The Train to
By Rafiq Ebrahim
Glen Ellyn IL
Instead of flying back to Karachi
from Lahore, I decided to take a train and experience
firsthand the conditions of the passengers traveling
by second class. I got a seat in bogey number three
in Super Express and the train hissed out of the
platform, amidst thunderous showers. Its pace was
slow, slower than any other express train. The compartment
was jam-packed with passengers. Those who had reserved
seats occupied their seats, while a bunch of others
were perched on the floor, near the seats or even
by the toilets, with the result that it became difficult
to move from one place to another, or even go to
Families having little children spread quilts and
pillows on the seats, under the seats or by the
seats. Soon it was a mess all around. A child threw
out near a seat, another answered nature’s
call. The compartment became filthy, smelly and
dusty within hours – a place totally unfit
A ticket checker entered the bogey and started checking
tickets. He approached the passenger on seat 54,
a tall, sturdy middle-aged man with sharp gray eyes
and with what looked like an unnatural expression
on his face. When asked for the ticket, he showed
his unreserved ticket, and so he was asked to vacate
the seat. After an argument, he took the ticket
checker aside and returned after a few minutes to
occupy the same seat, which now was officially given
to him. The ticket checker overlooked the mess everywhere
in the bogey, smiled and went out of the compartment
at the next station.
If it were not for the rains in Punjab, the heat
and dust would have been unbearable. The man on
seat 54 looked about and saw a young woman with
a little child on her lap by a window seat. Somehow
his gaze froze. The woman’s eye fell on the
man’s face, and she immediately looked down
and adjusted her dupatta on her head. I am sure
she was wondering why he looked at her.
The night progressed and people tried to get some
sleep. The seats were so uncomfortable that only
a very heavy sleeper could manage to get sleep.
The wooden planks on the seat and at the back actually
hurt. I was at a loss to understand why a round
wooden structure was placed in the middle of the
back of all seats. It didn’t give any comfort;
on the contrary it added to the discomfort.
The train, having stopped at a number of stations,
continued the journey at its slow pace. The woman
with the child on her lap looked at the man on seat
54. He was still staring at her. I was beginning
to get angry at him. He seemed to be a pervert.
Even under such filthy and uncomfortable conditions
he couldn’t resist looking at an attractive
woman. How low can a man stoop? Such persons are
not fit to live. Of what good are they? Could they
bring any goodness in anyone’s life? Such
thoughts, I am sure, must have also entered the
woman’s mind, for she now loathfully looked
at him with fire in her eyes.
Turning her face away, she played with the child
for a moment. The train was approaching a station.
I could see the familiar lights of Khanewal. The
train stopped and a flash of past memory passed
through my mind. Before we migrated to the USA,
my family and I used to travel frequently by train,
and whenever the train stopped at Khanewal, my little
daughter urged me to get down and buy some earthenware
or ceramic toys from a stall. In the middle of the
night, I used to get down with her, buy the toys
and enjoy a cup of tea in a clay cup at a tea stall.
It was now 2 a.m. and I got down from the train
to relive the pleasant memory of two decades past.
I ordered tea and was enjoying it, when two burly,
tall men came near me and stood on my sides. I could
feel something pressing against my right side. The
push was more than a slight nudge. “Take out
your wallet and give it to me,” ordered one
of them. I took out the wallet and handed it to
him. The other man relieved me of my wristwatch.
“Have a safe journey,” said one of the
men. Both disappeared. I was stunned for a moment,
then a bitter smile came over my face, as I realized
that one should never try to recapture the past,
for if you do so, you are likely to lose a cherished
memory – forever. The present is world apart
from the past! Let the good memories of the past
linger on in your mind.
I was shaken, not because I lost my wallet and a
watch, but because I lost a cherished memory! Though
I am not very wise, but it was wise of me to keep
only a few hundred rupees in my wallet, the rest
of the money in dollars, my credit cards and other
ID’s were safely tucked inside my shoes. The
watch was a cheap one, bought for four dollars from
K’Mart in Chicago. I finished the cup of tea
and returned to my seat in the train, not daring
to take out some money from my shoes and buy the
toys. What use these toys would be to my daughter
who is now in her twenties and mother of two sons?
The train began to gain speed. The man on seat 54
was still looking at the woman. The child was still
awake in the mother’s lap. The woman found
it difficult to keep her eyes open. She was soon
lost in a momentary wink of sleep and her head fell
forward. A moment later, the child ascended the
open window. One leg went out…. Then another
moved. The man on seat 54 leaped like a leopard,
caught the child before it fell out of the window.
The commotion woke up the woman. She seemed to be
in a panic, and then reality dawned.
“Here, hold it,” said the man. “You
should be very careful holding a child near an open
window in a train. For a long time your child was
looking for an opportunity to leap out of the window.
That’s why I have been watching the child
continuously.” Saying so, the man gave the
child back to the woman, stretched his back and
moved away. The woman looked dumbfounded, and so
The man actually saved the life of the child! It
soon dawned on me that one can never know or read
the intentions of another person. The man who looked
like a devil was in fact an angel! The woman gulped
a few sips of water, got up to thank the man, but
he was not in sight. The train moved on.
Early in the morning at the Drigh Road Station,
the woman got up to disembark from the train. She
searched for the man, but couldn’t find him.
“Bhai,” she addressed me, “ If
you see that man, will you kindly thank him on my
behalf?” I nodded.
Before I got down at Karachi Cantt, I looked for
him in the whole compartment, but I couldn’t