They stood in line, a single file, starting from the top step of the train and extending to the middle of the 120-sleeper bogey. All of them had at least one hand on their trolleys, the handle pulled up to its full height. Some also sported backpacks or rucksacks while others held their children’s slippery hands.
A family of six stood taking up the entire section outside the door to the bogey. The second youngest in the family, a girl of seemingly marriageable age, so said the disgruntled expression on her face probably caused by the incessant nagging of the relatives behind her, stood with both hands on either side of her, fingers curled around the two poles attached to the exterior façade of the locomotive, at chest height, perfect for her. One foot on the top step and the other resting its heel on the floor of the train, she was ready to hit the concrete. She didn’t wait for the train to come to a full stop before jumping out just as the train announced its arrival on platform 2 of the Chennai railway station with a horn that continued to blare for 10 seconds too long.
This impatience wasn’t unnatural or unusual for the Dua family who had to rush to platform number 8, baggage in hand to catch the train to Bangalore, where the girl’s maternal family had their ancestral home. Oh, what a home. It was the only place she could claim to have stayed in, which almost resembled a Haveli. The best thing she liked about the house was that it had two kitchens and one was twice as big as the biggest room in her own house. It was a big, fat kitchen. Strangely, all of her relatives on her mother’s side didn’t seem to make full use of their fortune — not one person scaled high on their BMI. What a waste. Well, that is where the party of six was headed, and she intended to right the wrong.
She looked back once to help her uncle, who had arthritis, get down from the train without incident and then took off leaving his charge to his son, her sixteen-year-old cousin, who screamed gen-Z with his ear pods in place, a multipurpose 20-litre backpack hanging off one shoulder, his red and white Converse shoes adding a little pop and vintage to the bland blue jeans and a baggy black sweatshirt — all thought out to the T to ensure it didn’t look thought out. She herself was on the cusp of GenZ and millennial hood and didn’t waste a single opportunity to side with the winning team whenever possible. In fact, she was pally enough with the boomers as well, having never uttered the words, OK, Boomer in her life. She may have thought it, but never uttered it.
So, she ran straight to platform number 8, prepared to pull the chain to stop the train if the need arose. She had to manoeuvre through the crowded stairs, a sea of red, black, blue, and green suitcases taking up more space than their owners. She didn’t stop till she reached the ramp leading down to the destination platform, and at that point looked back to gauge her relatives’ progress. Satisfied that they would catch up, she rushed past the trolleys and men and women and children and made her way onto the train and found her balance, once again on the top step of the locomotive. She waved to her family who had made it to the ramp and were starting to walk down. She felt a familiar jerk just as the lady with the robotic voice, perfect for announcements, broadcasted the arrival of a train from Puducherry on the railway announcement system.
Not convinced that they would make it, she ran inside the bogey to attempt a pull. But the train stopped just as abruptly as it had started. She sighed in relief, wiped her forehead of the sweat, and sat down on a side berth for a minute to take a breather. So spent she was from all the running and manoeuvring that she did not notice the train had started to move again, this time accelerating faster. It took her 10 seconds to realise this and when she did, she scrambled to run out again in a panic to see if her family had made it. What she witnessed, though, startled her into a ‘huh?’. They had made it to the platform, but they were just standing there while the train she was on picked up speed. What was more surprising was that they were all facing the other train that had just pulled into the station. She yelled out for her cousin, expecting him to have the best hearing of them all. It worked. He looked around, but proving her wrong, so did the rest of her family. All of them mirrored her confused expression. She waved again trying to coax them into hurrying up to join her. They mirrored her actions too, but their countenance had changed from grim-faced to grin-faced. They were smiling, chortling, and getting onto that other train. She looked around, bewildered, at the turn of events. Meanwhile, her ride had passed the platform and all she could see were the cross-crossing tracks and the train across from her starting to move in the other direction. She did the only thing she could think of and jumped straight on the deceptively empty track running parallel to the platform, one eye on the moving train and the other on the platform, contemplating the next course of action — run to the platform, or the train two tracks down from her, gaining momentum with each passing second. Deciding on the latter, she began to sprint, careful but determined, when a railway guard began to give her chase, a big stick in hand and yelling for her to get off the tracks. She pointed at the retreating train, trying to convey her intentions with her wild gesturing. The faster she ran, the closer the guard got, but she didn’t have time to question the physics. The guard was two inches away from catching up to her, stretching out his hand that was not holding the stick to grab her shoulder, closing the distance with a resounding thump. He threw away the stick and took hold of both her shoulders and shook her. “It is past 11 o’clock. Can’t you see how late it is? I don’t know what to do with you.” His voice suggested disappointment, and he was beginning to sound more and more like her mother as he continued to berate her.
The tracks and trains and the stick faded away, as a familiar figure, bent forward and towering over the girl, came into focus. The girl covered her face with her hands in response as if shielding her eyes from the morning sun and grumbled, “Just five more minutes. Please. Just five more minutes.”