Sunday, May 23, 2010

The End of Summer

He alights from the coach and finds that the connecting train has already arrived. It means he will not find a place next to the window. On most days, he is able to sit next to the window since he arrives before the train does.

It is not just the view and the wind that make the seats by the windows attractive; it also allows him to keep an eye on the traffic on the bridge that passes over the rail tracks near where he gets down. It’s a bridge that his cab travels through on the way home from the station. On days when the traffic on it lies thick and unmoving, he walks to save time.

Indeed, the seats next to the windows are taken. There are plenty others available, however, and he lowers himself into one. There is still time before the train is to depart. He unzips the front pouch of his worn backpack and takes his Ipod out. The gentle, idyllic sound of the Kings of Convenience permeates into his ears; it evokes visions of Scandinavian quietude that he finds relaxing after a day at work. He closes his eyes and waits for the train to move.

A minute or two after the train rolls out of the station, he sees the creek. The train glides over it, gathering speed, till the motor vehicles on the bridge next to the train’s start to fall behind. In the distance, waning sunlight and the warm moisture in the air make the hazy outlines of tall, lean buildings quiver. The sky is a resplendent pink. Overhead, trails of angry, dusty clouds lie haphazardly in the sky, as if they were passed through a shredder. They foretell gusty winds and heavy, scant rain drops. A light, cool breeze seems to be blowing; he cannot be sure for it could be an illusion borne out of the train's motion.

He knows the sky's pink colour is due to increased particulate matter in the atmosphere. He has read it somewhere. He wonders if this has anything to do with pollution. He suspects not. Such evenings must always have been there. Nevertheless, he finds the mankind’s response to such matters as pollution and global warming fascinating. Some say they will damage the planet irrevocably. Others don’t. It could all come to good or bad. Nobody knows for certain. And so, everything continues as it always did. It is as if the world as a whole were smoking cigarettes.

Through the window, he sees the cityscape in vivid sepia tones, as if it were a flashback in a film. The train has now crossed the creek and is on firm land again. Box shaped railway quarters with decaying walls form the backdrop for a continuous line of tin-roofed, temporary cottages on either side of the tracks, shallow gutters half covered by broken, discarded tiles in between. Groups of dirty looking kids, in soiled half-pants and undershirts, run around, playing cricket. Their mothers are inside, cooking their evening meals. Their fathers are out at work in far-off mills and will return, drunk, long after they've fallen asleep.

On another day, these sights and ruminations would depress him. Today, everything, bathed in the pink of the sky, appears magical. The city looks like it should when he sifts through its memories, many years later.

He decides, traffic or no traffic, he’ll walk home today.

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