This short story became SPIXer (Most popular story) on 29 Sep 2012 and won INR 500 (US$ 10)
|Creative Writing Competition 2012 India|
|SETTING||Railway platform OR Inside Train|
|THEME||A Strange Day/Night|
I check the time on my mobile phone. It’s a little after nine in the night and I tug at my jacket to beat the early winter breeze. A few people are pacing up and down the railway platform with a sincere and hopeful look on their faces. The usual dictum of railways and I am subject to it as the train is just going to be an hour late, not later, I presume. The miseries of being stranded almost alone in a desolate railway platform send shivers down my spine and I’m trying to ease my mind by shifting focus onto a couple standing a few metres away from me.
I hear a man say to a woman, “Kamla, I hope we can make it to the wedding on time!”
They seem like a typical average middle class couple who wore traditions on their sleeve and dressed much beyond their actual age.
The wife, Kamla who appears plump in her garish yellow saree says, “What will the elders in the family say? They will think that the oldest in the family is irresponsible. They will blame me for your faults!”
“It’s the train, not me! But I am worried about what Ma ji will say!” screams Kamla’s husband in his sober kurta pyjama in an earthy shade.
Deciding to ignore their concerns, I scan the area around me and find an empty iron bench. I can’t tell the colour because of the poor lighting, but as I go nearer, it seems green. Sitting on it, I pull my legs up to feel warm and comfortable. The train is still a long time away and I rummage through my back pack to search for the book my neighbour had given me. She has this liking for all things gory and evil in books, on TV and in movies. She had thrust this book in my hand saying, “Good way to kill time! The prologue is a dead give away, but what happens later on in the novel enthrals.”
Flipping through the pages, certain words catch my eye; ‘kill, murder, gouge, blood.’ I’m partial to crime fiction, but this book is in a different league. I have to choose between the book and the couple spelling doomsday through their apprehensions. The book seems a better choice as I can shut it when I please.
Ignoring the silent murmur from the woman who seems to still be complaining to the man, I turn to the prologue.
‘Silent and dark, the wind is blowing across her face and Joan stands by the window with a forlorn look. The lights are off everywhere save the small candle by the bedside table. Joan walks towards the balcony and let her hair loose. The wind blows her hair all over her face making it difficult to grasp her features from a distance!’
The pages of the book are flapping with the light wind and I adjust my posture catching a glimpse of Kamla. She is standing at the edge of the railway platform with her hair masking her face entirely. “She could pass off as a ghost,” I think chuckling.
I get back to the book, ‘The wind shakes the lamp hanging in the balcony, and Joan stares into the space ahead of her which is dark and just dark.’
Fidgeting on the bench, I stare at Kamla who is still standing at the edge of the platform staring into oblivion.
“Come back, I can’t afford to lose you a day before the wedding. What will everyone say?” screams Kamla’s husband. But to no avail and she continues standing there.
He walks up to her and continues, “Why are you standing here? It’s not very safe. You might fall.”
He pulls Kamla by her hand trying to get her to move, but she releases her hand from his grip and says, “How does it matter? Your people want only you, not me.”
“Nonsense! Don’t know how you come up with such nonsense. You are the daughter-in-law of that house,” he says with conviction and turns to walk away.
The book still doesn’t interest me and I’m at the mercy of this husband-wife duo to entertain me. Kamla is still rooted to her spot and I turn to my book again.
‘The husband screams from inside that it’s too windy and that Joan should be coming to bed. He walks into the balcony and pulls Joan by her hand to lead her inside. She ignores him and he leaves her to the mercy of the night.’
“What? It’s a similar thing happening here. That’s strange!”
I mutter and giggle. Kamla is now pacing back and forth the platform. Kamla’s husband has found a nice cosy corner near a pole to stack the luggage and he waves out to her. Kamla pays no attention and continues walking the entire stretch of the railway platform. It didn’t matter to her how lonely it was with only the sound of the light breeze and a puppy whimpering trying to gnaw at a ragged cloth hanging from one of the moveable carts at the platform.
I hear Kamla screaming, “Do you know that fat lady who was at our wedding wants to see all my jewellery that my parents gave me. Who does she think she is?”
“She’s Manju bua, a distance cousin of my father. She is the oldest in the family and needs to be respected!” he says stressing each word.
He spreads a white long towel on the ground and props up a bag against the pole. It seems to me like he’s about to rest.
Getting back to the same paragraph, I read, ‘Joan tells Arnie how much she hates Aunt Carol and how she shouldn’t be interfering in their lives. Arnie retorts by saying that she was the most respected by all in the family and that he held her in high esteem. Joan is angered by Arnie’s response and says that it will be difficult for her to pretend to like her at the next family gathering that weekend.’
“This is getting stranger. How are similar events playing here?” I think.
A little uncomfortable with the coincidence, I put down the book and let my eyes pan the entire area ahead of me. The darkness along the stretch of the railway platform with minimum lighting seems like an abyss of darkness. The light wind, Kamla and her hair, her husband, their conversations and reactions; all bear a semblance to the happenings and characters in my book. It’s indeed strange. The heart starts to beat a little faster as I see Kamla walk towards her husband. I pour into the book again to slight the mind and prove the happenings to be a mere coincidence.
‘Joan walks back into the room and sits down on the settee near the book rack. She observes Arnie who seems to have reached a certain dreamland as she could hear him snoring softly. She goes over to him and brushes his golden locks that have partially covered his face. He pulls Joan closer to him and she says that she won’t be able to have a sane relationship with him, if Aunt Carol was in the picture. Arnie opens his eyes and asks her stop obsessing about Aunt Carol.’
Purely out of curiosity, I lift my head and crane my neck to get a full view of Kamla and her husband. “Surely, she isn’t going to say the same thing to him!” I mutter and wait in anticipation.
The next thing I hear is Kamla screaming into her husband’s ears, “If that Manju bua is going to be stay with us for a whole month, don’t you think she is going to create more problems for us?”
Barely awake, he raises his voice, “Manju bua is not a villain but you are! You don’t seem to like anyone in my family.”
Now I’m nervous and perhaps jittery when I drop the book. I get up from the bench; pick up the book trying catch my mind from stretching its imagination to prevent cobwebs of despair making their mark. The light above is flickering and I can barely see the letters on the page. Fighting my rising fears, I bring the book close to my face and read again, ‘Joan gets up from the bed and goes out of the room.’
Now I heave a sigh of relief. There’s no room Kamla can go into like Joan did. So it’s rubbish! There is no pattern here. As I’m coming to terms with my mind, I sight Kamla walking around the pole, bending over to pick up a flask. She uncorks the lid and pours herself something steaming. The whiff permeates in the atmosphere and the wind acts as a catalyst. It’s coffee! The woman takes huge sips from her cup and I’m shaking a bit in fear and the cold.
Now scared by the strange turn of events, I turn the page to read, ‘Joan goes into the kitchen and returns with a steaming cup of coffee. Taking a deep breath, she sips her coffee. Rummaging through the contents of her drawer, Joan seems to be looking for something desperately. Arnie tells her to keep the noise down and she retorts by accusing him of only thinking about himself and not her. The hatred seems to have taken its toll when the sane objective mind gets clouded with emotions and every action has a purpose and can be explained based on subjectivity. She finds what she is looking for. The shadows cast in the wall shows a true picture of horror; Joan is holding a knife and walking towards the bed. Blood is splattered everywhere on the wall.’
The prologue ends and now my hands are shaking and I’m trembling! The book again slips out of my hand and I see the woman searching for something in her handbag. In the poor lighting of the platform, I can’t see clearly, but I realise that she’s holding something in her hand. I gasp! Realising that the events that have unfolded in front of me is almost like a movie lifted from a book, I’m now convinced that the end of the man is in sight. A distance of about 100 metres separated me and them. Going by my instincts, I trust that the next thing the woman will do is to swear at her husband. And my fears are confirmed. I can hear her saying, “What have you done for me other than subject me to the harsh treatment meted out by your family members?”
I mutter, “She’s going to kill him! She’s going to kill him!” I run towards her and say in gasps, “The train; its here!”
To my relief, I hear the noise of train’s announcing its arrival. With my eyes fixed on them, I run back to the bench to grab my back pack. I catch a glimpse of Kamla trying to alert her husband and I have enough reason to believe that I had averted a disaster from taking place. The train majestically enters the station and from nowhere the once desolate railway platform teems with people getting in and out of the train. The persistent noise plays a calming factor on my mind which was subject to strange happenings of the past hour. Getting into the allotted compartment, I turn to watch Kamla and her husband. They seem to be gathering their belongings.
Laughing at my foolish mind, I search for my seat and once finding it, relax with the book. The train bellows it departure and every inch of my mind and body settle into a relaxed trance, till I see the green bench and the pole moving past me. I witness the horror; of blood splattered on the pole and on the bench. I search for Kamla through the bars of the window craning my neck to scan the railway platform, but she’s nowhere to be seen. Hurriedly, I turn to the last page of the book. The last line leaves me gasping, ‘Revenge is sweet when your plan is met and executed by someone else! Joan was only a medium to kill Arnie!’
I scream, “Where is Kamla? Where is she?”
The book ends, but my strange night continues.