I boarded the train at Malta and had the compartment to myself till Sutli and then a girl got in. The couple who saw her off were probably her parents; they seemed very anxious about her comfort and the woman gave the girl detailed instructions as to where to keep her things, when not to lean out of the windows and how to avoid speaking to strangers. They said their goodbyes; the train pulled out of the station. The girl concentrated on settling down comfortably and then looked at me appraisingly since we were the only two people in the compartment. I gave her a hesitant smile and when she reciprocated I proceeded to introduce myself.
"Hello! I'm Shantanu from Kolkata."
"Hi! I'm Meghna from Sutli."
"Your parents stay at Sutli? "
"Yes! My Dad's posted here."
"Where does your father work? "
"He is an engineer in Coal India Ltd. Are you also in service?"
"No, I'm an architect and I am in business. I was in
Mumbai for the past three months because of a project and am now returning home."
"Oh! How nice for you! I'm in my final year of graduation and am returning back after my summer
"Which college do you study in?"
"Scottish Church College."
She then took out a novel from her handbag and settled down to reading it.
At the next station, Ballipur a young couple boarded our compartment. They had a lot of luggage and they looked quite flustered. They heaved a sigh of relief when the train finally pulled out of the station. Their seat was adjacent to Meghna's and after sometime they
struck up a conversation with her.
"Where are you from?" asked Mrs. Kumar
"Malti" replied Meghna smiling back.
"Are you traveling alone?"
"Where are you going?"
"Oh! We are also headed there. Do you have relatives staying there?"
"No I'm in college"
"What are you studying?"
"I'm in my Final year of Graduation"
"That's nice. Which subject?"
By overhearing their conversation I learnt that Meghna had topped in her University and was supposed to get married after her exams. However I could not help noticing that whenever Meghna asked the Kumars any personal questions they gave very vague answers.
After lunch Meghnasat down with her novel again and the Kumars decided to take a little nap. I followed Meghna's example. After the hustle and bustle since morning time, everything was very quiet all of a sudden. At 4.30 pm our train stopped at the next station, Maineand the passengers were happy to get down on the station to stretch their legs and have tea.
At dinner time I found the Kumars insisting that Meghna should share their home cooked dinner with them. We were supposed to reach our destination early the next morning and I fervently hoped that the train would not be late as I prepared to settle down for the night. I woke up at 6.00am the next morning and was glad to know that the train was running only half an hour late, which meant we would reach our destination in another 45 mins. The Kumars were also up and getting ready but Meghna was surprisingly still asleep. I was thinking of waking her when I saw Mrs. Kumar wake her. She sat up groggily and stood up but sat down again immediately and complained that she felt dizzy. The Kumars helped her to get her things together. When the train stopped the Kumars got down and they also helped Meghna down, who was not quite steady on her feet. I wished her the best and bade her goodbye before I made my way out of the station.
I hardly spared Meghna any more thought and was happy to be back home after a grueling three months. After a day I was shocked to find an articlein the newspaper that a young girl had been found murdered at Kolkata station and attached to it was a small photograph and to my further shock I recognized it to be Meghna's. I could not believe my eyes and could not fathom how such a thingcould have happened ...... she had seemed so happy on the train. Unfortunatelyto my disappointment, no details were given and all that I learnt was her decomposed body had been recovered from one of the rest rooms in the station reserved for railway personnel. The vendors therehad alerted the railway authorities about the stench coming from the room and the door had been broken open to discover Meghna's body. On investigating all that the police had been able to gather was that 2 days ago a man had carried a half -conscious girl into the room and had locked the door from outside and had requested a nearby tea-seller for some milk saying he needed it for his sister who was unwell. It was also reported that investigation regarding the girl's mysterious murder was on.
After a week I found another article in the newspaper which said that the investigation had revealed that Mr. Kumar had carried half conscious Meghna into the room and had locked her up and gone away. Then he had returned and had raped her and then had tried to force her into prostitution. He hadeven sold her to a pimp. When Meghna refused to cooperate he had threatened her witha gun but she had not backed down, instead she had tried to wrest the gun from Mr. Kumar and while they were struggling the gun had accidentally gone off killing her instantly. The police had arrested the Kumars and it was also revealed that both the culprits were involved with a criminal gang that specialized in forcing unsuspecting girls into prostitution and were also involved in trading of girls. They had found Meghna to be an easy target since she was traveling all by herself.
I mourned the loss of an innocent life. I could not help remembering her infectious smile, her vivacity......
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