Thursday, December 09, 2010

His Old Man

100th post, and my first short story...

It was early December and the air outside was chilly. There were widespread signs of frost and ice in the meadows visible from the large glass windows but the coach was comfortably heated. Karuna had just logged into the work email using the wifi, as the train slowly pulled into Preston. That's when she heard the announcement. There had been a fatality on the train track just north of Preston, so the train would terminate here. All the passengers going north from here were advised to make alternate arrangements. She quickly switched off her laptop and carefully packed it in the bag. Then she hurriedly folded the adapter away into a side pocket. She picked up the bag and her jacket, got down at the platform and walked towards the exit. A middle aged man wearing the train company's uniform was deputed there. He was advising a group of other stranded passengers how to reach their destination. Karuna waited till the group had moved away, then she approached the man.

"A bus will take the passengers to Oxenholme, that is the nearest station from where the line up north is clear again, if you would like to take the bus, it will arrive shortly at the stop located just outside" He pointed to a flight of stairs that led to the bus terminal.

"I wouldn't like to take the bus, under normal circumstances, that is precisely why I made the train reservation" she thought to herself.

"Will there be another train going up north, once the line is cleared?" she asked him.

"There is one at half past, which may go all the way - if the line is cleared by then" he told her.

She would avoid the bus journey, even if it was only an hour long. There was no guarantee she would make it to Glasgow in time for her four o' clock meeting today, even if she took the bus, she reasoned. Transport in Scotland was quite disruptive due to the heavy snowfall in the highlands. She decided to wait for the next train and take a chance.

Preston was a midway station is the west coast inter city route she frequently travelled on. It was on the outskirts of the Lake District. She had visited the Great Lakes only this summer with Avinash and it was lush and green, very different to the frosty look that it bore now. She found an empty seat at the bottom of the overbridge that connected the platforms, and sat down. About five minutes later, there was a further announcement - the train scheduled to arrive at half past the hour that would go to Glasgow was arriving in platform 5. She saw a group of harried passengers making their way to platform 5. She quickly picked up her laptop bag and followed the group. For once she was glad that she was able to travel light. Last night, Avinash had asked her to pack some leftover food as well. He had meant well, he knew how much she hated cooking only for herself - he wanted her to take away the cooked curries, so that she didn't have to worry much about cooking during the following week that she was in Glasgow. But she had refused - she was adamant not to add any extra baggage during her travel this time. Under the circumstances, she was glad she didn't have a tote bag full of curries to carry around.

She made her way to the platform and waited for the train to arrive. That's when she noticed the man. He was a stout British gentleman in his late sixties standing at about a metre's distance from her. He had quite inconspicuous features, but she noticed that he looked very tensed and was anxiously fidgeting. The train approached and they got up on the same coach. She made her way to an unreserved window seat with a table towards the middle of the coach, and quickly checked that there was an electric socket available. She was inwardly satisfied with the seat that she found, as she would be able to work on her laptop for the rest of her journey. She opened her jacket and shoved it into the rack above the seat and settled down.

She connected the adapter to the socket and turned on the laptop. The man whom she had noticed on the platform came and occupied the seat in front of her. He placed his overnight bag on the seat beside him. He smiled and greeted her, as he sat down. He looked very nervous for some reason. It was quite cold outside but he was sweating.

"Hello" she replied to his greeting, then added: "are you feeling alright?"

"Yeah, I am fine, thank you." he said but kept on fidgeting.

He then made a phone call from his mobile. Karuna couldn't help but hear his part of the conversation and he was talking quite loudly. "Hello sister" he almost shouted into the device, "It is good that I could reach you as I needed to talk to someone. I am on my way to dad's" His sister must have said something from the other end, as he was listening. He seemed a bit relaxed now. 

He continued after the pause - "I am on my way now, my train from London got terminated at Preston, and then I had to take another train. So it looks like I may not be able to take the 3 o clock ferry this evening." He paused again.

"I just hope I will reach there on time. But let's just wait and see, shall we? And hope for the best" Pause.

"Don't worry too much, and I shall keep you informed. Take care, sister. Bye for now." He disconnected the call. Then he looked at Karuna and said "to tell you the truth, I wasn't feeling very fine when you asked me. My dad is in the hospital and the doctors have indicated that it might be his last few hours. Although he has had a great innings, I am still not ready for this. So I was getting very anxious when we were stranded at Preston, thinking I might not make the journey on time."

"Oh I see, I am sorry to hear that." Karuna said. She felt sad for her fellow passenger and thinking perhaps small talk would be helpful to keep his anxiety at bay, she inquired, "How old is he?"

"He will be 95 this Christmas eve" he said emphatically, "that is if he makes it though."

She could hear the pain in his voice as he was speaking about his father's weak condition. She thought it was best to let him speak about his father, she understood that he must be feeling quite emotional.

"He must be frail and weak now, but he was a very energetic man. My parents were farmers and lived in a village in Sussex, that's where my two siblings and I were born and grew up. Then when we flew the nest one after the other, they decided to retire and move to Argyll in Scotland, in an island called Arran. That was almost forty years ago. My mother passed away fifteen years back. But my old man decided to live in the house that they had lived together in for the last twentyfive years of her life."

His made another call, a quick one, this time to his wife. "Catherine, can you please find the contact number of Dr. Miller and let me know. I seem to have forgotten to store it on my mobile. I will need to let him know at some point, that I am arriving today." He took out a sheet of paper from his pocket and jotted down a number. "Oh yes that's even better then - you please let him have my number and ask him to give me a call in case of the eventuality." The way he said these words to his wife only showed that he was now almost certain that "the" eventuality was inevitable.

 "We wanted him to be flown to the mainland for the treatment but he has said to his doctor that he doesn't want to leave the island. That's where I am headed to now." He continued to speak as he was storing the doctor's number on his mobile phone. Karuna was patiently listening.

He recounted tales of his childhood, his children and their growing up years, life in Arran, farming patterns in England, old buildings to the current big freeze. Karuna had work to do, but deep down she felt that this man who himself was in his sixties, needed to tell these stories to someone. The way he reached out and cared for his sister during the phone conversation consoling her when she may have been emotional, made him a very protective elder brother. He sounded quite a content and caring man, who had a lovely family of his own now. But today, he was nothing more than an anxious son, desperate to reach his old man before it was too late.

The train had reached Glasgow Central, and all the passengers started getting ready to disembark. It was almost three, so Karuna hurriedly got ready to alight too, remembering that she may reach the office just in time for the meeting. Her co-passenger however was still seated and the least hurried - he would not be able to make it to the ferry at 3:15, so he would take the last one at 6 PM, fingers crossed that it would run despite the adverse weather warning.

"I hope you make it to your ferry on time, and also that he bounces back again and makes it to a 100 atleast - your old man!" Karuna tried to sound as positive and cheerful as possible. She wished him well and he thanked her for her patient listening. His mobile rang again. She picked up her laptop bag and jacket walked towards the coach's exit. She thought she saw from the corner of her eye the name "DR MILLER" flashing on the display screen.

[This story is based on a recent personal experience complemented by a little imaginative plot for the sake of storytelling. I can never find out what happened to my fellow passenger and his old man. I wish them both the very best, wherever they are.]


bumblebee said...

Its beautiful.... the description was enough to understand the premise but succint and the "antare otripti robe, sango kore mone hobe shesh hoye hoilo na shesh" definition is very well captured

Bangalore Bird said...

Vasanthi feels
It is a very poignant situation but any short story has to carry some element of suspense , character etc. for instance, u can draw parallels between the man's situation and some other situation back home or u could bring out a situation where the narrator becomes nostalgic etc. Don't feel bad about my being frank;that's how ideas develop, otherwise a very good first attempt,your language is very good,a natural,flowing style.keep it up.

Kattykally said...

Thanks Vasanthi di, yeah I know what you mean - the suspense/plot element is missing and thanks for pointing it out. I have always known I cannot write a good short story, it's just not my style, but had to give it a try (some of it due to peer pressure, some of it for self evaluation) and just reiterated the same fact. If I ever attempt again, I would keep your suggestions in mind..thanks!

Roshmi Sinha said...

Nicely done. A poignant story... with an ending that has many possibilities.

You have an eye for detail and a way with words. Must say... a very good first attempt. Keep them coming :)

Chandrika Shubham said...

Congrats on 100th post! :)

Nice story. :)
I liked those stories in which writer left readers to draw many conclusions.

Kattykally said...

thanks Roshmi and Chandrika, you are very kind but I need to improve storytelling skills, don't you think?