Dear Swami ji & friends 🙂  /*cue: Malgudi Days theme song*/

I am a new member of our community. I begin my writing at internets’ kindest corner with a story dedicated to mothers. With your blessings, I present to you the first part of my story, Noir. Please do let me know in the comments if my writing is community-appropriate, it was worth your precious time or if there is any  room for improvement for a better experience to future readers.

Screeching down the cold, dew-laden tracks, the Howrah express slowly came to a halt on an early winter morning. The sudden jerk woke the half-asleep passengers from their lucid dreams. With an eye-open, the passengers pull up the wooden windows and look around the platform.

Chitpur station is an ode to pre-independent Bengal. The dilapidated ticket house is all that remains of its glory. Once bustling with people and daily cargo, the large station is now a haven for birds that have nested themselves on the rusty electric fans. The trees planted in rows on the platform are the only source of relief against the unkind weather. The boundary wall had collapsed slowly and steadily over every monsoon. Therefore, the ticket collector found it unnecessary to stand at the gateway and check passengers for their reservations because nobody travelled through the main entrance of the station.  People directly walked onto the platform from the surrounding fields, saving both time and money.

The shrill voices of hawkers selling tea and newspapers echoed inside the coach. The yawning passengers haggled over the price of tea on account of taste and temperature, a ritual well-rehearsed over tide and time. While throwing an empty tea cup outside the window, one of the frequent passengers observed that the station was unusually occupied today.

A group of men clad in dhoti-kurta with a shawl wrapped around their shoulders stood together in a group. A young man was hurriedly pointing at them to spread out in different directions. Dim-lit oil lanterns in one hand and a bamboo shaft in the other, they frantically searched the compartments.  They looked at the passengers with a hasty gaze, shifting from one to other as if taking a count. The sudden intrusion startled the passengers, raising an unsettling curiosity. One of the over-enthused audience couldn’t help but ask if they were looking for a burglar. After receiving a cold stare for an answer he was clearly disappointed. But nothing can take away the bubbling humor after a cup of morning tea. Therefore, answering himself rather loudly,” for that kindly visit the nearest political party house”. This led to crackling laughter in the compartment. Tea and humor ran parallelly in every Indian household. In a few minutes, the train was about to start.

Hiding in the bushes of wheat outside the station periphery, Lata peeked out. She saw her husband angrily waving at the villagers. Hair unkempt, saree torn from places and her left foot bruised by a thorn, she panted heavily. She tried her best to calm down the loud breathing, fearing it might catch unsolicited attention. The sweat beads on her forehead ran down her cheeks and mingled with the tears trickling down her burning eyes. Whilst uttering a silent prayer, she strongly held the baby close to her chest with one arm. With the other, she flicked away the buzzing mosquitoes from them by the end of her saree.

The physical pain was nowhere close to her mental agony. Neither was the village big enough to stay hidden for long nor did they have enough food to survive another day in the hiding. The next train was three days later. If she would miss the train, both of them would die. If not by the hands of her husband then by the suffering of hunger. The thought of death paralyzed her mind and churned her empty stomach.

The baby slept peacefully protected in her arm. The soft breaths of the infant felt against her pacing heart, slowly pacifying her troubled thoughts. She grazed her hand over the child’s head and kissed her on the cheeks. They smelled of baby oil. She closed her eyes and felt rising tranquility with each passing breath.

The loud whistle of the train broke her out of the reverie. She saw that the villagers had started to leave in disappointment. She quickly took out a bedsheet from the bag and tied the baby on her chest. One hand on the infant and bag in the other she stealthily leapt out of the bush towards the leaving train. As she drew closer to the last compartment she threw in the bag through the open window. Horrified, the passengers started screaming at her recklessness.

The sudden commotion caught the attention of the departing villagers. From the corner of her eyes, she could see her husband darting towards her, cursing out her name in raging anger. Holding the handrail of the compartment door she ran with all her might.  She could hear her heartbeat rising in her chest with increasing motion. Amidst the intolerable pain, the sound became louder with each step. As the sound rose to a peak, the voices of people screaming from inside the train and of the villagers chasing her from behind started to drown away, like slowing down of time, almost bringing it to a standstill. Her heart beat in sync with the motioning wheels, she takes the leap of faith. Time stops, hits rewind like a rushing cassette in a VCR and presses play.

On a bright sunny day, in the middle of a school ground, a large crowd cheers her name, clapping in utter madness. Cladded in a white shirt and navy blue skirt, she ran barefoot on the sand-track leaving behind small clouds of dust. The sweat beads on her hands and forehead glittered in the glowing noon as Lata dashed triumphantly through the finishing line of 800 meters-women, Chitpur.

continue for second chapter here

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Kumar Rahul

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