• Shalini Devi

The Train

There is a train.

It is coming closer. And closer. It is zooming, with its shrill whistle blaring and wheels screeching against the tracks in haste. I see it coming. And as if instinctively, without a moment of thought, my legs take off in a run, pumping below me, propelling me towards the zooming train. Although I do not yet understand why I am running, I run with deafening conviction – I know I must catch this train. Against all odds, I must catch this train. I run past outstretched arms, over stalls and under branches. Others watching are confused – why am I running? Should they run too? Should they catch me?

You see me running.

And you take off behind me. I see you, and I yell for you to keep running. You do not know why, and neither do I – but I know I must. And so then, must you – because if you do not, I know I will lose you – a thought that registers even in the heat of the sprint, a thought I cannot bear. And so, although I do not slow down, I keep turning my head back to make sure you are still there, still running behind me. Willing you to catch up.

The train is coming. It is almost here. I leave a trail of dust behind me as I hit the grass, snaking my way through the open fields to the train. I look behind me – you are trying to catch up, but obstacles keep rising and falling in your way – you are yelling that you are tired, you do not know if you can make it. But you do not ask me to stop running. You ask me why we are running, trying to grasp what is happening so you can push yourself further. “The train!” I yell. And then you see it – you lay eyes upon the train that is zooming toward us in the distance. Your steps falter for a minute, but then you see me, you see me bolting towards the train and yelling over my shoulder at you, “You must run, we must catch the train! Please run, we cannot miss it!” And you take off as if the mere sight of me alone will drive you to any place in this world – because you realize it too – you know if you do not, you will lose me. Your inability to do so pushing you forward as your muscles scream in protest.

I see the train now – it is sparkling in its red and black splendour. Its whistle calls me – urges me onwards. The train loops around the bend and speeds past and I run with all my heart and soul behind it. Without a thought, I leap up onto the rails of the back car, pulling myself up and tumbling onto the platform. I feel a rush of relief, excitement, and thrill as I pant. I did it. I made it. I am on the train.

And then fear grips me and I realize something is missing – I whip up and look back the way I came, searching for you. And there you are, you are running. You are almost there. Our eyes lock, full of fear and desperation – you must make it on the train. I lean forward and grab your hand, trying with all my might to pull you up as you simultaneously try with every ounce of strength you have left to run faster. To catch the train. To catch me.

I begin to scream and cry, all thoughts of the train have vanished – I see only you. And you are slipping away from me. Although I am trying so hard, I cannot pull you up. I scream in frustration that you are not trying hard enough. You are not running fast enough. Do you not see you see you have to get on the train for us to stay together? You yell that you are trying, you are giving it everything you have. But I do not believe you. How can you be if you have not jumped onto the train yet, like I have? I caught the train because I wanted it bad enough. Does that mean you do not want it bad enough? That you do not want me bad enough?

We hold on to each other, desperation clinging to us as we cling to one another. Me leaning so far forward I am nearly off the train, with only my ankle securing me to the rail of the car. You holding on to my hand with both of yours, half flying, half dragging through the wake of the train. We hold on like this for a long time, despite the strain and discomfort – we hold on to each other. We will not let go. Will not accept that I am on the train and you are not. If you could just run a little faster. If I could just pull a little harder. And so, we remain locked in a hopeless embrace.

And yet hope fills us regardless. We will not let go. We stare into one another’s eyes as if our will alone will pull us closer. We see love, trust, memories, laughter, and a silent promise – and we know we cannot let go – not when such a bond exists between us. Yet our eyes reveal more truths – truths we do not want to see. The truth that you cannot run faster, and the truth that I cannot pull harder. We are forced to look away as you see the firm resolve in the background of my eyes: I will not jump off the train. And I see a question in yours: Do I even want to be on this train? And at this moment, the train jerks and I lose my grip. You cling to me as our remaining fingers lock and we look into one another’s eyes once more. We know all the depths of truth and yet we hold on as all logic and sense pass us by, roaring at us like the wind whipping the sides of the train, threatening to break our grasp and carry you away with it. Yet we hold on. Hold on for that boy and girl who look at one another, and see only love.

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