WRITTEN BY NEHA VARADHARAJAN
They get on the train every day, every hour, every minute and every second. Every day, I watch from here, my little spot, children, adults, and old people climbing onto the train to reach their destination.
The hum of the gaslight jerks me awake-it is the only sound I’ve ever known for a long time, and it is little sounds that elude your peace, your thoughts. I whistle for a bit, echoing its hum which sounds resonating and dense. It is how I exist.
The train chugs by at a time I cannot name, but I’m sure I know. The choo, choo echoing the silence, save the hum of the gaslight and my pity whistle, is a musical epiphany and soothing. The rail wheels, a bright shade of sorrow, trundle along, slow yet accelerated. The old-fashioned steam engine shoots out visible puffs of scarlet smoke, descending into the emptiness of the cold air. It is now empty, and my vision shifts to the platform; the platform at the solitary station I know and watch.
A sea of people stand. Churned expressions and tainted imaginations. Where are they going? They know, and I know, and it is certain that all know. A child, doubtless less than seven, cries and tugs at a khaki pant, torn in some places, as good as new in most.
“Where are we?” The question is a demand, yet a child’s innocent demeanor. His eyes grow wide, his beautiful blue eyes, and the old man wearing the child’s play toy turns around.
“We’re leaving, child.”
“Where? We were at my birthday party minutes ago. I saw a flash and heard screaming, what was that about, Grandpa?”
The wisps of white hair on the man’s head stand up, calmly. “We’re going to have a better party. You just wait and see.”
And they get onto the train. With innumerable of those who want to find their path, they’ll find it now.
I smile. Like I do every second, every second the train comes in chugging, every second countless beings get on it, every second it chugs past, just past the purple shrub behind cold, dense mist.
I open my eyes and I turn around. It has trundled past. The gaslight hums goodbye and I whistle farewell, and I watch, given a waiting list the size of a full stop, the train rolling by again to take in yet another child, his grandfather, and several others.
Today I see something different.
She’s standing on the platform. Sixty-eight rounds and she hasn’t climbed on. She watches, just like me, the gaslight humming and the choo choo of the majestic, beautiful coach.
Her eyes are a brilliant shade of unique purple. Her fair, radiant skin reflects the solo gaslight’s contribution, and as she raises her palm to her alluring face to wipe off glistening sweat, her sundress floats and she walks about continuously, her delightful heels trundle, a sample of the chug. She watches, in quiet silence, save for the hum of the gaslight and the rumble of the passing train.
She notices me, my humble spot, my dense cover. She walks up, in no time. I have no time to run, no time to hide. I have no interest in doing so. I watch her majestic, artistic fingers, looking down at the feet of a dancer, and her white dress floating in response to the drifting cool air.
We lock eyes for eighteen trains. Her purple eyes meet mine, and stay there, hers bright and curious, mine calm and answering. And hers mirror mine, in a quick instant.
She speaks, almost suddenly.
Her voice is so, so soft. Admiring her curls at the temples and her serene, questioning face, I take in a human voice, that of velvet, after I don’t know how long.
I take more trains to answer her than I would like.
Her fingers twitch in response. Her feet shuffle about for a bit before repeating, “I know.”
She answers my question. “Flood.”
“Why are you here?” She asks after a while. “Haven’t you got on?”
At her inquiry, I look down after a long time at the hands I’ve known I’ve had, but somehow forgotten, and remember my path. Years and years ago. Him. The gas. Bubble. And then poof.
I twitch too. I can’t bear to remember, yet that is all that I do. The gaslight mocks in a loud, mangled hummmmm. Then I speak. I speak.
“I can’t. I like to stay here. I like to watch it rumble past, and go. I don’t want to go with it. I’d rather stay here and watch it go.”
“I need you to come with me.”
“It is time I left. But then I won’t know.”
“You don’t need to.”
She smiles, a wide and beautiful smile. Her words bounce off her tongue, very carefully, and quickly. “I’d like to stay, too. But everyone’s going, and everyone has to go. There is no wait. You cannot delay yourself waiting in a line no one else is waiting in.”
I know verities. I know this is one of them. I believe her, and I smile, too. Precariously.
I look behind, and I look forward. I look to the left, the right, above and below. I see nothing. I only hear. The train is coming. I can only dream.
She holds my hand, and we both smile, and I feel nothing but calm and unquestioning.
We walk past the gaslight, silent this time, and get on.
“But where do you think we’re going?” she asks, uncertainty throbbing, as the train begins to trundle, the familiar choo choo washing over me.
I squeeze her hand, and I think I’m smiling.
“Just out there,” I say. “Past the mist and the gaslight.”
Neha is a high school sophomore from Pune, India, with a pen ready to write and often a Google Document to type. She is a 2019 Sweek Microfiction Contest Finalist and a two-time recipient of the Times NIE Star Achiever Journalism Award. Her fiction has previously been published in Page and Spine, Friday Flash Fiction, The Secret Stories, and Dreich Poetry Journal, among numerous other international publications. She currently writes for The Writing Cooperative.