OPINION

Fiction: 4:50 From Paddington

February 19, 2007
BJ Kumar

"I wish that train would show up! It is already an hour late." Ragho Devi said to her son.

The passengers in the crowded second-class waiting room were getting edgy. As usual, there was a power cut and it had gotten sweltering hot. The sky looked gray and darkness approached all around.

Ragho Devi, who looked quite a bit older than her thirty years - for life in the village was hard work - was getting impatient. She had needed a man to accompany her on this trip to her maika located in the small town twenty miles away, but her husband had been called away on business and her father-in-law had fallen sick. The company of her nine-year old son, who sat close to her on that crowded bench, was not quite the same.

The nine-year old looked about him anxiously. He needed to use the bathroom. The waiting room of the dilapidated station building had very bare walls. At one time, those had held plaster on them but neglect over the years now made the red brick show in most places. There were no pictures on the walls. In fact, the waiting room had few items in there, except a small blackboard on which someone had written the train timings with chalk. The subject of the first entry, the morning train, was long gone - and next to the second entry for the 4:50 train, the word "Late" appeared. A grandfather clock stood next to it which showed 5:50 now.

The darkness appeared to be looming close - ready to descend any minute now.

Ragho Devi noticed her son's discomfiture. She pointed him to a corner in the back of the room. There was an opening in the back of the side wall which would have been easy to miss - it was not a door. The nine-year old stepped through it. The area was enclosed from three sides and not exactly meant to be a bathroom - perhaps it would have been an unfinished extension room - but it was now clearly used as a bathroom. There was no roof over it. In the faint light from the opening above, the nine-year old stared at the crumbling surface of the reddish walls which had developed green moss in places. With his little finger, he gently scratched at a loose brick, a little above the dark, parabolic area which looked that way because of countless men having urinated over it. The poor light made the grassy earth appear like a dark green carpet. The nine-year old looked intently at a little green frog sitting in his path. He tried to walk carefully around it.

Before he could get to business, he heard a voice he had never heard before which completely startled him. As he turned, he bumped heads with the diminutive man in white pajama-kurta who had just rushed in. As he watched incredulously, the half-panting, half-whimpering little man ran to the right corner and finding no exit door, crouched there, hiding his face.

Stepping back into the waiting room, the nine-year old was struck by how quiet it had become. As he walked half the way, all he heard were the sounds of his own slippers and the ticking from the grandfather clock. His mother did not say a word. Nobody in the waiting area said a word. Nobody even looked at him. They all looked at the door.

The burly Sikh filled the six-and-a-half foot doorway completely. His face had the most ferocious look the nine-year old had ever seen. He wore a white tunic which was splattered with what looked like blood. He also held a sword which dripped blood.

"Kahan gaya woh?" he roared.

Then the Sikh's gaze fell on the nine-year old in his pajama-kurta. He walked over and touched his face with the sword tip.

"Tu kaun?"

The nine year old tried to speak - but no words came out. With considerable effort and with his trembling hands, he reached under his collar and held out his sacred thread in the Sikh's view.

The Sikh lowered the sword and, in a gesture of disapproval, ran its sharp edge along the pajama legs, cutting those vertically, up to the kneecaps. The blade nicked a bit but the nine-year old kept his cries silent.

The Sikh walked over to Ragho Devi and asked - "Behenji, woh kahan gaya?" Ragho Devi hesitated, then with her head indicated outside the door, toward the platform. The Sikh watched her face closely - she did her best to keep it impassive.

Finally, the Sikh turned away and started toward the doorway. Instinctively, Ragho Devi glanced at the bathroom entrance - as if to assure herself that the man taking shelter therein had not tried to come out. Then she looked at the door again and immediately froze.

The Sikh had stopped. He had turned in his tracks and had just seen her move her head. And now he had gotten the scent of his prey.

The Sikh dragged the diminutive man by his collar. He was struggling hard to get away - but to no avail. In the process, his feet kept slipping on the mosaic floor of the waiting room - which had developed too many cracks in too many places over the years. His Hawai slippers kept making a flopping sound - as if beating to the music of a dance.

Shortly after, from outside came the sound "Sat Sri Akal!" followed by a piercing scream.

There was silence for a while - soon to be broken by the sound of the bell which warned of the incoming train. The passengers shuffled out of the waiting room - ready to board. The power came back suddenly and the station lit up. The nine-year old covered his eyes to avert the lights. He felt a sudden pain.

People lined up along the length of the platform, except for one small area. Nobody stood there, because it was highly slippery with what looked like newly-shed blood.

The horizontal metal bars on the train compartment made it appear like a little prison; yet nobody seemed to think that they were in one. People peered from behind - virtually everyone was quiet - as if listening to someone tell a fascinating story which must never be interrupted. Nobody seemed eager for the train to start - as if they knew exactly where they were destined to go and were resigned to it.

Outside the station, it had become absolutely dark now.

The grandfather clock in the waiting room suddenly started chiming.

The 4:50 had arrived exactly at 6 o'clock.

(Note: This piece of fiction was previously published as a blog on another web site. The title, and only the title, was borrowed from the name of a well-known mystery thriller.)

BJ Kumar is based in the Washington, DC area.
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Fiction: 4:50 From Paddington

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Author: BJ Kumar

 

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#1
temporal
URL
February 19, 2007
01:00 PM

bj:

one word comment

apathy!

in a sense this reminded me of ashish's post yesterday re: not knowing the neighbours

#2
BJ Kumar
URL
February 19, 2007
01:26 PM

T-Bhai

Apathy?! To my write-up?!

I am crushed. Crushed, crushed, crushed - not to mention pulverized!!

:)

PS: I know you were referring to the characters in this story, based on an "eyewitness" account told to me by somebody. I don't know if the REAL people would display the same level of apathy - but it won't surprise me if they do.

PPS: I am going through a "cynical" phase right now! :(

Cheerios for your trip! If it is a vacation, I am sure it is well-earned. :)

#3
SIKH
May 10, 2008
03:06 AM

Stick with one nick

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