I have done my best to avoid public transport all my life. Too many people, too long queues, too much risk of claustrophobia, too much sweat, flesh and foul breath. But there are times when one needs to do the unthinkable – ride the metro. I had to, a couple of times few days back. I remember one morning – I had to take the early morning shuttle from Noida City Center to Sector 16. Thankfully, that day all token counters were operational, the token machines were working, the queue was not too long, only a few people jumped the queue, there was minimal shoving at the baggage screening and I was at the elevator in a few minutes.
As is habit, I paused for a second before getting onto it. I was not the only one who had paused. An elderly woman, in a maroon salwar suit, skin the color of the chocolate, with almost white hair parted in the middle, was doing the same – staring at the fast moving metallic staircase. She was attractive the way grannies who have spent all their lives surrounded by children are. She was not nervous, not intimidated, she smiled at the stairs and the people who walked past her. She stood there, with a large side sling travel bag on her shoulder.
I was not the only one who had paused. An old man, dressed in proper formal wear, rimless glasses with one of those strings around the neck and a tan briefcase in hand had stopped along with me. Absentmindedly, we had both kept a foot on the escalator and were forcefully separated from her mid-conversation. As we moved up, the old man told me we should have held her hand, helped her onto the steps. I nodded.
Once off the escalator, we headed to the stairs to the left. She was smiling as she took easy measured steps. We should have taken the bag from her. As she came close, I smiled and walked towards the platform. I left them alone. I turned back to see the old man leaning toward her as if inquiring if she is alright. They walked toward the platform as I moved into the waiting train.