|Creative Writing Competition 2012 India|
|SETTING||Railway platform OR Inside Train|
|THEME||A Strange Day/Night|
Suspense Short Story – Mr. No Name
“Am I missing?”
I asked this question to the RPF (Railway Police Force) Inspector behind the desk. He looked so stern and officious. Everyone looked at me with a sardonic grin on their face, which I failed to comprehend.
“If you are, we just found you!!!!” said a constable prompting a roar of laughter.
“I am serious”, I say trying to get the attention of the Inspector who was rapidly signing papers on a file.
“I don’t know who I am. Maybe someone came looking for me.”
The Inspector looked askance. I noticed all of them measuring me out. Neatly pressed black jeans, off white shirt and a grey embroidered overcoat and a sneaker. Hair neatly gelled and my face looked polished.
“Sir, I found myself in the station waiting room. I seem to have woken up when the cleaner opened the locks to the room. And when I did, I didn’t remember who I am and what I was doing here. My mind is a complete blank. I neither have a wallet nor a mobile nor anything on me, which can tell me who I am. The only thing I found was this small piece of paper with ‘10 pm Cantt Station’ written on it.”
No one spoke for a full minute. The Inspector looked at me and said, “Am sorry sir, we are railway police and our jurisdiction is limited. And if what you are saying is true, I would advise you to report to the Main police station in the area.”
“Sir, please try to understand. If I do have a family I am sure someone will come here to check why I haven’t come back. Please let me be here only. And please help me out in whatever way you can.”
A sober looking lady constable who was observing this conversation spoke.
“Sir, I think we should help him. All of us know that even if he does get to the Main station, he would be asked to file a report and leave. We could help informally. Somehow I get a sense that what he is saying is true and there should be some reason why he cannot recall his past.”
I thanked the lady in my mind. There was a nagging thought in my head, which said ‘There is still goodness in a world full of disasters.’ Why did I get this thought? Is it connected in some way to my past and my current situation? Stopping the train of thoughts I got my attention back to the Inspector.
He looked at another constable who I assumed was the senior of the lot and someone whose views he must trust. The constable, an elderly gentleman with a scar running on his left cheek nodded and the Inspector then looked at me and said.
“Mr.___! Hmmm! Now what do we call you. Mr. No Name I guess? Till we find out who you are… We will help you but informally. But we wouldn’t spend beyond a day on your case, after which you are on your own. Agree?”
“Sir, I am grateful for your kindness to a total stranger”, and as I said this, I could not help feeling how the literal sense was so ironically true!
“Meena”, he said speaking to the lady who spoke up for me, “you could assist with enquiry with all railway staff here including the parking lot and see if you can gather any details. Sir,” he turned to me, “you would need to go along with Meena. Before which, I will ask Nagappa here to see if he can find anything on you. In the meanwhile I will check with the HQ for all missing persons reports. Nagappa you try to get Dr. Narayan to come over here.”
Nagappa turned out to be the Senior Constable with the scar. He made a quick call, which I presumed was to the Medico and then took me to a corner, closed a screen and started checking me out. Once he was done he retained the overcoat with him and then sent me away with Meena.
Meena had coarse hands and had on fashionable ear rings. She must be a hardworker yet believed in her personal time outs. She must be religious or had a strong sense of the black and whites in life. As we walked towards the parking lot, I asked her questions to confirm my profiling on her. And she answered in the affirmative. Which left both of us wondering if it had anything to do with what I did in life.
The parking lot in charge jumped up to attention when we walked in. Meena wasted no time and got down straight to questioning. “Have you seen this gentleman anytime since yesterday evening?”
“Not that I can remember. Let me check with Kumar here since he was on duty last night as well. Hey Kumar, come over here.”
Kumar, a shabbily dressed lad ran over to us, looked at me and suddenly jerked back with shock. He seemed to quickly recover but there was a slight trace of fear in his eyes. Meena didn’t seem to notice this and asked him the same question. Kumar shook his head in the negative. We then left the piqued parking incharge and a slightly relieved Kumar.
Meena ran through the same drill in several other places. When we could gather no information from anywhere, she took me to the Canteen and said, “ You can quickly grab some breakfast while I get back to the station. Will instruct the clerk to bill it to the RPF account.”
“Thanks Ms. Meena. That was really thoughtful of you.”
I said and ordered my breakfast. What appealed to me were simple stuff, idlis and filter coffee. Wanting something simple. Wondered what it told of me or maybe I was suffering from some intestinal disorder!!! “Keep it down Watson”, the Sherlock Holmes within me cautioned.
I placed my order and as I waited I closed my eyes and contemplated over my situation. For a few minutes my mind grew still. There was a vacuum within and in this passing stillness I felt at peace. Except my current predicament I did not dwell upon any complications or problems, no financial tensions, no attachments, no relationship issues, no hiccups and no plans for the future. I wondered if people who attempted meditation reached this stage of detachment from the worldly dealings.
While it took years of practice to reach this blissful state, a night & day of strange occurrences and a blank out, got me there. As my thoughts settled on the fact that I was a person of no identity, no name, no family, no awareness of what was my upbringing, what was my religious outlook, what was the culture, what were my vices and my virtues, I felt liberated. At the same time, I felt a chill run down my spine when I realized that I had no bearings, no income, no where to go, no one to call my own. Creepy!!! What if I have to remain Mr. No Name for the rest of my life. I shut my eyes tightly and tried to rack every cell memory possible, tried to see if there was any semblance of feeling for anyone or anything at all in this world. My overcoat. That was the only picture, which flashed in my mind. Ridiculous! Or was it because it was the only piece of what belonged to me. Maybe I was feeling incomplete without it. I had to stop the train of thoughts as the waiter served my order and I gobbled it all up.
I suddenly wanted some familiar surrounding. And as of now the only thing that felt close to home was the RPF room. As I walked in, I could not help but draw a parallel to Lord Buddha’s meditation. Maybe this is how it seemed when he searched his souls for the truth of his identity and life. He looked internally sitting under a tree and I externally, roaming the whereabouts of a railway platform. Unlike Buddha, would I get my enlightenment at the end of one day?!
I noticed that Nagappa wasn’t back as yet. The Inspector was sitting with Meena and spoke to me as I came to him, “Meena told me that her enquiry with the staff in the station and the parking proved futile. Am sorry to say that I have received the latest Missing reports files and we have no one there, who match your description. Nagappa has gone to check if he could find any leads with your overcoat. Dr. Narayan is a neurologist and a personal friend of mine. He would be here any minute. Lets see if we can pick some leads through that. Did you in the meantime recall anything that could help?”
“No Sir! Not a thing. But I can tell you that as much as I am disturbed about it, am equally happy I don’t recall a thing. If you know what I mean…” I grinned as I said this. The Inspector chuckled and sober Meena also smiled.
“Oh here comes the Doctor. Hello Narayan, glad you could make it at such short notice. He is the person I spoke about. Every help you provide would be highly appreciated.”
Narayan happened to be a geeky looking guy with thick-framed spectacles. Reminded me of absent minded professors who did not keep in touch with the latest trends for the extra pair of eyes on planet fashion. “Oh c’mon Manjunath. You know that such cases are close to my heart, considering that I have to submit my clinical research paper in another 5 months on Molecular and Cellular Cognition. Any case which rings close to it is a blessing. And I am the one to thank you for asking me over.” So saying he turned towards me, “So you are Mr. No Name, I presume. You are actually my Man Friday you know. Could I use some time alone with him Manjunath?”
“You can take the room next door. That’s the waiting room and you can lock it from inside. This time of the day you don’t have anyone using it.”
Manjunath the inspector who now had a name (unlike me!), signalled to me to go along with Mr. Robinson Crusoe aka Dr. Narayan.
After settling in, Narayan physically examined me to see if there were any signs of physical injuries. Convinced there was none, he went through a rapid Q&A of the events of the last few hours. He then asked me to lie down and got me to relax into a state of deep sleep. While I could only hear his voice he nudged me to see any events connected to my being in the station. The only thing I spoke about was “My overcoat is one of a kind and I can’t be without it.”
He brought me out of the trance and told me that the only recall I had was that of my overcoat. He asked me to see if I could cognitively recall anything about this. I told him about the flash that I had when I was having breakfast. And nothing beyond this. We then went back to the RPF room. He took Manjunath through his findings.
While the rest were catching up on some other stuff, I stepped out and found a place to sit. As I watched the maddening activity in the station, I went back to my conscious reverie and wondered what my overcoat was repeatedly tagging me onto. I closed my eyes and directed my attention to all the sounds – the passing trains, the chaotic sounds of the crowd on the platforms, the holler of the chai-wala. Where was I in all this? Just another somebody lost in the crowd waiting to receive family or an acquaintance. How much we attach ourselves to familiarity all our life that we feel so threatened by the new and the unknown. Every step we take is so weighed by the risks attached; we yearn for supports and milestones to lead the way. Any deviations and we struggle to get back to the comfort zones. Darkness is like a shroud for the dead. We always evade the dark by countering its effect with light or by sleeping it away. Was this darkness in me a temporary phase of my life? Would I find redemption? Or would I continue to feel like a puppet with no strings attached. Yet here’s the opportunity to turn wrong to right and a chance to re-create my destiny. While this prospect of rewriting a new life seemed tempting, there was something that was drawing me back to my past as well. And dreaming of my overcoat, I don’t know when I passed into a slumber and woke up when 2 sturdy hands shook me. It was Nanjappa who asked me to come back to the RPF room. I followed him.
There was a teary eyed woman inside the room. I felt a sense of serenity spreading through me as I saw those beautiful eyes. I was just about to step into the room completely mesmerized by the love that I saw seeping through every move of hers as she stood up facing me; when suddenly the blast of the train horn shook me and I keeled over the steps. My mind was a blank for a minute and suddenly there was a race of memories tripping one over the other, as if there was a short circuit in my brain. I do not know how long this lasted but when I recovered I woke up and saw her holding my overcoat in one arm. The one she gifted me on our anniversary. It was the same overcoat she got done specially for me and the embroidery on it was her own work. Avantika, my soul mate, my love and my life. But where were we and why was I all sprawled over the floor. So many strange faces looking at me.
I sat up. A quizzical look on my face. There was a sober looking lady holding a glass of water in her hands. A constable with a scar on his face and an officious looking inspector. A geeky looking man with the most unfashionable specs ran me through a rapid fire round of Q&A.
He: “Do you know where you are?”
Me: “Yes, a railway station.”
He: “Do you know why you came here?”
Me: “To pick up my wife.”
He: “Do you recognise anyone here?”
Me: “Yes ofcourse. That’s Avantika my wife,” and I smiled at her.
I could not help but feel a relief that comes to one when they see someone after eons. Wonder why?! I glanced at my wrist wanting to know what time it was and realized I didn’t have my watch. I checked my pockets and noticed I didn’t have my wallet nor my phone either.
Me: “ Sir, if you could stop your meaningless questioning, I would like to register a complaint for theft. Apparently my watch, my wallet, my pen and my phone are missing.”
The officious looking inspector showed me these items and asked me if I these were mine.
“Well, yes. Fancy getting back the items even before lodging a complaint. You guys are super fast these days!” I chuckled.
But none of the others joined. The sober looking lady dragged before me a shabbily dressed lad. “Do you recognize this boy?”, she asked.
Me: “No, I don’t.”
She: “He stole them from you. I suspected something was amiss when he was shocked to see you during our round of interrogation. He blurted out the truth when threatened and admitted to stealing these away from you when you were asleep in the waiting lounge at around 10.30pm. He left you locked inside.”
All I could recall was coming into the station late evening. “What happened to me?” I asked to no one in particular.
The geek spoke again.
He: “Sir, you seem to have gone into a state of fugue. Your wife here says that you were involved in a near fatal train accident a couple of years back. You were to pick her up yesterday night and after she arrived she could not find you nor get through to you and has been looking for you ever since. She assumed you must have been caught up with some work and your habitual of forgetting to communicate your whereabouts and often work late nights. And has been trying to trace you since morning.
I assume that something in the railway station triggered a state of shock and you had a temporary loss of memory. Fugue or dissociative memory loss occurs due to a stressful situation, which is triggered by an event close to an earlier tragedy. Likewise the sudden blast of train horn shocked you out of the fugue as you were stepping back into the station. You came to the RPF in the morning complaining of not having any memory of who you were and sought their assistance in helping you out. The overcoat you were wearing is made to order and one of a kind and Nanjappa here found the tailor who gave your residential address by way of which he got in touch with your wife and brought her here. Do you remember your name sir?”
It took me a while to digest all this. I felt like someone who jumped out of the pages of a psycho thriller story and I was seeping through a mix of regret and relief. I knew why I felt the relief but the regret…? I couldn’t comprehend.
“Sir”, he repeated, “ do you remember your name?”
I responded loud and clear – “Ofcourse my name is …….”