[This short story I have been working on for eight months. Never had the diligence to finish it feedback is welcome]
My father's words had found their mark. My stint in Australia served merely to cement my
insecurities. When I arrived in Australia, I had great expectations. A sense of new found
freedom, a more permissive culture and a chance to expand my horizons. But I
began to feel myself getting lost in an alien culture. I could not fully assimilate and
became an outsider to both cultures. I was too Indian for white people. And I was too white
for the Indians. By my final year, I had grown bitter, for I had no sense of belonging, and
I had grown jaded by the continual rejection of my romantic overtures by girls. I took
flight from Australia to India, to a place where I had hoped, things would change for me.
I surveyed the scenery outside my bedroom window. There was a road outside my house.
After that lay rice paddies as far as the eye could see. You could see the railway tracks
in the backdrop, and the bush beyond it. It was the kind of image you would find in a
travel magazine describing a typical idyllic Indian village. But it's scenic landscape hid
a people filled with angst, sadness and anger. It's denizens would fly to places like the
Middle East, America and Australia in search for a better life. After a few years, filled with
melancholy, some of them would fly back. Only for them to realise why they left in the first
place. To us, the village was like an old flame. The love we had for it grew sweeter as
we moved away from it. The same love we found stifling when we came back.
Gazing into the fading golden rays of the twilight sun, I saw her standing by the bus
stop. I saw Swapna. I ran out of my room, down the stairs and kept running till I reached the
bus stop. We both hugged. My mind was going through a torrent of emotions at that
moment. Waves of happiness washed over me. Her warmth, her affection... it was
something I had craved for the last 5 years. As the hug lingered on, I was in a brief
moment on bliss.
I drew back, and examined her more closely. 'Time has been kind to you,' hasn't it?' I swear
you haven't aged an iota since I last saw you.' She beamed. 'I thought some madamma sank
her claws into you,' 'and you were never coming back.' 'How are you anyway, Swapna?' I
asked. 'well,' 'you know how it is for girls in this land,' 'hell.' She answered, smiling.
Her smile was just as I remembered. It was not born out of deceit or falsity. It was
untarnished, pure... innocent. 'so,' how is life like in the land of kangaroos?' asked Swapna.
'Not bad.' 'How is the old hag anyway?' Swapna queried. 'It's been long since I last
worked at your place.' Swapna said. 'She is fine,' 'she is pestering my dad since I was not at
home.' Swapna's face began to contort, as if in deep thought. 'Remember the time,' 'when she
caught you looking at dirty magazines?' 'And then she turned on the stove and burned your
right hand to make you a good boy?' 'I was 13 then.' I said. 'And she would see fit to deprive
me of food if she found me flirting with girls.' I let out a sigh. 'let's take a walk.' I said. 'where
to? 'asked Swapna. 'The railway lines.'
'Amma still loves me though.' I said. We were both walking at a languorous pace. Cutting
through the rice paddies, walking in a single file along the ridges that served as boundaries
for the paddies. Swapna turned to look at me, with a puzzled look on her face. 'She loves me,
in a way only a broken woman can.' I said. 'Her father left her at the age of four,' 'leaving her
to deal with a horrid woman that I call grandma,' 'and fighting for scraps among her five
siblings.' 'Her marriage was arranged to a lecherous man who have eyes for all the
women in the village,' 'except for her.' 'I am the only Man in her life she loves and cares for.'
'I mean, when she found me talking to girls, she didn't behave like an over-bearing mother,'
'rather like a jealous wife wary of the promiscuity of her husband.' 'Old Freud would have
had a field day with her.' 'Who is this fraud?' Swapna said. 'Not fraud,' 'Freud.' I said. I found
ignorance the most unattractive quality in a woman. She can be plain, boisterous, overweight
and mean-spirited, but never ignorant. But with Swapna, I found her ignorance part of her
charm. She could be forgiven, for her narrow view of the world. She was removed from
her school at the age of 12, so her mother could educate her male siblings. She would most
likely have her marriage arranged, most likely to a Man who was an alcoholic who would
come home and beat her to a pulp, for questioning him on why he chose to gamble away their
grocery money. She would be treated as nothing more than a receptacle for sex. Why her
own mother would cast her into the same misery she herself experienced, still puzzled me.
'I don't know half the things you are saying,' Her words took me out of my own world. 'But
they sound smart.' 'I am glad your Australian education allows you to insult your parents in
new ways.' Her words served to sate my intellectual vanity. It compensated quite poorly,
for deficiencies, real or imagined that I used to berate myself for occasionally. We had finally
reached the railway lines. I looked to the left, and then the right. The tracks stretched out
so far, that I could not see an end to either side of it. It was like staring into an empty void,
without an end. I found it.... disconcerting. I then looked at Swapna.
It was then I realised how little Swapna had changed over the years. It seemed she was
still the same 16 year old girl I had last seen. I began to study her more closely. She was
a delicate thing. She was short and thin. That was a byproduct of the grinding poverty she
found herself in. Even though she paid scant attention to application of cosmetics or to her
hair, I found her strikingly beautiful. She had kind eyes, and I was drawn to her smile. It
wasn't beautiful in a way the poets would write stanzas about. It contained an energy, a sense
of vitality that comes with latching onto the little moments of joy in an arduous life.
Underneath her aesthetics and demeanor, however, lay a sharp mind. Shaped by fighting of
the violent advances of young men in her neighborhood and the predatory mechanisations
of her male employers at the homes she worked at. 'You seem sad.' Swapna broke the silence.
'something you want to talk about?' 'I don't wish to whine any longer.' I said. 'No,' it's alright.'
Swapna said. I furrowed my brows in contemplation, to articulate my thoughts. I started to
speak. 'my life is like a train now.' ' I feel that it is going along a pre-determined path and
I have to stay on that path.' 'My parents chose what profession I should engage in.' 'Which
woman I am going to marry.' I took a moment to calm myself down. 'A friend of mine
had said to me,' a life devoid of adventure is stale.' 'My time in Australia germinated ideas
of independence and self-determination within me.' 'If I had taken a chance,' 'I could have the
job I liked,' 'the life I wanted,' 'I could have even had..' My words were stuck in my throat.
My eyes were held hostage by her gaze. I felt like there were a thousand hot needles poking
into my throat. My face felt like it had a pulse. My heart was beating so loud I was afraid
she would hear it. I lacked the fortitude to tell her how I felt. Always did. Our long
silence was punctuated by the chirping of the crickets. I began to notice the darkness creeping
in around us. Fortunately, the awkwardness was soon broken by the distant horn of the train.
A thought, or more precisely a passing whim possessed me at that moment. It's power on
my mind was overwhelming, and I yielded without even a second thought to it.
'Remember?' 'The first time we ran the line?' Her head twisted instantly to face me. And her
eyes grew in bewilderment. 'You are insane!' Swapna said. 'You were the one who first
brought me into it,' 'I want this.' I said. She made no further attempts at dissuasion. I was
surprised at how pliable she was. Run the line was something teenagers, usually boys
engaged in. It involved the Train getting sufficiently close and two people on the railway
tracks would run towards it. The first person to give way would lose. We both stood in
anticipation. My heart was racing. My state of mind at that moment could only be described
by a mixture of fear and excitement, seeking both relief and release. The rumbling of the train
signified its rapid approach. We both hopped on the tracks and began to run towards the train.
I was determined to win and for a brief moment, had clarity of purpose. In the darkness, you
could see the outline of the train, but more significant was the light on the front. It
illuminated the tracks on front of it and we both ran towards the light. We kept running to
the point where I felt the heat of the engine of the train on me. I dived desperately to the
side to avoid it. I lay on my back and began to look at the passing train. that singular
moment encapsulated the feeling that I had searched for all my life. A life full of vitality,
risk and stupid mistakes. The passengers in the compartments began to look at me. And
in their eyes I saw the same vacant, distant look I had seen on the eyes of the young woman
on the train. They had all surrendered to the mediocrity of their lives. Then suddenly it struck
me. Where is Swapna? I could not see her anywhere. After the train had passed, I began to
search for her. My elbows were stinging, due to the bruises caused by the abrasion of the
ground that I had dived on.' SWAPNA?' 'SWAPNA!' I began to yell into the darkness. I could
hear no response. 'SWAPNA!' 'don't leave me out here.' There was no response. I bent down
and I could feel my sweat running from my forehead onto the ground. The darkness engulfed
the surroundings, masking it from my sight. I knew Swapna was not there. Maybe she was
never there to begin with. As I contemplated what had just transpired, the night ensured my