Bangalore Central Station.
Aliya and I are on the sky-bridge, smoking cigarettes, drinking chai, and waiting until the last moment to board the train to Delhi. The train to Delhi takes 36 hours to make its journey, and I’m going to be smoking all of my cigarettes in the bathroom, holding onto a handrail and trying to avoid falling into the toilet. So I’m enjoying this open-air cigarette while I can.
Aliya is talking to a French guy. I’m twiddling my thumbs.
Then I see a ghost.
The ghost approaches Aliya first, interrupts her conversation with the French man, asks her name. It is the only phrase he knows in English.
“Your name, please?”
I am looking at the ghost, knowing him. “I have seen you before, ghost.” But, then, no. That’s impossible. The ghost is in Hospet, hundreds of miles away. “Do all beggar children look the same to me now? Would that make me a bad person?” I am thinking these thoughts as Aliya replies.
The ghost shifts his gaze my way and opens his mouth, revealing semi-rotten teeth and dark brown eyes, the same raggedy-Andy haircut, and he–suddenly–is the one who looks as though he’s seen a ghost. A friendly ghost, though, I suppose, since he is beaming.
Maybe I’m Casper.
The ghost points at me, starts waving his hands about: “Hubli! Hubli!” And I suddenly know that it’s him. This is the child who spent the better part of an hour trying to let him have swigs of my rum. This is the child who convinced me to ask the French woman to marry me. This is the child who, weeks back, stood by my side until the very moment I boarded the Poor Man’s Train to Bangalore. This is the very same kid.
I can’t fucking believe it.
But it was in Hospet, not Hubli. So I correct him.
“No, no, no! Not Hubli! Hospet! Hospet!” I say.
He practically smacks his own forehead. “Hospet! Yes, Hospet!” he says, nodding frantically. He eyes me with disbelief–though not, probably, as much as I reserve for him. This is a kid who somehow–with no money, no parents, no English, and no pubic hair–made a journey from central Karnataka to its southern edge, only to find himself at yet another train station, asking foreign people for their names and their rupees. This is a kid who not only manages to survive in this unforgiving country, but who somehow manages to shine, to stand apart from all of the other ghosts and soon-to-be ghosts–to imprint himself on your brain, like the imprint a girl makes on fresh white sheets. This is a kid who would be a superhero if he had half the chance. Which he doesn’t.
I am thoroughly awed by him.
He and I don’t stare at one another long; it’s as though our mutual recognition of the unlikelihood of our ever meeting again has thrown us both off guard. It’s as though we both need to escape this moment to make it last, to make it permanent–to make it real. He asks for no rupees, no cigarettes, no nothing. He just slowly walks away, looking back and laughing, before he finally dashes off into the station, never to be seen or heard from again.
At least, until I do see him again.
Whenever that might be.