WHO WAS HE?
A Strange Travelling Incident
(This appeared in the November 1939 issue of the "Onlooker")
It happened to my friend last May on the Poona-Bombay mail train. This is what he told me:
I had taken my seat in a first class compartment. Just as the train began to move, a suit-case came hurtling through the open window. Shortly afterwards a man appeared in the corridor. He was well dressed and held two parcels in his hands. Being very fat he got stuck in the door of the compartment and I had to help him in. He placed the parcels on the rack and sat down opposite to me. Suddenly a look of surprise came on his face.
"You!" he said smilingly, "it is good to meet you again". Evidently he knew me though at the moment I could not remember having met him before.
"How is everybody?" he continued good humouredly. "Quite well thank you". But I was still trying to place him.
He opened his suit-case, took out his shaving things and went out into the corridor. He was out quite a long time. By the time he returned, shaved and fresh, the train was well down the ghats. As he was putting back his things a restaurant car waiter looked through the open door to inquire if either of us would have breakfast.
"Breakfast?" inquired the fat old man in a gracious manner, looking up at me. Without waiting for my reply he turned towards the waiter and ordered: "Two please". I did not know what to think of it. I cursed my memory for forgetting such an affable person.
For some time he was engaged in looking through some letters that he had in his pockets. When he had finished he again looked up at me and smiled.
"And how are the two young bloods?" he asked affably. I did not know to whom he was referring. But he gave me no time to ask him.
"I warned them to be careful" he added in a knowing way, "but I see they have got involved after all".
Before I could say anything the waiter came to tell us that breakfast was served.
We went over to the restaurant car as the train entered Karjat station. Sitting opposite to me he pulled down the window blind to keep out the hot sun and opened the morning paper. During porridge and fish he kept up a running commentary on the day's news. All the time I was trying to think who he was and where I had met him before. It was certain that he knew me. Otherwise why should he have invited me to breakfast and why should I have accepted? Indeed why did I? Suddenly turning aside from the paper he addressed me in a grave voice.
"I was sorry to hear of the accident to your wife". My wife was up at Mahableshwar and I had not heard from her for some time.
"What accident?" I asked impatiently, looking straight into his face. But imagine my surprise when I saw the expression on the face of the man opposite me turn into that of a very demon.
The waiter had placed a plate of eggs before him and his bulging eyes were regarding the contents of the plate with undisguised horror.
"Waiter! WAITER!" he shouted. The obsequious waiter came running. "Are these eggs? - call the Manager". The Manager was asked the same question and confirmed that there were real eggs on his plate. "Eggs? - No: ROTTEN EGGS, man, ROTTEN EGGS!".
The plate was immediately removed and fresh eggs were brought. But the man's ire was roused; his indignation knew no bounds. He continued to threaten the management of the restaurant car and the railway company with dire consequences for anyone to have dared to serve him rotten eggs.
But the eggs didn't look rotten to me?", I ventured.
That was the last straw. The train halted at Neral, the station for the lovely hill-station of Matheran, and started again, but his fulminations continued. Even when we had finished peeling a couple of oranges and the train was again slowing down, he was still at it! I have never seen a man so excited - at rotten eggs.
The train came to a halt; that brought him back to his senses. "What station is that?" he asked in an alarmed voice. "Kalyan, I think" I replied, for the blind was down and I could not see the name. "KALYAN! he shouted in a tragic voice.
He jumped out of the chair and jumped out on to the platform. I pulled the window blind and leaned out of the window. He had disappeared in the crowd. In a minute or two he came running back and, seeing me at the window, came near. "Look here", he said, "can you lend me a few annas? I want to send a telegram and my purse is in the suit-case".
I handed over to him a five rupee note. He again disappeared into the crowd. The warning bell rang. The guard blew his whistle. As the train started with a jerk, he came running down the platform.
"Quick!" he shouted, "my suit-case and parcels!" On the spur of the moment I rushed into the compartment and threw out his things to him.
"I missed Neral because of the rotten eggs", he shouted, "I am going to Matheran".
I sat down in my compartment, still trying to think who he was, when the waiter presented the bill - for two breakfasts!
This is the story my friend told me last year. He is still not sure if he knew if he knew the man or if the man knew him or not. It may all be a case of mistaken identity or, again, it might not be. If the gentleman in question should chance to read this, would he very kindly send me SEVEN RUPEES care of the editor, to be handed over to my friend whose confidence in human nature is, very naturally, much shaken!