THE TIMBER BETWEEN the rail tracks is not dusty. Sleepers, isn’t that what they’re called? Killed by a sleeper? Is that what my gravestone will read? But just because I attended a convent school does not mean I will be buried in a graveyard. An infinitely more gracious way to depart than being burnt on a funeral pyre.
I should be headed there right now, except in a final desperate attempt to slow down my fall, I put out my hand, managing to grasp the concrete edge of the platform, screaming as my fingernails tear in my attempt to right myself. My body spans the height of the platform, my feet just touching the ground. I look up into the face of my tormentor.
With his eyes gleaming, excitement adorns his face, giving it an avaricious look. It’s as if he is caught in the throes of arousal. I shudder; the disgust racing through my body is almost as deadly as the anger inside me.
When he leans down towards me, stretching out a hand as if to help, I shrink away towards an end that now seems infinitely more preferable. He personifies the fear that has haunted me most of my teenage life. He is the reason the beast inside me often rages, begging to raise its head, to be let loose at everything I despise in this city.
"Don’t stay out after dark, little girl," my ma’s voice taunts. "You don’t know what demons are out there."
She knows just when to make an appearance, my ma: my very own ethereal leash who knows just how to make me feel good about myself.
Then, a low rumbling like that of a giant stomach growling in hunger, starts up somewhere to my right. As I look towards it, the noise begins to heighten like that of a pressure cooker, whistling, gathering steam, then growing louder as if it’s not able to contain its anxiety any longer. Rising from the ground, it whooshes towards me. I expect a tidal wave of earth to emerge from the layers below the tracks. But all that gushes towards me is a very angry 8.05am to Churchgate.
The train blares its horn, strident, cutting through the din of the crowds, which roar back in anticipation of that final leap which will have them on their way. Above the din of the crowds on the platform, a dog howls, its plaintive wail a mirror image of my feelings. Across from me, red and blue sparks flare in the air, released by the forked tongue of an open electricity wire dangling between the tracks.
I call out to the people jostling against the Hand. My mouth opens, but the futility of the situation robs me of any coherent means of expression. There is no choice now.
I put up my arm, and the same hand that fondled me earlier now clutches my wrist, circling it. His lips are drawn back in an obscene mask of glee. The boy has a mark, a tattoo, like a barcode on the inside of his wrist. What can it be? A fashion trend that passed me by? Have people taken to tattooing barcodes so they can be scanned through into all the latest restaurants?
Hysteria grips me, holding me immobile, bubbling up in laughter as the Hand bends towards me. He claws off my other hand, the one still clenched around a dent in the platform, raising me up high enough so that I hang there, toes almost touching the ground, dangling by my armpits.
I am unable to think for the terror pounding through my blood, beating a harsh tirade at my pulse points. All I can hear is the sound of my own breathing.
Then I am flying through the air, arcing over the tracks, as the train thunders by, the breeze from its velocity squeezing out the noise between my ears.
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