On second thought

Vinodhini Vaidynathan

 

Raghav peeled himself off of the packed suburban train at Avadi, his bag slung across his chest, its artificial leather making a sound as it brushed against his pants. He made his way to Platform 1. Once there, he slumped onto a bench in a corner, wiped his forehead and glanced about. The secret stood, frigid, like a spiteful spouse. He bent right over and sobbed noiselessly into his knees.

 

Across the grimy track, the signboard of a departmental store lit up to register dusk.

 

For Raghav, the day had been like any other. Hot, dusty sales rounds till lunch. More sales calls after. At four, exhausted, a bus back to the office. Sales figures and client visits documented.

 

But, as he was finishing, the belligerent office boy tossed an unopened package onto his desk and left before he could say, Belligerent.

 

Raghav opened the file as the lift creaked its way down the office building. He almost missed seeing it. A passage stood out with the word Positive.

 

He stumbled into Central station on a blur; homeward-bound, he stared at the unburdened multitudes. Again and again, his mind jerked back to a dank corridor – a cache of random details – tobacco spit-stained walls, inferior perfume on a knotty neck, a yellow arm thrust out of a tight blouse as he rose to zip up, a sneer at his two-thousand rupee pink. He coughed himself dry and waited.

 

Eleven o’clock. The milk booth at the over-bridge had its shutters down. Raghav looked up and down the platform. A solitary beggar lay curled against a post, the dents in his aluminium pot turning silvery against the moonlight. The signal for the Chennai – Tiruttani Express on the second railway track turned green. Clutching the bag, Raghav walked to the platform’s edge and climbed down, cautiously. A modest mound of shit was squished. The train’s headlights appeared round a distant bend. He stood poised to embrace eternity if it would find him; a faint throbbing in his neck beat time.

 

The train was two hundred meters away. He wondered if he had paid the internet bill.

Hundred meters. He started to feel alive.

Fifty. He was flying.

 

With no warning, on Platform 1, his wife stood in a flowered nightie, the wind raising it up enough to reveal her faded in-skirt. His three year old covered in soap bubbles. His dead mother sporting a lamp at her feet. He too, all of four feet, as Superman and his father, a balloon in one hand, a strawberry ice-cream cone in the other.

 

The train’s deafening roar shattered his brain.

 

His eyes flew open; arms flailing, like a needy child, he made a wild scramble for the platform.

 

The old beggar awoke with a start at the anguished scream from the second track.

 

Vinodhini is a writer, playwright, actor and threatre personality based in Chennai.