“In the last thirty years,
Three hundred and sixty kills-
Mind you, kills, and I don’t keep track
Of the mutilated, the disabled, the living dead
Who fell before me on the tracks.”
He takes a sip of the whiskey,
A deep drag of the cigarette
Looks out through the window -
I see the glimmer of tears in his eyes.
Outside, the river roared as it gushed
The birds sang as they flew
Wind ran helter-skelter among the trees
The setting sun scattered golden light as it sank.
We were old friends, meeting after forty or more years,
This boyhood friend of mine
Who tagged behind me all the time
In awe of my bungalow, dogs and my little deer.
How sharply does he remember!
My metal school box he had envied
The goodies I had shared with him,
Apples and chocolates -
My father, the big officer of Forests!
“There are many ways they do it, you know,” he said
“Some jump head-on, some would be lying down
Their necks neatly nestling on the rail,
Some would be walking, facing away from the train.”
“But one image that even my deadened mind
Cannot wipe off
Is that of the one who stood in the headlight,
Arms raised, palms joined,
A last and final bow to me, her killer.”
“Women dragging their screaming children
Up on to the rails, young girls and boys -
In the rumble of the diesels
I strain my ears for that soft thud, like a loving pat
As I usher them into the netherworld”.
“We are old hands, we know it all
The bends, the blind curves
The favourite haunts of the wanting-to-be-dead.
We dread the day, the next after
The public exam results come.”
“We have to move on, you see,
Cannot bring the big diesels to a sudden stop.
Every time, I watch them, their final moments
Helpless, with a heavy heart
Not even a silent prayer.”
The cigarette burns down to his fingertips.
“This is what I have done with my life -
All I know is to drive trains –
And to kill people.”
************* Balachandran V,