Avni arranged her luggage beneath seat number three in coach S5 aboard the Bandra-Udaipur Express and waited for the arrival of her co-passengers. She wanted to exchange her seat, as hers was on the top berth and she felt very uncomfortable up there. The train started and her co-passengers boarded from the next station. A young woman who looked like she was in her early twenties was the occupant of seat number one.
“Excuse me?” Avni asked that woman. “If you don’t mind, can you exchange your seat with me? Just for the night. Please.”
“Sure, I don’t mind sleeping up there.” She said pointing to the seat above.
“Thanks. I’m Avni. I’m going to be really grateful to you for this.”
“Oh, it’s alright, Avni. I’m more comfortable upstairs anyway. By the way, I’m Meera. We have a long journey, let’s catch up in the morning.” She said.
“Sure,” replied Avni. “Good night.”
After a restless sleep, Avni woke up to a cacophony of kids playing and shouting. She yawned and saw the time. It was 7 am. She got up and found Meera awake too.
“Oh! Thank God, somebody is awake. I was just wondering how anyone can sleep with so much noise? I want to pee. Here, take my purse. I’ll be back in a jiffy.” Meera hurriedly climbed down.
Avni smiled, took the purse and had a good look at the kids. They looked so fresh. One girl with cute pigtails was fascinated by the scenery and she was happily pointing to the trees and fields outside. Another pair of kids were playing ‘Uno’ with their parents. A toddler was jumping in joy and in sync with the movements of the train. They looked like a big happy family.
Avni sighed and saw that Meera was back. She too went to relieve herself. When she came back, she was happy to find the middle seat back to its normal position. All her co-passengers were awake now. ‘Good!’ She thought. ‘At least I can sit properly.’
“God! These kids…” Meera said, annoyed, the moment she sat beside her.
“Looks like you don’t like kids.” Avni said.
“No, it’s not like I don’t like them… But look at their energy levels so early in the morning. I mean they just got up from sleep right?”
Avni laughed at that and said, “Well they are kids. We have to match their energy levels with ours, and most of us fail to do that. And no, they did not sleep here. They just boarded from the last station.”
Meera made an ‘o’ with her lips and huffed, “That explains the noise.”
Avni just nodded and removed a small diary that she always carried with her and wrote something in it.
Meera was curious and tried to take a peek. But before she could take a glimpse, Avni shut it and kept it back.
“So Avni, what do you do?”
“I work in a corporate as a financial analyst and in my free time, I also volunteer in a school for the differently abled.” She smiled proudly as she said that. “What about you, Meera?”
“Wow, that’s impressive! About me? Nothing. I’m a commerce graduate. I got married two months back. I had come to stay with my parents for a few days. I was missing them a lot, you know. And now I’m going back to my husband’s place in Udaipur.” She continued. “Are you travelling for work reasons?”
Just then the chaiwala came. “Will you have tea?” Avni asked looking at Meera.
“Oh yes, two cups.”
They got their tea and Meera offered some biscuits to Avni which she gladly accepted.
“Just curious to know, what did you write in your diary?” Meera asked.
Avni laughed at her antics, “You must be the gossip queen back home, no? You want to know every little thing as fast as you can.”
Meera pretended to be hurt and sulked against the window. A small diary was then kept in her lap. She turned with a huge smile to Avni.
Avni said, “There’s nothing special in here. It’s my bucket list. Things I’ve always wanted to do in my life since I was a child. I write them as and when I feel like doing something and then put a tick whenever it’s done.”
“Oh, nice. I’m so excited to go through it.” Meera said as she opened the first page.
‘Find someone to call mom and dad – check’ was scrawled in cursive writing. “What does this mean?” Meera asked wide eyed.
Avni crossed her arms on her chest and said, “I was abandoned in a dustbin as a baby. Then taken to an orphanage. I grew up there until I was eight years of age. And this was my first wish. I was adopted a year later by this couple whom I now call as mom and dad.” She smiled through her tears. “That was the day when I decided that I will write whatever I wish to do in this diary and then make sure that I end up doing it.”
“I’m sorry about what happened. But you are really lucky to find them as your parents. And you know what, you are like my elder sister. Even she has a bucket list.” Meera said. And just like that the somber mood was lifted.
She started to read the other entries.
‘Get pregnant – check’
She raised her eyebrows and said in hushed tones, “Oh! That’s why you were so eager to exchange seats.” Meera smiled. “Which month?”
“Fourth,” replied Avni.
“Great. Congratulations!” Meera continued to peruse the diary.
‘Trek to the valley of flowers – check’
‘Road trip to Leh-Ladakh – check’
‘Travel solo in train – check’
“Awesome! You like trekking? And travel solo in train, achieved today, right?” Both of them laughed.
Meera continued, “And you still have to trek to ‘Har ki Dhun’ and you want to climb ‘Mount Everest and learn scuba diving…. Wow….”
Meera sat staring at Avni. Avni giggled and said, “I know I won’t be able to do all of this until my baby is born and maybe at least a year thereafter. But still, I will try my best!”
Meera still continued her staring game. “Now what? Will you stop doing that?” Avni cried. Meera laughed at Avni’s exasperated state and said, “You are really weird.”
“I know. My husband used to say that. And I always used to tell him that ‘I’m not weird, just a limited edition.’ And we both would laugh a lot at that. But I like the thrill of adventures, you know. And my husband is totally the opposite. He will not even sit in the rides of the amusement park!”
Avni got lost in her thoughts at that and when Meera prodded her after a while, she suddenly said, “I’m going to my parents’ home in Udaipur.”
Meera was a bit confused at her sudden change in mood, but nevertheless, she said excitedly, “Great… I’m going to my husband’s and you are going to your parents. How many days are you planning to stay? We can meet again!”
“Yes, sure we can meet as many times as we want. I’m staying with my parents forever.”
Meera was shocked at her response. Why was Avni going to her parents’ home forever if she’s pregnant? She wondered whether she could ask her.
Avni took a good look at her and said, “I know you are dying to ask me the details, so shoot.”
For a second Meera couldn’t believe that a stranger like Avni was ready to share the details of her personal life. But, she somehow did not feel like Avni was a stranger anymore. She felt a strong connection to her. So she asked, “My dear adventurer and mind-reader, what the hell happened?”
“A few days back, I had been to my doctor for my checkup. My in laws somehow managed to find out that I’m carrying a girl. And my ultrasound also showed a slight abnormality. So they gave me two choices: Abort the baby or leave the house. So, here I am.” Avni gestured to herself and the train.
“Abort because you are carrying a girl, NO!” Meera cried. “That is ridiculous! But, what about the abnormality?”
“My reports showed a slight increase in the nuchal translucency. That is one of the indicators of the baby having Down’s syndrome. But, my blood reports are normal. So that could just be temporary. When the doctor was explaining all of this, my in laws assumed the worst. And they are just not ready to listen!” Avni said.
Meera sighed, “Yes, then you are right in doing this. But, what about your husband? Doesn’t he support you?”
“He’s given in to his parents’ pressure. Five years of our marriage mean nothing to him. We were trying so hard for a baby; and now when I’m pregnant, he wants to kill the baby for something that we are not even sure of. And I’m fully capable of taking care of her even if she turns out to be Downs Syndrome. I’m not going to abandon her like my biological parents did to me. I have made my choice and I’m going to stick to it.”
Avni wiped her tears and Meera hugged her, “yes, I’m sure whatever will happen will be for the best. And you deserve the best, weirdo!”
After that, they had lunch. They had tuned off the remaining passengers, being oblivious to who got down or who boarded. They laughed together and spoke about their dreams and ambitions. And in no time they reached Udaipur.
“Finally, our destination is here.” Meera said happily. “Make sure to keep in touch. We are in the same area.”
“Sure, Meera. Take care and see you soon.” Avni replied.
Meera helped her with her luggage and with a final goodbye they parted ways. Avni sighed. Her destination was definitely here, but she had a long journey ahead of her. A journey which she had decided to choose. But she had no regrets. She was determined to overcome the obstacles and emerge victorious at the end of the day.