. She talked about her travel of two days ago. She talked about her family and asked about mine. She has a son and a daughter. She loves her daughter more than her son and wants her to study really hard and become a successful individual. Her husband is a rickshaw driver, they live in a tiny house and It doesn’t matter. She’d do anything it takes for her daughter to be elite.

Vadala came, and she tells me, “See, we’ve reached Vadala, and we didn’t even realise it. We’d get to Panvel the same way. Don’t worry.”

She tells me she doesn't understand English much. She gets where the train is going only after reading what's written in Hindi. Her sister-in-laws are teachers, and they talk in English all the time. They taught her how to use an Android phone too. She asks what I went to Andheri for. I did the same out of courtesy. "Oh! I went shopping! Andheri has a great market! First we thought we wouldn't. But this occasion comes once in a year, and the kids deserve new clothes, don't they?"

"Eid got shifted by a day, right?" Yes, she says. "Qayamat is near. Too many bad people in the world. Even in our society. You know the muslims who are too rich and everything. They’d let the people they don’t like for their clothes die than serve them a glass of water. We’re the nicer lot. Because we don’t have enough money to be smug about. But Qayamat is near."

My phone pops up and tells me about an attack/a blast in Dhaka, Syria, Istanbul, does it matter where? Does she know about all of this? I don’t think she follows the news. If she did, she’d be surer. She looks at her daughter and feeds her. Hopes are a great thing, aren’t they?

She says she’d call me as soon as I get home, because her stop would come before mine. I give her my mother’s number because my phone is dead by now.

She promises to call me in exactly 20 mins to make sure I got home safely. I don't think she will, though. But I thank her for everything she gave me. She invites me to her place for an Eid feast. She says she’ll prepare everything in separate utensils for me because she understands.

"My neighbours' son loves my sheer korma. She tells me, Shabnam your food is amazing!"

So that's her name!

As I get out of the train, I thank God immensely and pray to every single one I’ve ever heard of to give her daughter what all Shabnam wants her to achieve. Even if the Qayamat is staring right back at us, I want her to be a hope.

It was 2 a.m. when I found my dad waiting for me outside the station. It was a quiet ride back home. Quieter home. I didn’t expect my mother's white face.

Everybody freshens up, and as I head to my bed, my mother’s phone rings. It was the oddest hour. It was an unknown number and my dad picked it up.

“Hello?”

“Yeah, she has reached.”

I wonder what her name means.