Short Story: The Train Ride

In Fiction by Abhinav KaiserLeave a Comment

I have a date with this damn hot girl later this evening and the thought of it all gives me goose bumps. I just couldn’t sleep last night. Well, that’s not entirely true. I slept but I don’t know when. At least, the first part of my sleeping hours, I know for sure that I couldn’t get sleep. I was too engaged thinking about her, and how the day would go by. Whether I will be sleeping in my own bed or hers. Whether there will be a second one, a third and more. Will she be the one I exchange vows with? 

All such thoughts crept into my tired mind and it was like the red color to a bull. My mind started to chase after anything that would come flashing into my mind. I tried to defocus and concentrate on not concentrating on my thoughts, but I just had to give up this tactic after a while. As they say, things in the sub-conscious mind are the most difficult to control. I just couldn’t get a handle on how things went last night. 

I forgot to set my alarm last night. Actually, that’s not true. My crackhead sister changed the alarm time on my phone for the cake she was baking for her boyfriend. “Why don’t you use your phone or replace the battery on the oven timer?” I asked her. She smiled sheepishly and didn’t bother responding back to me. When I prodded her the second time, she faced the sink as she said, “my phone is upstairs in my room.” 

“Should I go and get it for you?” I said. 

“No don’t bother. I don’t like to tamper with my alarms. I might forget to change it back and you know how much I hate to be late to school,” she replied in a neutral tone, once again not facing me but rather the hot air swelled cake in the oven. I was too pissed off to give her a retort. I made a note to self to not leave my phone lying around anymore. 

I was woken up by the sputter of my neighbor’s motorcycle. I had woken up exactly twenty five minutes later when my alarm would normally go off. I snooze for five minutes once, so effectively I was twenty minutes late.  

Luckily the bathroom was free and I was so glad to see it so. Normally when things go bad, they go bad in pairs. Today was not such a day. I could still make up for the lost time. I just had to focus and not spend any extra minute than I have to. 

A client was scheduled to drop into our office and my manager makes me wear a suit on such days. I did not complain this time around as I know that I look sharp in a suit, although I hate formals, and looking good might just be the thing that I needed on my side for the evening. My date might just fall into my laps for my good looks, and then she would have a lot of undressing to do with my suit, one layer after another. Oh yes, I forgot to mention. I own a three-piece suit which my mom chose and I think her dad would have appreciated its style. I don’t and I never did. Since she paid for it, I decided to keep my opinion to myself. My mom is known to have a temper. When I was young, during dinner, my father commented that the chicken steaks were not marinated enough. She took all the steaks, including the one that was on my dad’s plate and threw it in the bin. We all stayed hungry that night. My father has not given voice to his thoughts after that night. So now you know why I didn’t tell her anything about the suit. 

I suited up as quickly as I could and I didn’t have the time to eat breakfast. So I threw in a couple of croissants into a box and headed out. It normally takes me about ten minutes to get to the train station and today I had eight. Oh well, with some speed walking and a bit of luck from the train delay gods, I still had hopes of making it. If I missed this one, the next one was forty five minutes later and it was a slow train which stopped and sputtered at every village between here and my office. 

The wind was howling today and the just-above zero temperature made me feel like I was sitting in an ice box. In the melee, I had forgotten to wear a scarf and a hat and I could feel the cold air passing from one ear and leaving the other, and on its way it gave me a runny nose and tearful eyes. I was glad that my brain was still intact, so far. I ran when the sidewalk sloped down and I was glad that my body was in a relatively good shape. But I was held up trying to cross the road on a generally not-a-busy road. I lost thirty seconds. I had completed half the walking distance in five minutes. Not good I thought. 

I was left with no option but to jog and with I think ladies with heels would probably be better off in their heels than me in those hard rigid shoes. As I ran, the laptop bag was momentarily thrown in the air and it came down hard on my back. I was so focused on reaching the station that the pain and discomfort from the bag and the shoes felt like sideshow. 

As I took the final turn, I could see the gates at the railway crossing come down and that was my train approaching. Although the station was in sight, the road to it was unfairly steep. My walking/jogging speed reduced by about half and my calves cried out in pain just as a kid who lost his candy. Normally the child’s mother would tend, soothe and provide the much-needed relief from the sadness, pain and loss. For me, I had to endure it. I was a soldier on a mission and heeding to pain would only come after job completion. 

I could see the train’s nose as it peeked into my vision and it teased me – catch me if you can. The sight of train gave me extra wheels that I needed and unusually so there were a number of passengers alighting from the train so those waiting to get on were waiting for their turn. As people got onto the train, I knew that I could make it. In my peripheral vision I could see a couple of kids run towards the train and they were well behind me and I smirked knowing fully well that they will be the left behind ones. I don’t know why I felt happy, maybe because I put in the extra effort to be here on time and they didn’t. Or it was just the evil inside me that liked seeing projects fail or trains missed. 

I was about to board the train and I could feel somebody behind me and a hand riled up against me. I lost balance for a while but regained it quickly. I turned back to give him or her my nasty look. I was surprised to find the kids who were running and who I thought would miss the train right behind me. They were going to make it. Hallelujah! That’s the sarcasm in me. I was not really thrilled that they made it, much less they kind of pushed me. 

The train was fairly full and there were only a couple of vacant seats. I walked to the front of the train, a couple of bogies ahead without much luck. I finally chose an aisle seat where two pairs of seats faced each other. Nobody sat in front of me, and an attractive girl, may be in her late twenties sat next to the vacant seat and by the window. I turned slightly to find myself sitting next to an elderly person. I was bemused at my choosing a seat next to an old man as against an attractive young lady. To make matters worse, she did not even have her ear pods on and was not fiddling away on her phone. It was a situation made for people like me who were looking actively to entice the opposite gender, or more specifically the gender that’s attractive. I mentally smacked myself on my head for missing the most obvious trick in the book. My school friend who’s now married with kids found his wife on a train and I was so dumb to choose this greying man over a girl who had the perfect curves, tight skin and probably who’s eager to play. 

Then I started to justify. Maybe because I have loyalty in my character. Knowing that I will be going out on a date tonight made me committed to the date that I had chosen for the day. Yes, that was it, I thought. I later mentally patted myself and felt good. But I couldn’t stay away from not looking at her. Calling her attractive was the understatement of this train journey. In my eyes, she was like a Greek goddess who radiated sensuality but as I watched her eyes closely, I could see the sadness hiding behind those lids. She had gone through something traumatic recently and they were visible in plain sight. As I settled in on reading her, I could tell that she had lost somebody close. Her father or her mother perhaps! No. I could tell quite lucidly that it was somebody she had birthed – her kid. I felt sorry for her loss and wanted to console her. But who am I to do it? She hadn’t even turned her eyes towards me, and yet I had this out of body feeling to grieve with her. This was odd, I thought. For somebody who showed little emotion otherwise. And then I realized that the train had been stationary this whole time. As I turned to look, I could see a crowd disperse from the back of train and the voice over the speaker apologized for the hold-up. 

A day when I have so much going on couldn’t have been worse. I am bound to be late and I decided to not think on the consequences. Two seats ahead of me and sitting on the opposite aisle from me was this aged lady. She was probably in her sixties or seventies. I liked to play the guess the age game when I was with my college friends and it used to be our pass time rather than stare at our phone screens. We used to guess the age of people, mostly the ones older than us and one of us was dared to ask for the age. If we were lucky, we would get the age. Else a cold stare or worse, a verbal pounding. The one who guessed far off would buy the gang a round of drinks in the bar we frequented. 

This lady, according to me was sixty-eight I guessed. The wrinkles on her skin, the grey hair roots and the tired eyes gave me a backing. I wish the others were here I thought. As I trained my eyes towards her wallet held loosely in her hands, I could just about peek at a photo ID and it was her driving license card. Her birthdate was keyed in, and I was surprised to read it like I held the card in my hand. A quick mental calculation told me that I was on target and if I had seen her the following week and guessed her age, I would have been wrong. Her birthday was tomorrow. No wonder she is happy, she’s going out shopping. Just as I was completing my assessment of her, a Chinese kid sat in front of me and stared at me. 

“Having fun,” he said. 

“Sorry. Do I know you?” My confused face should have told him what I was thinking but I added the words anyways. 

“You will. I am Neill.” 

“Hi Neill. What do you want?” 

“Well. What can I say? I have been feeling lonely for a long time, and I am so glad to see you.” 

I raised my voice and said, “Hey! You are mistaken. I am not into guys and I am not looking out.” I turned towards my other neighbors, the old man and the attractive girl. They didn’t seem to care that I had raised my voice. They were in their worlds, and I knew that freaks often board trains and try to get into your skin, into pants would be more correct I guessed. 

The Chinese guy smiled. I hoped he would leave me alone and not make me feel more awkward that I already am. He said, “You stared at that girl for such a long time.” I shushed him but he continued. I could now see her truly wireless ear phones through the mist of blonde hair. I am saved, I thought. He continued, “You stared at her and you could read her thoughts.” I was surprised. My eyes brightened and my head involuntarily started to nod. “And then you looked up that lady and you could tell her age, and confirm it by reading her driving license which is hidden away in one of the deep pockets of her wallet.” 

“No. I guessed her age, that’s right. But the card was kind of sticking out. That’s how I read it.” He smiled and turned his head towards the lady. I followed the gaze and I could still see the card and it was not deep in her wallet. 

I came back to my senses and questioned him, “Hey. How the hell do you know what I am thinking and what I am seeing?” 

He gave me this quirky smile that could be interpreted as I am the master of what I am saying, and I just played you for a fool. He leaned back and said, “Welcome to your abode. This train. You and I are the only ghost inhabitants.” I let out a shriek and quickly glanced towards my neighbors and they didn’t seem bothered. “What are you talking about?” I said sternly. 

“Don’t worry. Nobody can see you or hear you or even feel you. As I said earlier, you and I are here on this train. We will remain on this train. We are ghosts.” 

“I am not a ghost you crackpot.” As I said it, I wanted to prove by poking at the old man but my hand went through him. And a moment later a school kid sat on me. Another school kid sat on Neill. My head started to spin and eyes started to water. I had an important meeting and a date later tonight and now this guy Neill was telling me that I was a ghost. I wanted to shout with all the fierce power that I had in my lungs but I held back. Maybe this is a dream I thought and shook myself from sleep. The old guy and the girl were gone and so was Neill. I didn’t see anyone on the train. I stood and turned and to my horror, Neill sat on the floor and laughed his ass of. “I told you that you are a ghost but you wouldn’t believe me.” 

I still couldn’t trust him. I started to run towards the door. It was locked. The train was dark and the station’s light snuck through the windows. I started to run towards the next bogie and tried the next door and the next. All were locked. I was locked up with a crazy man, a crazy ghost perhaps. 

Neill walked up towards me and patted my shoulder. I gasped and took a couple of steps back. “Don’t touch me.” I shouted. He was not smiling anymore. He was calm. “I am telling you the truth man. You died when you were boarding the train. The kid pushed you and you fell through the train and the platform. Bumped your head somewhere hard and you died instantly. I saw it happen.” 

No words came out of my mouth although they were open. 

“I died on this train too. Seven years back. A crazy guy knifed a lot of people. Many sustained injuries but only I died. He cut my neck and I can still remember the blood gushing out.” 

I didn’t believe him still although the kid pushing me while getting into the train did happen. I also remembered reading about the knifing incident when I was in college. I didn’t know who had died but right now I was devastated at my situation. I still didn’t have any words to say. I stood haplessly as he narrated, “I have been all alone on this train mate for so many years. A few people have almost died, the most occurring is clutching their chests. You know heart attacks. But to my bad luck, they did not die on the train. Help arrived and they were moved out. One of them was carried out of the train for medical help but died in the station. I see him when the train passes the station and we wave. We can never talk because this train does not stop in that station.” 

My thoughts went to my reading of the girl’s situation and the old lady’s age, and as if powered by telepathy, Neill continued, “We have the ability to read people’s minds. Find out everything there is to know about people. Read things that are generally hidden from human view. This was fun for me at first but it gets boring. Stuff repeats. You know. Wife cheats. Mother dies. Promotion underway. Marriage. On and on. I have given up on reading and pass time by running and up and down the train. Need to keep up my health though to live longer.” He smiled and winked as he said it. For the first time since boarding the train, I smiled. 

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