Short Stories

The Lost Purse

The south junction railway station was noisy and crowded. There were long queues in front of the ticket counters. Nobody was free and leisurely. The man at the information center was blurting-out some ready made answers to the eager passengers. Dozens were standing before the telephone booth and on top of this, there were the pestering beggars, porters and the handicapped who were selling lottery tickets. One could also hear announcements at regular intervals in Malayalam, Hindi and English about the arrival and departure times of the trains, indicating the platform numbers as well. It was just the week end rush and there was nothing unusual about it.

Madhavan, who was standing in one of the queues looked ahead. One, two, three, he counted; there were about 10 to 15 people ahead of him. He was getting impatient but there was no need to worry, for there was still an hour for his train to arrive. Anyway, it was not all that boring. There was the less fortunate ones who were far behind him in the queue; there were those who only had a couple of minutes before their train departed. There were the ones who were bargaining with the porters and also the more pathetic ones, who were in need of a few coins and notes of lesser denomination to tender correct change for their tickets.

The slow progress at the ticket counters was sickening. Madhavan cursed the clerks who took their own sweet time to issue tickets. At this rate, it would take at least 30 minutes before his turn came. He closed his eyes for a while and looked around as he moved inch by inch, rather mechanically. At long last he was so close to the counter with just two persons ahead of him; but as fate would have it, he saw a middle aged chap pushing his way to the platform unaware of the fact that his purse had slipped down from his pocket.

The purse was lying close to the information centre and nobody had noticed it. If that chap lost his purse, it was his fate. One man’s misfortune is other man’s fortune. There was no necessity to act according to the dictates of his conscience. He picked up the purse and placed it safely in his handbag. After all, it won’t make any difference if he postponed the weekend visit to his house next week. People are clever these days; they don’t keep much in their purse while they are on travel; may be a few hundreds. What next? He must leave the place immediately: otherwise if by any chance he happened to see that chap who lost his purse the gentlemen in him would be tempted to hand over the purse to its owner. So, off he went to the nearest restaurant and ordered for a cup of tea. There were only a few persons at the restaurant. The bearer brought the tea in a minute and as soon as he left the table, Madhavan fished out the purse from his hand bag. He looked around and opened the purse and to his utter disappointment, there was not even a 50 paise coin in it except a few folded slips, an identity card and a railway ticket. His first impulse was to throw the purse away, but since there were some personal belongings Madhavan decided to find out the owner of the purse. He returned to the station and took a quick look at the vague crowd that stood before the ticket counters. He had only a vague picture of the chap from whose pocket the purse dropped to the ground while he himself was standing in the queue. That chap was wearing a yellow shirt and blue pants though Madhavan could not recall his face.

Even as Madhavan was making wide search for that chap a police constable who was standing near the information counter called him and asked “what’s the matter? I’ve been watching you for quite sometime now. You look like a decent chap but if you are up to some tricks, I shall be left with no choice”. Madhavan smiled and told the police constable the facts. “In that case, you go to the waiting room or to the railways restaurant or to the boom stall or………”. Madhavan was off in a jiffy without waiting for the policeman to complete his sentence. It seemed that he and the police  constable were on the same wavelength, for he had already thought of this idea but he was without a platform ticket. Now that he had the permission of the policeman, he was free to go all over the platform. The chap was not to be found in the waiting room or the restaurant. Madhavan walked up and down the platform and to his relief, he saw a chap with yellow shirt and blue pants sitting on a bench in the 3rd platform. Since no train was due at that time, he took the short cut across the railway tracks to the 3rd platform and approached the chap who was sitting on a bench and asked him in a hushed voice, “Sir, have you lost anything? I mean, a purse or something…..” The chap said, “No”. May be he was not yet aware of his loss. “Please make sure……..”. This time, the yellow shirt was emphatic, “No, No….Please leave me alone”. Madhavan was disappointed though he was sure it was the very same fair skinned chap. Anyway, it was his loss and if he were so adamant, let him suffer, Madhavan thought as he walked away.  Meanwhile the police constable who seemed disinterested in this matter, became alert on seeing the behavior of the chap with the yellow shirt. Madhavan was a little upset when he saw the policeman crossing over to the 3rd platform and walking towards him.

“Sir, he says it is not his purse. Shall we leave it at that?” Madhavan asked.

“No. wait a minute. I’ll deal with him”, so saying he dashed towards the chap, much to the embarrassment of Madhavan. The yellow shirt stood up and moved off as if nothing happened but the police man shouted, “Hey….you there stop”. The man stopped there fearing high handedness from the policeman. Madhavan watched the proceedings from a distance and could not know what transpired between them. Then, he saw the yellow shirt being dragged towards the police cabin adjacent to the station master’s room.

When the police came out Madhavan asked, “What happened Sir?” That chap is a pickpocket. He did the job while the owner of the purse was boarding the train bound for the steel city. Anyway, the purse is safe with us and also the money.

Madhavan thanked the police and left the place cursing himself for trying to be good Samaritan. He was only a shade better than the pickpocket.

Author: P U Krishnan

First things first. I am one of those retired chaps who are young at heart. I watch cricket matches and jump for joy when Tendulkar scores yet another century. I read newspapers and books too, though I am not crazy about them. I think I have a mind free from hatred and I owe it to the wonders of nature and music. I scribble something now and then and call myself a writer! Though I have settled in Ooty, a lovely hill station in Tamil Nadu—I must emphasize the fact that I was born and brought up in Tellicherry in North Kerala and studied in the good old Government Brennen College. Of and on, my mind goes back to my ancestral house at Tiruvangad in Tellicherry in front of an ancient Sri Ram temple. I am indebted to this wonderful place which inculcated in me a love for cricket and literature. But all said and done, I am an Indian first.

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