Last Train From Simraha

Saturday, April 14th, was my last day at KGBV.  Several girls were getting ready for their karate competition in Patna.  I was so happy to be able to give them a few pointers for their forms performance (‘strong eyes’) and their fighting (block-counter and ‘over-the-top’).  Once the girls had departed for Patna, I gave the remaining girls a self defense class.  We reviewed all the techniques, but this time with more aggression from me, necessitating quick and powerful response from them.  The girls did great.


Afterward, they received certificates and also “Fight Like a Girl” wristbands.  I wanted to get a group photo, but they were all so enamored by the certificates, they disappeared with them straightaway to show each other and the house moms.

And then it was time for me to leave, to get the last train to Forbesgunge.  This seems like it would be a relatively easy thing to do.  But do not underestimate the house moms.  Ever. Keep in mind, I have a very special friendship with the house moms, and they are dear to my heart as I think I am to theirs.  This said, they do not like when I have to leave.  And thus begins a comical undertaking which consists of: 1.  me getting my stuff together and making assurances for why I need to go; and, 2. house moms devising all sorts of ways to keep me from leaving.  This night, there was the ‘give her food’ tactic – they all know how slow I eat, and that I will not insult them by refusing the food.  So, 40 minutes before my train leaves, a huge plate of veggies and rice is put in front of me, at least 15 minutes of eating, leaving me 15 minutes to wash, pack,  say my good byes, and 10 minutes to walk to the train.  My response tactic is to eat as quickly as I can, to not eat everything, and race through my good byes.  Soon the clock indicates it is 12 minutes to eight.  If I miss the last train, I will have to spend the night, which will interfere with my Shishu Bharti morning class.  Time is ticking. I have my bags and start to head for the door.  It is pitch black, and I, not knowing I was going to be here so late, do not have a flashlight.  I ask for one, and Sabira Ji goes away to find one.  One minute passes.  Two minutes pass.  And now no one knows where Sabira or a flashlight is.  Rightly or wrongly, I feel like if I stay there one more minute, I will miss the train.  If I leave, I will be making a mad dash through the darkened streets of Simraha.  I make my decision, knowing that the KGBV ladies are going to be angry for me taking such a ‘risk’, and move for the door.

Now, it has to be said that Simraha is a very sleepy agricultural town.  I have never felt threatened here.  The only other evening I walked to the train, with one of the KGBV watchmen at my side, the house moms had discouraged me from being out at night.  “Girls not good walking at night.  Only bad girls out at night after dark,” they warned.  I laughed.  First, my demeanor when I walk any street, be it here or in a U. S. city, is a proactive ‘do-n0t-mess-with-me’ attitude. It can hardly be construed as anything inviting.  Second, after a day of working with the girls, a thick film of dry sweat and dust clinging to me top to bottom, I am hardly a site for sore eyes.  So the ‘risk’ I take is maybe stepping in something unpleasant while not having a light.

The first few steps in darkness are like a hit to the stomach via my head, if that makes any sense.  I am disoriented for a bit until my vision adjusts.  There are people and animals about, and some shops are open with light spilling across the road.  I connect the points of spilled light with my footsteps, racing along the streets, backpack straining on my shoulders, the smells of wood smoke and curry flooding my nose.  I veer to the right once, and then again at the next junction, and the darkened spot at the end of the path is the train station.  As I get closer, a solitary light glows in its ticket window.  I navigate toward this, and soon I am through the small corridor and onto the train platform.  Only a few people are here, waiting in the gloom.  I find a bench, and sit to wait. A few seconds go by, and my peripheral vision picks up movement, a man in a red t-shirt with a white stripe across its front.  I know if I make eye contact or speak, it might mean trouble, so even when a gentle, “Hello?” is uttered in my direction by the man, I make no move, I do not speak.  He makes a vague exasperated gesture, but then moves away.  A second later, a whistle sounds in the distance.  The train is coming. I grab my bags, rising from the bench, then rapidly walk past the man in the darkness and down the platform.  I maneuver around dark shadows of other people.  The train roars past me, its windows washing me in a flutter of light. As the train stops, I spy a seat, and jump on in.

My seat is by the window, and I have just placed my bag in the compartment overhead, when there is a commotion on the platform, people shouting, and then there is the beaming angry face of Sabira Ji in the train window (holding a flashlight), followed by Manju…and the man in the red t-shirt with the white stripe, Papu, my store vendor friend.  My American impatience has once again gotten me in trouble, and caused hardship.  If I had just waited a second longer, these ladies would have escorted me.  After a bawling out from Sabira (and it has to be said, rightfully so), her face quickly transforms from anger to caring.  I try not to cry.  We reach for each other’s hands through the rusty window bars, clasping them in farewell.  I am on the last train from Simraha, leaving Sabira Ji and the girls behind.

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