The child on the train
As the train neared the station, the compartment was crowded. A lot of the people were standing: as it was early in the morning these were mostly young office going bachelors, college students and blue collar workers, along with an occasional tourist or two.
The seats were given over to the quick ones and the women, some of them with children. Playing with their children, talking to their partners, listening to music on their headphones or messaging other people. This was normally how people passed time on the commute. This was how they protected themselves.
The train had been travelling since dawn. It would stop at midnight. And then the next morning it would begin the dance again.
The train slid into the station, causing the metal fixings in the place to rattle as it did. Then the doors slid open with a pneumatic whine.
The boy pushed into the apartment with the rest of the rush. After looking around in vain routine for a seat, he took hold of the pole in the compartment to steady himself as the train started up with a jerk.
He looked around at the people in the compartment. His eyes were deep set under dark eyebrows.
He built himself up and then finally released it: a long, thin hissing sigh.
"I'm bored." he thought firmly.
It was going to be a long commute from Stadium station to world trade centre.
He wished he had not forgotten his headphones. He could have at least listened to some music.
"I am a passenger. And I ride, and I ride." He hummed.
The boy chuckled.
His eyes flicked around, he didn't want people thinking he was talking to himself.
He tried to catch a reflection of himself on one of the windows of the compartment. His reflection was papery thin against the backdrop of the city flashing by.
He tried to make sure his hair was just right.
He looked down at his shoes: no they were not too scuffed or anything.
He was a bit dressy and he liked it. He liked to define himself as a bit of a clotheshorse.
He glanced sideways. There was a woman standing at the opposite end of the compartment.
She was not too old maybe late 20s early 30s, slightly plump, sleeveless shirt, thin lips.
She was rather plain, but the other women on the bus were a pair of frowsy haired housewives strained and wasted by domestic chores.
Still he wasn't sure if he would do her.
The doors slid open. The only two people who got into the compartment were an old man and a child. The child was going to school and his little school-bag was slung on the old man's shoulder.
They took hold of the pole alongside the boy.
The child looked up at the old man and smiled. The old man, not noticing, merely looked out the window.
The woman stared at the child holding onto the trouser leg of whom she assumed was his grandfather.
"Such a Cutie!" she thought. So well behaved too, so quiet. Unlike her little menace back home.
" Kochin "
He wasn't at home, he was with amma in Kochin .
It still hurt her to be apart from him. It would suddenly catch her by surprise just like this.
Gautham used to ambush her sometimes. He would hide behind a door and tackle her as she walked into the room.
Sometimes she used to yell at him for that. Other times she would laugh and pick him up and kiss him, roughhouse with him.
She wondered how he was doing back there.
Although, she supposed, he really wouldn't miss her………
He had all his cousins to play with over there. And that huge grassy ground that he loved…….
This was one comfort she took. Atleast he was spending time with his family. Here there was no one. It was so dry here.
She hoped that she could bring her son here within the year. Find him a new school. He would find new playmates.
But what of his family? She didn't want him to forget his cousins, his aunts and uncles, his grandmother.
She didn't want her son to turn out like the Pullinthita children. Living all the way in U.K and coming home only once every year or so and staring blankly at all their relatives.
How could their parents just let go like that?
She knew that appa would have wanted her to teach the child to at least read Malayalam.
She had already - She had fought with appa over everything else her her husband, her education, her life, she might as well do this for him - asked amma to teach him. She would do what appa wanted.
She imagined her Gautham grown up and handsome. He was a handsome boy already. She would discipline him. She would allow him to pursue his dreams. He would be an architect or an engineer or a doctor…..or something big. He would be with her in her old age.
Sometimes the best method to be a parent is to try to hurt your children as little as possible.
She shook her head to clear out those thoughts, but still -
by dying appa had won the ultimate victory against her. ( appa = father , amma = mother)
The boy noticed the woman shaking her head suddenly out of the corner of his eye. It reminded him of a cow shaking off flies.
He boy looked down at the child. He was ambling around and between the legs of the old man he was with.
He took an immediate liking to the kid, he looked adorable. He had always been good with kids, and fond of them.
Soon the little fellow would grow and there was a chance he would lose his cuteness.
His face would be smeared with acne. His body stretched out. He would begin experiencing changes in his body as the biology textbooks so euphemistically put it.
The stress of schoolwork. And then came the big dreams, he would want to be a musician or an artist or an athlete.
Quite a few of his friends leaned that way.
But there was no need to make fun of them. He himself had his own big dreams. To make it rich, to be richer than any of his richest friends' fathers than anyone he knew. To live big, to live full, to fight men and seduce women in exotic locales and bars.
Right now of course he was having problems gelling with the girls in his class. The pretty ones were few and he could not really find anything to talk to them to about.
It would be nice to have someone like that. Someone you could talk to someone who had to listen, who had to care because they had a relationship with you because they were your girlfriend.
His heart filled up with emotion at the thought and so he thought wryly did the bulge in his pants.
A sudden squirt of panic went through his belly, like out of a syringe.
He was struck by the feeling he had not done his homework assignment.
Then it subsided washed away by relief.
Oh no, no he had done it all right. But…….of course he hadn't been able to figure out any of the problems.
He looked at his watch, he felt frustrated suddenly.
The metro was moving so slowly it was time up already! When was he going to reach the institute?
The woman noticed the boy standing at the pole near the child. He glanced at his watch and then started tapping his foot fiercely on the ground.
He was your typical teenager. Skinny with spiked up hair and flashy clothes, with a self conscious air.
Dressed like big shots but of course….they were just boys.
Not that the men were much better. She looked around at the other men in the compartment; they were all portly middle aged respectable gents. Boring
Not that she was married to a George Clooney of course.
As soon as she said that she felt intensely guilty.
Rajesh was a loving father and husband. And he was dashing too occasionally. She remembered when he had secretly proposed to her on her college graduation day.
Even appa had to admit he "had some nerve when he had announced their engagement in front of him later."
She felt that he could be dashing a bit more often now.
And she had been feeling more……..amorous these days…but of course that was probably due to some hormonal imbalance more than any lonely housewife scenario she could come up with.
She smiled ruefully, staring downward. These days it seemed as if all the magazines and shows that had built up her preconceived romantic notions were intent on tearing it down using some science or the other.
The train moved closer to Union station. This was a major junction station. Most people changed metro lines here.
The boy noticed the woman smiling at the child.
She looked nice when she smiled, he felt softer towards her………. and she had to be experienced at her age. Maybe she knew things that she could show him.
Union station was nearing. He adjusted his bag and moved nearer to the doors. So did most of the others.
The train slowed and stopped. The boy hitched the straps of his bag higher up on his shoulder and walked out. He noticed that the child along with the old man had gotten off too, while the woman remained behind.
He dawdled behind a few seconds and then followed behind them to the elevators leading upwards to the other metro lines. He tried to catch the child's eyes as he followed.