Flash Fiction: Next Stop, Full Stop
There was a pin drop silence in the room. Alcohol bottles held the delicate waists of white lilies. Books spoke in volumes on the bookshelves. A string of prayer beads rested on a supple cushion of an oscillating oak chair. Cream-coloured curtains waltzed to the rhythm of air.
Thence suddenly the alarm rang. It rang in an unusual way that flaming morning.
5:15 am. There was a train to catch – Shatabdi Express.
Shatabdi Expresses are day-trains and revert to the station of origin the same day. The Indian Railways consider them prestigious. They run with an enormous velocity of 130 kilometres per hour. They are connected to the nation’s capital New Delhi to capitals of states. The passengers are provided with bottled water, coconut juice, chai and meals at regular intervals during the journey.
Bauji boarded the train. His eyes feasted on a vacant compartment. He was early as usual. He sat himself down at the window seat and scrupulously unfolded the day’s newspaper. He diverted his attention to the tottering of footsteps nearby. A middle-class man, dressed in a rumpled navy blue shirt arrived soon after. His wife and his 18-year old son stood behind him. Bauji had noticed them on the platform number thirteen. His navy blue shirt was drenched with sweat due to strenuous exertion.
“Over here,” he said to his wife and son, putting their luggage under the seat. He sat down beside Bauji, pulled out a handkerchief from his shirt’s pocket and gently wiped the moisture off his forehead.
“Papa, I’m hungry,” son impatiently demanded.
“Beta, sit with your Ma. I’ll just be back,” he responded with fatigue while getting up.
The mother and son gradually took their seats, their eyes meeting Bauji’s briefly. Bauji conspicuously studied the young boy. He had a fresh glow on his face, thin moustache hairs, hazel-coloured eyes and a well-built broad chest. He reminded him of someone once dear to him. His mother sat by the corner of the seat, resting her eyes on the surface, her purple bangles chiming as she pulled the fabric of her saffron saree over her head. Bauji noticed a few drops of tears rolling over her cheeks as she rested her head against the window. ‘She’s worried of separation… some sort of separation it seems,’ Bauji brooded to himself, pondering how bizarre it must be for her. ‘Can’t be angry over her son,’ he wondered lowering his newspaper to comprehend better. She was ravishing. A smooth wind blew against her face, her silky hair loftily moved, her prodigious eyes perfectly graced with kohl, her lips brimful with coral-coloured lipstick and she wore a bright vermillion in the middle of her forehead. She reminded him of someone. He uncontrollably feasted his eyes back on the newspaper.
Her husband reverted thereupon with two crispy samosas. “Here. Eat something both of you,” he said impassively handing over to them. His son abruptly grabbed one samosa without thanking him. He sat down beside his wife, calmly closing his eyes. “You didn’t get one for you, darling?” she asked to him innocently. “I’m fine. You eat, sweetheart,” he said to her smilingly. He checked his wallet, making sure he had sufficient money to bear the travel expenses.
“Moving to a new city?” Bauji inquired. The man upheaved. “Yes” he said, “Our son has got admission in one of the most prestigious universities in New Delhi. After all, his dream is our dream.” Bauji lifted one of his eyebrows. “Delhi is better than here. Lots of jobs you know,” the man continued.
Bauji observed them heedfully from behind his newspaper for hours. The son adamantly demanded food and coffee on frequent intervals and the father kept on fulfilling his demands. The son later rested his head on his mother’s shoulder. She kept her eyes wide-opened, endeavouring her best not to blink or move, so as to not wake her sleeping son. The father kept on fanning with a book, so ask to keep his son air conditioned in scorching heat.
Bauji could not resist. He could almost hark to the cynical utterances. He could almost hark to their disillusioned thoughts and wishes. “Hey! Listen to me,” Bauji said almost vehemently. The father, mother and son abruptly snapped their heads up, carefully staring at him since the journey began. “O’ both of you,” he said, horizontally waving his index finger to the couple, “You’re a mockery. All smiling outside and yet crying inside. Son’s dreams eh? And sacrifice your soul? Looks like all it takes to please children these days is sacrificing whole life in fulfilling their desires. Life ends but their desires don’t. You’re going to end up sitting in an Old Age Home. Don’t spoil him with much love that one day it becomes suffocation for him and he just abandons you.” The husband and wife were stunned.
He walked up to the young boy and took his face in his palms. He took a deep breath. His wrinkled hands rubbing the youthful skin reminding him how old he really was. “Listen, dear. Never abandon your parents. When you stumble, they hold you and guide you to walk. Be their stick in their old age too.” He lips quivered, his teeth grinding against each other as he spoke. Tears filled his eyes. “Don’t go too far from them that you forget them” he choked as he expressed, bursting into boisterous sobs and letting his hands go down from the young boy’s face. They all looked at him in silence. Bauji sniffed tenderly as he wiped his tears.
He leaned his head against the window, allowing the rhythm of wheels to calm him down.
“Your stop, Bauji” a tea vendor reminded sympathetically, putting his hand on Bauji’s back.
“Aye… full stop… full stop,” said Bauji while nodding his head and getting off from the train.
The old man made his way back to the Old Age Ashram. There would be another unusual alarm tomorrow… another Shatabdi to catch tomorrow.