Leslie looked dejectedly out of the window of the Orient express trying to ignore the nosy stares directed at her and the handcuffs across her hands. Reflecting on her life, she wondered how it had all gone so awry. She hadn’t had the usual excuses of poverty, negligence or bad parenting to blame on this rather spectacular fall from her station in life.
A physicist father had given her a deep intellectual curiosity at a cosmos scale and a professor mother had kept her grounded and fed her a daily diet of moral values to augment her undoubted brilliance. Life had seemed rosy and all things good until she graduated from school. She remembered her first train journey after her school graduation and how she had clicked numerous selfies and groupies with her proud parents seated by a similar window seat.
The entry of Alex in her life first as a friend and then a soul mate at the university just seemed to indicate the continuance of what seemed destined to be life long luck. She often wondered when she looked at her classmates and saw the shifting signs of stress, grief, guilt, complete nonchalance in varying degrees and in different circumstances.
Tragedy first struck when she learnt of her parents’ death in a car crash. In the present, she mentally shuddered when she was reminded of a similar memory of being seated beside Alex next to a window in another train and feeling incapable of breaking out of the stupor that had enveloped her the first time when she heard the news. She had hardly noticed either the passing countryside or the bustling station stops with people and sometimes even farm animals flitting past the platform.
She remembered being grateful to Alex for his assistance in arranging for the funeral and liaising with her parents’ lawyers for probating their will. He had remained beside her side throughout, held her hand in the courtrooms and had hardly paid any attention when the judge had declared her the sole beneficiary of 4 million dollars from her parents’ wills. She felt reassured by the calm competence of Alex at hand and had signed all the papers he put in front of her, eager to have the entire ordeal behind her.
She had regretted agreeing to stay over with her aunt Mina post the funeral when all she had wanted to do was to be with Alex and burying herself in her studies. Alex had convinced her to keep her word: both Mina and she needed to bond and heal over the varying degrees of their shared grief.
Leslie had felt a minor spasm of relief when Mina had parted with her in the airport to fly back to her archaeological dig in Greece. She felt the first flutters of excitement at meeting Alex who had insisted on staying off the phone from her over the past few days for her to recoup her mental energies.
She felt the first flickers of alarm when she couldn’t locate him in the apartment. She could neither reach him on phone nor was he at any of their usual haunts. Deciding to call on their mutual friends for info, she had pulled open the address book only to find a letter addressed to her.
“Hey, babe –it was good while it lasted. Sorry and all that but a guy has to live and you didn’t make it easy for me to keep out the temptation when you trustingly signed at everything I threw at you. Good luck!”
Shocked, she called the lawyers who confirmed the dreadful news that he had indeed cleaned out her trust account. Now in penury, she hoped to get a night job while she made her way through the university, all the while trying to track down the traitor. The day university sent her a dismissal letter due to arrears of tuition marked the lowest point in her life.
Her temporary waitressing job became the means of her livelihood. Her string of bad luck continued to boomerang when she was arrested on charges of drug peddling. One of her fellow waitresses had planted the evidence in her bag to escape the rap. Out of prison, seven months later, she found the doors closed to her on her charge sheeted history no matter, what the place was nor how lowly the job was.
Walking back in a daze, she was suddenly struck by the sight of Alex in a restaurant wreathed in smiles, seated across another girl. Overwhelmed with rage, she had stomped in and hit him on the head with an object she had found in the alleyway, which she later realised was a workman’s hammer.
She was brought back to the present when the woman cop across her warned her that their destination would soon be arriving. Looking out of the window, she suddenly saw Dr Gupta, her father’s best friend and her godfather on the platform. Energised, she yelled out to him just as the train had started moving. Startled but taking in the situation at a glance, Dr Gupta jumped in her compartment before the train picked up speed.
He looked dumbfounded when he took in her tattered clothes, the handcuffs and the cops seated around her. Leslie took a deep breath and began narrating the entire sequence of events starting with her parents’ death. She saw the cop’s demeanor change as the story progressed and saw her eyes filmed with a thin sheen of tears as she brought her narration to a conclusion.
When the train reached their destination, Dr.Gupta promised her all legal help possible, visibly moved. She took a last look outside the window as she was getting up. The world looked brighter to her again as the cops led her towards the penitentiary.
This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.