A lucid and visually delightful story told by Fengkha.
It began when I came across a website that announced a short story competition. Although I searched, I couldn’t find any particular theme other than the requirement of the word, ‘trains’. Now there was something about train and rain, balmy evenings and paddy fields that hit me hard. A sense of nostalgia would weave along with the wind of past, painful yet worthwhile and I would stare at the parallel metal strips glowing under the bright sunlight, stretching endlessly that finally disappeared into the horizon… Without any further ado I picked up my pen and began writing:
A rundown, decrepit railway station and an abandoned train on one of the tracks- that is what you will see from my vantage point- platform number 13, the very same platform where he stood waiting for the train that left exactly at 4:30 in the evening and brought him home. But I do not see what you see; maybe memories play tricks with me for what I see is a railway station where trains still come and go, passengers rushing to get seats and when I turn around I see him taking long strides towards where I am standing and he comes to a halt beside me. I lift my hand to touch him only to see him disappear in wisps of smoke and suddenly it is the same rundown, decrepit railway station that is no longer in use. I blink and whisper to myself, “Always”… Misty windows and foggy evening is what I remember-
And my pen stopped moving after that (not so much as my mind that could do nothing to help me continue after that word)… Oh! I haven’t told you about myself, have I? I am a writer… No… Not one of those published writers with a number of awards to their name or anything of that sort. I am a writer. Just a writer: writing for myself and for others with never a chance of getting my works published. I say that because I’ve been there, struggled and failed, but my heart and mind does not agree to never going back because that’s THE DREAM, isn’t it, of every single writer out there: to get published, to have their name appear in a book, to win awards, to top the list for the best book and so on. Well at least I speak for myself. That’s my dream. I have dreamt about it so much and for so long that it seems so real and yet, at the same time it seems to be just a figment of my imagination that the closer I am to my dream, the farther I am from reality and the closer I am to reality, the farther I am from my dream. Somehow, reality and dream never gets along.
I like to believe that I have written a lot of good stories starting from the day I’ve started writing that I think I can make myself a mattress out of all those stories to lay down my tired and weary head that I can no longer put to use to write anything anymore… Is it writer’s block that I am going through or is it just that the flame has burnt out? I don’t know and I don’t intend to figure out (I fear what gods have planned for me or maybe just to find the answer). But I am telling you I have exhausted my ability to form coherent sentences. I can think of words, some mundane and some grand, yet I can never put it together. That much I can tell you; that much I can let you in: in my world, in my life…
The rain falls, pelting the glass windows at an intense rate and in moments like these, an urge kicks up inside me and I feel, just feel, that maybe I can write again… My hands shake, I break into cold sweat the moment I lift my pen to write down; I pretend to let the thoughts flow from my mind to my hands. But it doesn’t. Nothing works. Just the prospect of having a pen between my fingers with the weight of my hand on the paper makes me weak as though the weight isn’t only of my hand, but my mind, my brain, my cognitive process; in short, my everything. I groan, running my hand against my hair. I take a quick glance at the clock; it is late evening and it has been almost an hour that I remained stuck with that passage. I look out the window; the rain has settled down to a drizzle. I get out of the house for a walk.
The air is fresh with the smell of wet earth and wet trees, pavements reflecting the buildings in the meagre amount of rain water left behind. People walking to and fro from one end to the other, maybe hurrying back home from their work or maybe some of them are hobos coming back to claim their space on the pavements. If only my ability to write could come and claim my brain again, just like them… somewhere in a distance, I hear the hoot of the train.
The walk continues as I find myself walking along a park filled with trees and benches, devoid of human. The rain had chased them all back to the warmth of their houses. The drizzling has stopped. And few minutes later (I can already see the future), people will be crowding up to complete their routine before night sets in. I am not the one to judge them for we are all different from each other: variation in sameness. I choose to walk while drizzling, some choose when it stops. It’s all about perception, you see. But a doubt lingers why we aren’t all the same. What goes wrong in the process of development that we all turn so different? Few things can’t be explained, just like how uniqueness can sometimes be seen as a deformity.
I see a little girl with her bicycle at the entrance of the park. Behind her must be her sister; I can study the similarities between them, all thanks to the light at the entrance of the park. She is talking in her phone; must be her boyfriend. Or maybe I’m just getting ahead of myself. And I realise everything is a story. Everything can be a story, yet the passion involved in writing it seems to fade with time. Maybe there is only a certain amount of that gift we can use and then it breathes its last. I’m horrified the moment I think of that, but I calm myself telling that is not true for here I am building up a story in my head seeing those two. I already come up with the title for the story: Her First Ride. She gets on the bicycle, with her sister behind who finally hangs up the phone and gives her full attention to the little girl. They talk to each other for a while and she pushes the bicycle and releases her grip from it all the while screaming, “I’m still holding”. And she does it, she rides the bicycle… I am happy with my story. It’s simple, but that’s how we all begin. And that’s what I choose to write.
I find myself at the train station where I see people rushing to get on board the train or to get out, while some aimlessly look at the boards and some wait listlessly for their train sitting on the bench. My eyes dart here and there looking for my favourite bench in platform 13 and I see it, empty just like how it always has been. I walk towards it and sit there, formulating stories in my head where each single one meets a dead end. Shaking my head, I bury my face in my hands… It was my phone that woke me up early morning. Groggily I attended the call. It was my younger brother. But the moment I answered it, he hung up.
I took a moment or two to process what just happened. I would have, if I could, gone back to sleep, but slowly it all came rushing to my mind. And I remembered everything. The quarrel we had the previous day over his carelessness and irresponsibility. Father had a Premier Padmini and it was in black and truth to be told, I held on to it dearly for our parents were no more. I did all I could to keep it clean and sparkly; never did I ever take it out for a ride, other than within the compound of the house. It felt as though that was the only thing left behind by father that made me feel close to him. Little did I know how wrong I was…
“How could you do that?” I cried out at my younger brother in the evening. He had taken out father’s car for a ride, I suppose, and came back without it, his forehead bleeding slightly. He met an accident, I figured. Humans sometimes attach themselves superfluously to certain things and fail to see what is right in front of them. That is what happened to me. I should have been worried about him more than the car being damaged. I should have been taking care of him more than shouting at him for doing what he did.
“That was dad’s car!” I said, standing up from the chair I was sitting.
“Stop pretending as though it is only you who cares about him!”
“I do,” I lashed back at him. “I am the only one who is trying to preserve his memory by keeping his things safe. Can’t you see that?”
“Why? Is he coming back to life to make new memories with you? He is dead!” he shouted at me. “Can’t you see he is dead! He isn’t coming back. What we had with him isn’t in the things that he owned. It’s us. Just us alone.”
“Get out,” I said quietly after a moment of silence. I knew father died. I didn’t need anyone else to remind me.
Without any hesitation, without any doubt, without a word, he turned his back and left me. But he did stop at the door and turned back and said, “I don’t ever want to live in a house where the one who is alive isn’t acknowledged. I loved him too. You aren’t his only son. I am his son as well and he is alive in my heart not in his car, not in his clothes,” he said and walked away from me from what used to be his home…
I feel a weight on the bench. I look up and see a man, somewhere in his mid forties, sitting next to me.
“You don’t mind, do you?” he says.
I shake my head.
“So what time is your train?” he asks.
“Oh! I’m not waiting for any train. I came out for a walk and ended up here.”
“Well, it’s nice to know that you do not have to do any waiting.”
“Trust me, there are other things that I have to wait for,” I chuckle.
Just when he was about to open his mouth to say something there was an announcement that a particular train has been delayed.
“Story of my life,” he groans, shaking his head.
“Was that supposed to be your train?” I ask.
He nods his head, and as I was expecting him to be disappointed, somehow I couldn’t see that in his face nor his eyes.
“You don’t look disappointed,” I say disappointedly. If I were him I would be not only disappointed but also frustrated.
“I’m not,” he says with a hearty laugh. “I may be late in seeing my family, but that’s alright. The anticipation will grow more.”
I look further beyond him and seeing his amount of luggage I realise that he hasn’t been home for a while.
“Yes, I haven’t seen my family in a long time,” he says as though he read my mind. “A little bit of wait is nothing to what lies ahead. It makes you look forward to it more for in the end, I’ll be home. And a home always has its door open, no matter what time or day.”
“That is what my brother used to tell me when I complained about him reaching home late from work.”
“So are you waiting for him here?”
For a moment I was lost for words.
“I don’t know,” I say truthfully because I really didn’t. “We had a quarrel yesterday and maybe I am trying to make up for it by waiting for him here. I don’t know if he’s coming back.”
“For me, train represents time; it operates only with time and with time, wound heals. I am not saying that you waiting for your brother isn’t a touching gesture because it is. What I’m saying is, as long as he is there,” he points at my heart, “he will always be with you and you with him. So all that we have to do now is wait and see for him to turn up in person.”
“To wait,” I say.
The silvery glows of the moon shines down on us. And as though I was in a state of somewhere between being awake and asleep, everything around me turns hazy. The one sitting next to me seems to grow more and more distant from me and he fades. I look at the trains on the railway track. They are no longer there and in the end what is left is this decrepit railway station with no single living soul around except mine… I wake up with a shudder. I see a portrait of my brother on the wall, next to father and mother. I recall how he never reached home that particular evening. It was only an hour later I got the news that the train derailed and there were no survivors. And it was around at that time I received a text from him saying ‘I’m sorry’. I do not know if he got a chance to see my text as well for I replied with the exact same words. I like to believe he did… I rub my face and get out of the bed. Chilly wind enters through the open window as I make my way to the bathroom and I see a paper on the table, the very same paper that contained the passage I wrote. A smile spread across my face and maybe that is what I’ll write about: the wait. The wait for my brother at the station who wanted to, but never could come home.