Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Day In A Train

Based on a true story. All rights reserved. Names of people and places modified for privacy.



He looked around. 2 hours gone, 13 to go. But he knew he was okay. This was what he was born for. Yes, he would make it. At least he hoped to.


Austin Stand was born on a lovely September morning in the year of the Ox in a place where no one had ever seen chopsticks. He didn't even know he was born an Ox until he came to the city of The Dam. Someone had told him that though the grass on the other side was the same, it was cheaper. Who wouldn't jump at that chance? He met a lot of people who did jump at that chance and in spite of his doubts on the greenness of the grass, he had a wonderful time chewing on it.


Though the events leading up to this sordid tale started taking shape on that fateful September day, I'll spare you the details and just let you know the essentials.

Austin had to go to Meijing. It was a matter of two young innocent lives flying in from the desert and he didn't want to make mistakes. At the advice of his roommate, the Great Guru, the radiant sun, Austin made sure he got his tickets early. Of course, His greatness, the brilliant sun, GG, was drawing on his own experience of two back-to-back overnight sitters courtesy of the New Year travel rush. But Austin had contacts no one else did and he got all his tickets in advance. Unfortunately, his contacts didn't contact each other and he soon found out that his train to Meijing got there a little while after his scheduled departure from Meijing. Seeing as how this might be a bit of a problem, Austin pulled out his trump card - the leader of the Loonhan underworld - who got him a super cheap ticket from Loonhan to Meijing. "The only problem is," said the Don,"there's only a coach number printed on the ticket. I don't see a seat number... maybe it's first come, first served?" Austin put his head in his hands and wept. He had just been condemned to a 15 hour Loonhan - Meijing standing ticket.

As D-day drew closer, Austin set out to meet his destiny. A blessing from GG did little to comfort his heart but at least it was something. What did comfort him was his trusty Showy Ellicksen phone and the 24hr internet access he enjoyed. "You are one showy little...", cursed GG under his breath, even as he was calling on all divine powers to bless the journey.

All the while he was enjoying his comfortable seat from Dam City to Loonhan, Austin was mentally preparing himself for the ordeal ahead. He scrutinised every standing passenger and made a note of each movement so he could learn from these survivors. He would have to really apply himself though; his was a 15 hour journey, not a 5 hour one.

R&R at one of the numerous universities in Loonhan and he was ready to face his biggest challenge. He strode boldly into the under-renovation railway station even as the little red signs flashed that the infernal machine had arrived. As the sluice gates opened, Chinese people of all shapes and sizes flooded across the platform and into the train. With just his small backpack to deal with, luggage was not one of his concerns; what was a matter of concern, was getting a decent place to stand. But as the cackling crowd surged in, he knew his situation was hopeless. He didn't even make it into the coach. As the train gathered speed, he found himself standing on the metal plates that join two coaches, wondering what went wrong.

Ask GG what went wrong. GG in his infinite wisdom would have deduced that Austin was racist and that's what went wrong. In a way it was true. Perhaps Austin had thought that someone might take pity on his different skin colour and offer him a seat. Maybe that's why he didn't bother buying one of those handy little stools which are in vogue every New Year at railway stations across the length and breadth of the country. We might never find the truth, but we do know what lesson it was that he learned - We live in a world where colour and race don't matter anymore. All that matters is a place to make your stand [or seat, which, is the more preferred position]

As station passed station, Austin shifted his weight from his right leg to his left leg, back to his right leg. That's when his butt started hurting. Now this was very curious since this specific malady is a common complaint of anyone who has been sitting for too long. Perhaps it just longed to rest? At this point, Austin started looking around for people to steal seats from.
Plonk! Actually it sounded more like pluush as the large black garbage bag came to rest beside Austin. But he didn't hear it as he had his headphones plugged in. He didn't even smell it because all the cigarette smoke had clouded up his nostrils. Out there between the coaches, it was like attending a convention of chain-smokers who wanted to give it one last go before they quit.

The food carts passing between the coaches gave him some respite, not just because he liked food, but, by the simple act of lifting one up and across the no-go zones created by the metal plates and dictated by the small wheel sizes, he felt a sense of meaning; that he was put there for something, a higher purpose - to be a helping hand.
He had to get his head down from the clouds when the food cart ripped through the garbage bag and started spreading out its contents like a tree sending out roots, only faster. This was the last straw. He had to get out!
His best bet was the food coach he had spotted as he was clambering in from the Loonhan station. It was 2 coaches down but standing between him and his goal were enough people to crowd a city the size of London. Each hour, more people were getting on the train than off it and each person was pushing Austin away from his goal.
In addition to a long seated lunch, he had another option of getting to sit. GG had suggested exchanging seats with a girl and letting her sit on his lap - a mutually beneficial proposition. But somehow Austin didn't think that was a feasible idea as none of the girls present seemed to fancy foreigners at that moment.

All this thinking made him hungry and he ordered for himself a meal of rice, cabbage, chicken, tou gan and an egg from one of the food cart pushers who, by now, already considered him a brother in arms. Usually, Austin eats with a concentration so singular in its single-mindedness that he fails to see or feel anything other than the food before him.  But on this occasion he was distracted by the animated gesticulation of a lady towards something. She and her little girl had found it prudent to invest in a stool as they were also travelling on a standing ticket all the way to Meijing and were offering the strange foreign person a seat so he could finish his late lunch. Unfortunately, he had to relinquish his minute long comfort as another station came by and forced him back to his old station.

Having finished his sumptuous meal, he stood there and once again noticed the attendants of each compartment at their work - sweeping, cleaning, talking and cheering people up. They had their own little cabin but he did not begrudge them this luxury because without them, he would still be standing in a pool of trash. They, in their infinite goodwill, also offered special places in their cabins to little kids who have been standing for too long. How Austin wished that he was a little child too and not some overgrown behemoth who looked twice his age!

As the day waned, he found that he wasn't growing any younger, but the train sure was getting lighter with more people getting off at each stop. Indeed, many people who were standing now had seats. At the next stop, Austin, being the gentleman he was, looked around to make sure all the women and children were comfortably seated before he sank gratefully into a newly vacated seat. He slowly took his mobile out of his pocket and messaged GG - "10hrs and 38min man. would have gone for all 15 if i had nothing to do tomorrow just for the fun of it". Yeah right buddy...

2 comments:

Oswin said...

'add oil!! add oil!!' (or is it more oil!!). So you finally completed the story. Good job GK( i think great kuru fits better) ;-)

katie said...

It sure is a good thing you changed the names of the people and places, this way no one will ever crack your code oh Great Guru! P.S. Does this mean we're allowed to call you sun now?
(I read this to Jessica and we were pretty much dying laughing...not at Oswin's ordeal but your retelling)