Saturday, October 2, 2010

Last Train Home

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 15; the fifteenth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton.

He slowly walked across the platform and sat down on the same bench as every day. The clouds seemed to follow him overhead. It started to drizzle, almost imperceptibly. The same time. Same bag with him. He sat there, waiting. Dusk would wrap her blanket around him in sometime.
Maybe she will come today...

She woke up to raindrops on her face, stealing glances at her through the train window.
I must have dozed off.

Instinctively she reached inside the pages of the book on her lap. To reassure her that the letter was still there. That was her fragment of hope. Her hope to find what she was looking for.

Sylvia had grown up without a father. Her mother had never tried to hide anything from her, and as soon as Sylvia was old enough to understand, had explained why her dad was never around. We had a huge row, she had said. Your father was a good man, and we loved each other a lot. But someone got it into my head that there was another woman. I confronted him. He denied it. I didn't believe him back then. So he stormed out and never came back. And then the war came and everything was lost. I found out much later that I was wrong. But neither of us knew you were coming, back then. Not till a few weeks after. Maybe things would have been different then....

But her mother had never let her feel the absence of a father. She had not remarried. Her daughter had been her life from then on. Sylvia, she had named her. I have had the most amazing mother ever. And i miss you so much now, Mom.

The station master had gotten used to the man sitting on the bench at the far end of the platform. He could see him if he looked out of his window. He remembered the first time he had seen him. And then, every day after that, day after day. It had been over a month now. He had tried asking him after the first couple of days why he came there every day. I am waiting for someone, that was his reply. The station master had been unable to get more out of him.

He came there every day a few minutes before the evening train arrived and sat down on the same bench. Right after the train left, so would he. Sometimes he would seem to look intently at one of the passengers, but it might have been his imagination. The station master knew him by name, of course. It was a small place. He had worked in the only hotel in town. Till back then, of course. Maybe it has got something to do with the incident there, the station master thought absently, getting back to his book.

Dear Martha, the letter started...

It had arrived a few weeks after her mother's funeral, with the first rains of the season. It took her a few minutes to realise that the person writing the letter was her father. In an instant, the sound of the thunder and the rain and the windows banging against the frames had all ceased. There seemed to be a hushed silence in her world at that moment. Her heart had either stopped or was beating really, really fast; there was hardly any difference between the two at that moment. She had had to hold on to the banister for support before she could continue reading.

How can I ever apologise enough for leaving you? I was so angry when you did not believe me that night. Something came over me and in a drunken fit I went and conscripted myself. By the time I had come to my senses, the ship had set sail. And then when I returned, the house was gone. Since then, I have spent all these years looking for you. All this time. Believing that you were out there somewhere.
Carefully formed letters. Slightly halting. As if carrying a burden of guilt. 

I still stand by what I said that night. You have been the only one in my life. I have spent so long trying to find you. And now I have. I may have failed you as a husband, but will you give me a chance to make amends now?
Her hands shook as she read the rest of the letter.

The next day, she wrote back.
My name is Sylvia. I am the daughter of Martha Robinson. I am really sorry to have to tell you this, but mother passed away last month. However,.....
She mentioned her phone number in the letter. A week after sending the letter, her father called. Both their voices were shaky. She felt strange at having found a parent right after losing one.

Keith remembered the man perfectly. Somewhere in his sixties. There was a strange shine in his eyes, like a kid being taken to the carnival. He had checked in that evening. Didn't carry a lot of luggage. Just one bag.  Can I make a phone call, he had come down and asked later on. Sure, Keith had replied back from behind the counter.
Sylvia, it's me.
Yes, I'm in a hotel for the night. Mayfair Lodge, I think the name is. 
Yes, I'll be taking the early morning train. It is the only one which goes towards that direction, anyway.
Me too. You do not know how much I am looking forward to this. I will see you tomorrow. Good night. 
Returning the telephone, he had remarked, that was my daughter. I shall be seeing her for the first time tomorrow.
Keith had looked duly curious. The old man had noticed that look and gone on to tell him the story of his life. Of the woman he had loved and lost, of the war, of coming back and looking for her year after year, never giving up hope. Of finding her, only to know that she had passed away. Of the daughter he never knew he had.
The two of them had talked late into the night. Talked about a million things.Two strangers brought together by a quirk of fate and tied together by the ticking clock for a few fragile chance moments. And then the old man had said good night and gone back up to his room, wishing tomorrow to come as soon as possible.

They had spoken for hours. Conversation was a bit stilted in the beginning, but they had soon grown comfortable talking to one another. He called her again the next evening and told her that he would be coming down immediately if she was okay with it. Start the next day and reach on Sunday. Then he had called her on Saturday night from some town where he was staying in overnight. Said he would catch the early train next morning and reach the same evening.

And then he had disappeared. When he didn't come the next day, she assumed he might have missed his train. Days passed by and he still did not arrive. Or call. Or write. A million possibilities flashed through her head, none of them pleasant. But she was determined about one thing - she was not about to lose her father again.

She had only the name of the hotel his father had been staying in to go by. She did not even know which town it was in. It had never crossed her mind to ask him. It took her almost a month to find out where the hotel might have been. A town not far from her own, half a day's journey away. A little place called Alston, tucked away in the countryside. Only one train from there to where she lived. It all fitted. And so she was on her way to Alston, apprehension and hope fighting for space in her rapidly beating heart.

Keith had dozed off at the counter. The burning smell that woke him up was overpowering. Everywhere he looked was thick with fumes. Shades of orange flickered all around him. He somehow made it out, groping in the darkness. Only the staff and the guests on the ground floor were able to get out before the building collapsed in a heap of leaping flames and cinders. Everyone on the first floor was lost in the fire. Nobody had any idea as to how it had started. But all he could think about was the man who would now never meet his daughter.

He had gone back amongst the debris the next day. Not much was left of the old man's room. He had still looked and looked till he found a tin box with a few of the man's possessions; a photograph of the man when he was young, holding hands with a pretty girl, the edges of the photo charred. A couple of letters, a few more photos, a silver pocket-watch. The box was itself charred and had become disfigured in the heat. He had kept it with him. Every single day after that, he went and waited at the station in the evening. Waiting for the man's daughter to come. Something told her she would. So he waited.

She looked out of the window as the train slowed down. The sky was overcast, and it was still drizzling. There did not seem to be a soul in sight. Just a man sitting at the far end of the platform on a bench, watching the train coming in. She got off as the train came to a halt and walked towards the station master's office. The man on the bench slowly got up as well and started walking towards her...

He saw her get off the train. He knew it was her. She looked just like the young lady in the photograph. Dreamily, he stood up and walked towards her.

Sylvia stopped dead on her tracks, and stared at the person standing in front of him. Thin and about her age, looking pale in the failing light, with blue eyes that were sad and distant. How does this man know my name? How did he know I would be here now?
You're Sylvia, aren't you? he asked again.
Yes? Who are you? Do I know you?
No, but I know a bit about you.
I don't understand.
I knew your father... for a little while.
He took the tin box out of the bag and held it out for her.
This was his. He would have wanted you to have this. 
I don't understand. Where is my father? How do you know him? How did you know I was coming?

And then she noticed the box properly for the first time, blackened and distorted. She could still make out the Jacques Robinson etched on the cover. With shaking hands she took the box from him and opened the lid. Right on top was an old photograph of a woman she knew was her mother with a man who she realised must be her father.
I am sorry, the man broke in softly, but your father never made it past the night he spoke with you last. But he really, really wanted to meet you. You meant the world to him.

I... she looked at him, her brain refusing to form coherent thoughts. He looked right back into her eyes, and a deep sadness that had been there since the day of the fire passed through the miles separating the two of them and into her eyes. And she knew. The wind had suddenly picked up, as if realising the turmoil in her heart, their hearts. Words failed her as comprehension started to dawn, like a bitter pill being pushed down her throat. Her legs were no longer able to take the weight of the emotions heaving through her, and she sat down on the platform, a blank look on her face. Keith bent down and gently brought her back on her feet and started walking her towards the shed.

It had started raining heavily, so he couldn't really tell if she was crying.
Or maybe she is, he thought, looking up at the skies breaking down on them.

 Thank you Sayali for helping me write this out and not give up midway.

The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton.


Amity said...

Was almost teary=eyed after reading your story...

Very smooth flow of your narration, the feelings were so vivid I could really picture in my mind!

Not really a happy ending, the box her father owned is not enough to pacify her longings for him! IT is sad, indeed!

One of the best this is!

Good luck! :)

Jingle said...

awesome post..
Glad to see you active over the weekend...

RiikaInfinityy said...

Wonderful flow of words :3~~~ Left me speechless till the end and a very touching story as well

Good luck for BAT15^^~

Maddie said...

Lovely! sad but very nice. :) All the best.

sayali said...

nice job with the plot dude. so much better..

Cherry Blossom said...

একটা সুন্দর, কবিতার মতন গল্প. A very sensitive plot with clarity of expression. Emotions set against the political tumult of the times. Good synchronization of events. All the best.

Megha said...

Beautifully written...lovely narration. Like the way you wrote some good setiments like -

Her heart had either stopped or was beating really, really fast; there was hardly any difference between the two at that moment.

Keep writing. All the best for BATOM

Brijender Singh said...

Truly remarkable !
Your ability to capture the most nebulous of human emotions in all their nuances is downright surreal.
Add to that such a poignant story and you have a masterpiece in your hands.

Someone Is Special said...

Awesome post.. one of the best I have read.. Wishing you good luck for BAT..

--Someone Is Special--

Vaish said...

A powerful, heart-wrenching story! Am amazed at your writing skills, the way words fall effortlessly. Great story...I simply loved it!! All the best dear!

reetam said...

thanks everybody for the support. i'm really, really glad you all liked it. i'm not very good with prose and your comments do help a lot.

Modhura said...

To reassure herself that the letter was still there. That was her lastfragment of hope.
its good..keeps the suspense going on till the last part..the middle part was really good..

Sidra Sayeed said...

acknowledging the support of another writer is a very strong statement to make, kudos for that. The narrative itself was captivating. Emotional to say the least. I definitely enjoyed reading it.

Anonymous said...

this is brilliantly written reetam. very well written story, and the theme is very touching.

you can try writing more stories. you are a good story teller.


Debosmita said...

I came here from your side bar...

I have to tell you that this was a wonderfully penned piece, with the right touch of human emotions. I also participated in this BAT, but unfortunately I missed reading it then...

Reetam said...

There were too much to read up then, weren't there? Even i don't remember reading your post there. Still, glad you liked it. Though the story still seems stilted and incomplete to me...

Megha Sridhar said...

Bright, yet grey.
Expression is the hero here. I could not stop reading it till the end, and I guess that says it all!

Very well written.
Kudos. :)


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