It’s thrice a week, after noon
that I prepare fervently for a meeting
with my ephemeral paradise:
Description: filthy and stained;
Landmark: boisterous crowds;
Consists of: wailing infants,
barking dogs and rude passengers.
Yet, a paradise for me
is what it is, for now.
I wait at the same spot, with my basket
of excessively salted peanuts
seated to my side.
Abstractedly I receive crummy notes
of fives and tens, while my eyes rest
on the tracks – deserted,
like roads when the moon awakes.
The digital clock strikes 3:00 P.M.,
When has a train ever been on time?
Sixty-three minutes late,
a train, at last, halts at the platform.
The passengers – all strangers to me,
yet my heart soars in tranquil warmth.
Long forgotten are the peanuts,
as my eyes station on the windows.
Through the transparent, blemished glass
I catch a glimpse of a few people inside –
none speaking, but with the semblance of a family.
I see the boy first.
His dark locks, disobedient.
Luminous complexion, a pudgy nose
playfully flattened against the window.
His morning breath hits the pane,
fogging the glass, and
he writes his name – reeV, I read
backwards in his careless scrawl.
Our eyes meet, but mine shift to the woman.
I see the woman next.
Midnight kohl outlining her eyes,
her features are sharper than
the harsh words of ‘malik’.
In her lap, soundly asleep,
curiosity clouding his dreams
lays the reason for her faint smile.
With eyelashes so long
His sister must be jealous.
I see the girl third.
Long tresses collected to one side,
her hazel orbs skimming
the minuscule script of her
worn and tattered Tinkle.
Her gaze is on the comic
but her mind is in a daze,
reluctantly hoping she never
wished to be her rich friend.
I see the old man last.
His trembling fingers,
telling the beads of his rosary.
Lips opening just enough
to breathe out prayers for the safety
of his lone and absent son –
Working harder than a slave that he is,
to earn and finally be home with his family,
By selling a handful of peanuts.
After what pretended to be hours
but was actually just the batting of eyelashes
the train departs lazily,
dragging her rusted wheels on the tracks.
I realize that, on reaching their destination, perhaps
the boy will embrace his father, not letting go;
the woman will share an intense kiss with her lover;
the girl will fall in love with her home once again,
and the old man will wait for his son’s arrival.
Night strolls by, the sun falling into slumber.
I reach into the pockets of my trousers,
praying that no coins fell out, as my fingers
brush against an emerging hole.
Seated on the pavement, I count
One hundred and sixty-two rupees on my fingers.
With another three hundred stashed under my pillow,
I hope ‘malik’ agrees to lend me the remaining fifty –
I’ve slithered into a state of desperation.
I remember I had come to this city, to ‘malik’,
to earn a livelihood for my family first, then myself.
But now it seems as if I can’t leave.
I have been too loyal that somewhere
along the way, I have transitioned into a naïf.
Five tens short of a sleeper train ticket, and
a few hundred kilometers away from home,
I feel nearest to my family
at a filthy train station,
on the other side of the window.