Stories, photographs and thoughts from a travelling couple taking walks and mapping their routes, while backpacking around India, and parts of the world.
It is a crowded train.
Like lone survivors of an urban war, two weary forms make their way to the same empty seat.
A dance of hesitation. Two awkward smiles. One reluctant, ‘You can have it.’
She sits down. Feet crossed, palms on her thighs. He stands beside the seat, looking down on her petite form, thinking how she looks like a tiny, injured bird. Graceful, fragile and troubled. He wants to pick up all the broken parts of her and sew them together.
He had once seen a taxidermist at work when he was twelve. The art museum in the far side of town had a live demo that day, open to the public. He slyly stole some money for the train ride from the tin can behind the TV shelf, where his dad kept the change every time he bought a packet of cigarettes. He sneaked out from home when the TV was playing garish sounds that drowned out all signs of life and sat on a train much like this one. All alone. Like a big boy. He reached the museum, making his way through a sea of legs to find a vantage point and gaped in awe as the taxidermist stuffed a bright blue bird. Meticulous and merciless. The skin was peeled off with utmost precision as he gutted out the little bird’s organs that had turned the blue of death. All the bad parts taken out. All the dead bits thrown out. The lovely bird was sewn back together. Now, even more perfect than it ever was in life. Wings outstretched. Frozen in a moment of carefree flight. Even as most others around him had nervous smiles plastered on their faces as they discussed how unsettling this whole affair seems, he remember feeling like it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
He wonders if she has any bad parts. His pretty bird, who sat delicately on the edge of the seat, fidgeting with her pale blue cardigan — the colour of a dull autumn sky. He imagines what the dead bits inside her would look like. Would he throw them all away or keep them in a jar in their home in the suburbs, with a big swing and their three sun-kissed kids playing in the garden. He would scoop out all the pain. And erase that look of pain on her exquisite face. If he has to freeze her in a moment, it would be a half-smile. Yes, with that slight turning of her lips and the subtle crinkles under her eyes. The one she fleetingly flashes at him when he steps back from the seat and says, “You can have it.” Yes, that half-smile that made his heart sink with a pain he wasn’t used to.
The train jerks to a halt. So does the vision of her half-smile. When a fresh wave of weary shoulders pours in through the door, she gets up with a start and rushes out, gently pushing her way through the crowd. He thought he heard a “You can have it” as she disappears into a world of jostling elbows and smile-less faces, leaving a faint trace of something very tender in the air. She left behind a gossamer web of her thoughts hanging there around him. He sits down on the same seat, where his pretty bird was perched just seconds ago, thinking he should have asked her what her story was.
So long, lonesome.
Photo: So Long, Lonesome by Lovell D'souza, on Flickr.