The station was empty, save for the moths fluttering by the lemon glow of the lone lightbulb. You could almost hear the quietness, the eerie lull so characteristic to my town. Quiet, lost and forgotten little place. Existing in secret.
The train came in, huffing and puffing, hooting, and whistling, creating the only buzz and commotion the town would hear that night, before retiring to their beds. An alarm to signal the dying day and curtain call to exeunt- and leave. Three people un-boarded, disturbing the platform with the thumps of their heavy boots, before disappearing into the misty night.
Another damp night, I thought to myself, as I brushed off the powdery pitter patter from the shoulder pads of my coat. I lived nearby, and often escaped at night for a walk. Today was different though. Today, I had to escape.
There was usually next to no one on the streets after eight p.m. It was so quiet, that, if you tried, you could even hear people breathing deeply in their sleep, or the crackle of fiery embers, from the fireplaces of those that dared stay up, so dangerously close to the coldest hour. I chuckled to myself at the thought.
“Oi! There! What’re you waiting for, boy?”
I turned around to where the old man, who kept the only tuck shop at the station, called out from; wrapping his flannel plaid shawl about himself, that was large enough to make for a blanket, or even a bed.
“Ah, it’s you,” he said, sighing, panting from the ordeal; recognising me, which was no task in a town where everyone knew everyone.
Then placing a small steel bucket down, he splashed some kerosene oil on its wee heap of sizzling tickets and rubbish, a twig or two too, and warmed himself by the pungent flare. He beckoned to me to sit by him, but warned that he wouldn’t share the little rag he’d placed against the cold platform for himself. I’d better sit on my haunches, he gravely counselled.
“I’m alright.” I replied.
“It’ll snow again, tonight. I’m sure of it. The coolies said so themselves. We went two years without a flake, two years”, he emphasised in earnest, “and it has snowed thrice already this year- this very month- the Gods have it in for us, I tell you…” he mumbled.
I rubbed my hands together, wondering when he’d leave. I was getting restless. I’d wanted to be by myself… I only hoped he’d fall asleep soon.
“Say, what brings you here, eh?” he asked in a coarse, aching whisper.
“I needed a walk.”
“Not in the rain, surely!” he chortled. “You lads, with warm homes and hot soup for your bones always look for some strife to merry yourselves.”
I said nothing.
I stared blankly at the pit beyond. The construction that had been underway had deepened it. A bony dog slept by the poorly placed embankment.
I felt my pockets. They were empty. I heaved a sigh of relief. Did I remember to put the lights out before leaving? Anyway, doesn’t matter now.
“The wife tells me we’ll have a new leader soon. The vegetable market knows all about it. A few women there, work at the old tyrant’s bungalow… Say, what do you make of that?”
“It won’t make much of a difference, if that’s what you’re asking…” I replied, monotonously, which led him on to a rant about the sad state of the town, the poverty, the setback to tourism.
I paced ahead slowly, to which he replied by slowing down and fizzling out the talk of the town.
It was deathly cold by now. I couldn’t feel my fingers and toes at all. I stared once more at the pit beyond. The embankment was only placed on one side of the pit, where the dog dozed. The entire expanse lay unshielded. Each time a strong gale blew past it, little debris of sand and stone rolled with it and fell into the abyss.
A dread took over me and I tried to shut my eyes and squeeze out some relieving tears, but, for the life of me, couldn’t.
“Let-me-see-what Spring is-like…o-o-on…” sang the old man behind me.
I turned around and saw him curled up against his knees, his face almost buried in his blanket-shawl. The fire had almost died and even the lemon light seemed to shiver and flicker within the bulb.
“Jooopiter and Maaars…” continued the old man, muffled, like a radio in an old horror movie.
“You know what I like most about this town, boy?” he yelled across to me, suddenly. I walked a few paces towards him. “Look up”, he said, smiling through chafed lips.
I looked up and found nothing remarkable. The old man must’ve been looking for some idle chatter, I concluded.
“What do you see?” he asked.
“The fog, the tin roof, the branches of that tree over there…” I broke off.
“The mystical fog, the dripping roof glistening with the golden light from yonder, the beautiful old oak, that has stood there since my father was a boy, and his father before him…” he trailed off, still in that sing song trance. “It’s a town straight out of a song!” he burst, gleefully.
I tried to share his enthusiasm, but in vain. The damp and cold were chilling. I decided not to walk towards the fire, though. It would do me no good.
The old man buried his face once more in the blanket, and resumed, “Hold my haaaand…”, distant, like background noise.
I looked up and saw a few stars sparkling despite the fog.
The mists rose, half tinted by the lemon light, reminding me of the flourishing puff of the magician’s disappearing trick father and I had watched, at the local show last week; at once envying the magician who could disappear at will, and thinking wishfully.
The old man seemed to have lulled himself to sleep by now, although an occasional muffled lyric escaped him now and then.
The song had rent itself in my head, and I hummed despite myself; though grew quiet and sullen again, the moment I realised it.
A sly, dull whiff of kerosene wafted through the air and the bonfire-bucket stood as cold as the platform, the town, and the night.
Shrill icy breezes, cut through the wind’s low groan of agony.
I sobbed tearlessly, quietly, tired, and exhausted; and walked further away from the man, my rubber-soled shoes in silent obedience to me.
I wondered what time it was. The town clock hadn’t chimed. It seemed to give up, as soon as the winter descended upon the town each year, yet no one bothered to wake it up.
I went down the few steps of the platform and walked straight ahead, determined, ready…
“Where are you going, boy?” The old man called out, sternly.
“I’m going home”, I said, softly, without turning.
After a deafeningly silent pause, he replied, “Take the other way”, adding, “You don’t want to miss the snow tomorrow, do you?”
I turned, unsure and heavy-hearted.
The man sighed and looked up. I, too, looked up and saw the leaden sky.
“I bet the oak will live on, for your boy to someday tell its story to his boy!” he smiled.
The thick fog had settled by now and everything seemed shrouded in the blanket of mist.
I took heavy steps and climbed back up the platform, walked towards the man, then past him.
“Where are you going, boy?” he asked, again, in a sing song way.
“Going home, Sinatra.” I said, smiling, despite myself.
Isha Garg is the author of Dark River, a deluge of poetry, and blogs on WordPress at Ishaisms.
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7 Comments Add yours
Thank you ever so much, Terveen! 🌷 So glad to share this with all the readers at MasticadoresIndia.
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Isha’s wintery tale has the warmest spirit. To give the ordinary and mundane a cheerful persona is something that doesn’t come easy to any writer. The light banter, the subdued mood, the internal monologue is subtle yet powerful and very relatable. What’s there to fear when worries can be given a joyous melody. Let’s hope that the song of life never loses its catchy rhythm.
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Oh, this is absolutely heartwarming. Thank you, Terveen 🌹
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What a beautiful piece of writing. Thank you, Isha and it is nice to meet you here. I love the little town you created in your story and how you made it come to life. A lonely man was able to keep a conversation going to help stall the cold and the silence of the night. Really lovely writing. Blessings, Joni
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Hi, Joni. So glad you enjoyed the tale. The lonely, old man indeed saved a life that day, keeping the boy from acting on his own dark thoughts. Thank you for appreciating it so!
Isha, I enjoyed this story. The characters were so relatable. I love your style of writing. Welcome to MasticadoresIndia. Looking forward to more from you.
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Thank you ever so much