6.45 pm, on a working day,
A train was just chugging on to Platform number Four. The lady in the green Sari, hoped and hoped that it wasn’t the 6:44 Virar Fast. It was already 6.45 pm. But, Western Railway was famous for being late. She hurried on, cursing her weakness for Toasted Dabeli. If it hadn’t been for the Dabeli, she would have been on time. Today, there was a new cook at the stall, and he took ages to make her snack. She pushed through the crowd of people trying to go upstairs, dodging elbows, and groping hands, and arrived huffing and puffing, to her usual spot under the Foot-over bridge, near the Ladies Second Class compartment. Thank God, the train was late. There were three benches, reserved for ladies. Women would glare at each other, as they rushed towards the seats. Then, they would push and shove, till they were crammed four to a bench. All this, just for about ten minutes of rest, until their train arrived.
Normally, she would grab a seat on the bench that was closest to the bridge, and hang a little plastic bag off the back of the bench. A man would come and stand behind the bench, and gently slide the bag off. When her train arrived, she would just walk away, without acknowledging him. After all, her job ended when she hung the bag off the bench. What happened to it after that, was not her problem. It was something they had both done so many times, that they could carry it off effortlessly.
Today, there was a bit of a hitch. There was an old beggar woman sleeping on the bench. She stank to high heaven, from the top of her lice ridden hair, to her dirty toes. Plus, she was occupying the whole bench. She didn’t want to ask her to move, because these beggar ladies were quite foul-tongued. It would just attract unnecessary attention. She bit her lip. She wasn’t trained for this sort of thing. Making copies of Question papers at the Exam Board, where she worked, was one thing. It didn’t require any effort, since it was part of her job. Passing on a copy to an interested party, for a stiff fee, of course, wasn’t difficult either. But, this….this was not part of the deal. She didn’t want to have to actually talk to the pick-up guy. She didn’t want to be seen with him, ever.
As she was looking around, someone bumped into her from behind. She dropped her huge purse, and the little plastic bag. As she bent to pick it up, she glared at the man who had pushed her. It was the pick-up guy. He bent down with her, and winked, as he picked up his own bag, and swept the plastic bag into it. She turned and walked towards her compartment, with a sigh of relief. All done, without any ripples.
The whole exchange happened in a matter of seconds, and went unnoticed, except by the crazy beggar lady. She touched her ear, and muttered something, as she turned over in her sleep…at least, that is what the women around her assumed. It sounded like gibberish, but, it was actually the Tamil equivalent of “On board.” It made complete sense to the person at the other end of the Comms. Unit. She also had video evidence of the brush pass, taken from the tiny camera clipped to her shawl.
Just as the woman in the green sari was trying to board the crowded train, she was pulled aside, by two women constables. The same happened to the pick-up guy. They both realised that running was futile, and sang like birds. The plastic bag was examined, sealed and labelled as evidence. In half an hour, Mumbai Police had all that they needed to crack down on the Coaching Class Syndicate, that was responsible for leaking HSC exam papers to their students.
As for the beggar woman, after five minutes, she got up, stretched, and hobbled into the deserted Ladies Toilet. She went into an empty stall, and took off her dirty wig, and her smelly clothes. There was a bucket of water and a bar of soap, waiting. A set of clean clothes followed. She left her dirty clothes in the stall, as she emerged….a clean and fresh eighteen year old girl, dressed in trendy Jeans and T-shirt. Three other girls were waiting for her outside, and the group that was the most secret asset of Indian Intelligence, The Blackbirds, made its way to the nearest exit.
6.45 pm, on a working day,