“That was the last you spoke to her?” she asked the mother. Mother could barely talk, she looked numb. The dad nudges her. She could hear him murmur, “Please talk to her, dear. This is going to help us find our girl sooner.” He is not as shaken as the mother. The more practical kind, the easily accepting kind. Or perhaps they weren’t close, the dad and the daughter, she found herself judging and quickly stopped. There’s time for that, time for all the introspection and crossing out of probabilities. Now wasn’t it. She had to know everything, hear every last detail. The mother, after more nudges, manages to form bits of words at first. “Ye-yes. Alappuzha. Train… pa-passed.” You can see the pain in her face as she remembers the daughter’s voice. The way she had last heard it. “She sounded sleepy but told me she wasn’t sleeping,” the mother was now talking without being asked. Words came out faster, she was reliving it, perhaps finding some joy to be in a time when nothing had gone wrong. When she still knew where her daughter was, on a train to Ernakulam, going back to work after a weekend. “She was excited about taking my special pickles to her colleagues.” That was last night, she thought, as the mother’s eyes wandered to her daughter’s belongings, packed meticulously a night before the journey. “There, I had put it in that rack,” she passed on useless information. Pieces of the recent past would keep falling out of her like that.
The dad had nothing much to add. He had driven her to the station, but didn’t notice anything different. He doesn’t remember anything spoken during those few minutes. She seemed preoccupied, he said when she pressed him. Would not make a good witness, this one, she thought.
The next one to talk to was her boyfriend. He looked nearly the same as the mother but more restless than broken. He was in that boyish hurry to set everything right. He wanted everyone to be on their toes, going out there, searching, not standing here. “We never talk on the phone unless it is for a quick minute to convey something that should be faster than a message. Otherwise it is all messages,” he said after a lot of persuasion. He was the kind who liked his privacy and seemed quite guarded about hers too. She liked that. “What was her last message?” It was obvious he had already read it dozens of times but he still pulls his phone out from the shirt pocket, taps his fingers on it and turns his face away. His voice sounds far. “She said she was in my favourite seat, the side sleeper.”
Was that genuine? She had no doubts it was. She didn’t like to hurt this boy more. Others would have pressed him to tell more, just to make it juicier and give eye-catching headlines in the newspapers. But that wasn’t her purpose. Her purpose was to know. Know everything. Only then she could find her.
The best friend came along looking puffy eyed. They haven’t seen in a week. She had messaged a day earlier, they planned to meet but couldn’t. Perhaps if they met, she would have told her something. Or more likely not. She wasn’t the opening up type. “I have to push stuff out of her sometimes. She doesn’t talk like girls do about boyfriend stuff.” It was almost a complaint, forgetting for a moment her best friend was missing. It seemed she would not mind the missing so much as not being informed of her decision to disappear. She could have been a conspirator in all this, her face seemed to tell.
Next in line was the boss. Apparently he was the last to talk to her before she was gone. “She had reached Cherthala. I had asked her,” he seemed worried and quite anxious to help. Like a sensible man, he decided to keep his worries for later and help with as much information. “So she must have been in the train till then. And then the next stop was Ernakulam where she’d get down.” She knew that was true. There were co passengers who saw her staring out of the window with music in her ears at Cherthala, like a typical train traveller. That was the problem. Because this was typical, no one would have noticed her much. Ear phones and window seats are the most sought after and most obvious perks of a train journey. Deadly combination, she let herself digress for a second, before coming back to the boss. “So what did you talk about?” He didn’t even pause to think, he had already done his thinking, it seemed to her. “Work. We had some urgent crisis to take care of and I was discussing it with her.”
There was hardly half an hour from Cherthala to Ernakulam. Where could she have gone in this time? She looked at her watch. It was enough. She had what she wanted. She would go home and think about all she heard and add what she didn’t. She would have a complete picture. Of what she was. She waved away the characters she had conjured up in front of her, the real life characters who had last spoken to her before she decided to become missing. Once she knew what they had to say about her when she was no longer there, she would know where to find herself. She would not feel so lost. She could come back. Be found again.