We stretch without meeting ever across thousands of miles. Our point of contact are the wooden planks that connect us. We are witness to history, geography and nature as it unfolds on our sides, within the line of sight. Which at times is a constraint, because you can’t often see much when you are lying straight and fixed. It is only the chugging at regular intervals as it travels that brings us to life in a sense. Whenever a train passes we know if its full of passengers or a freight train by its speed and weight on us. I am always happy when its a train full of people, it gives me a sense of energy and warmth. I wonder if those hurtling through the landscape in the train are happy, sad or simply bored! My parallel on the other hand likes it when freight trains pass. They give him a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
This year as the summer advanced we found ourselves lying in wait for our loads for long stretches. Rumors passed down the tracks that trains were not coming because they had been stopped as people were hiding in their homes due to a virus. Though my parallel was better off. Once in a while a freight train still passed. I began to think of the lonely driver and guard on the freight train – were they also not afraid of this virus?
Summer had started beating down on us with its usual ferocity, and to our surprise we found that not trains, but humans had started walking our paths. From where we were we could see the bundles on their heads, observe their tired calloused feet and experience the weariness in their gait.
In the heat they trudged. Often I could spot families with little children, old people, pregnant women and groups of young men. Where were they going? Why were they assiduously walking through or next to us tracks?
‘Parallel where are these people going? Where are they coming from?’
‘I am trying to get some information from the length of the track. Will let you know’ parallel responded vaguely. People never interested him as much as they did me.
I tried to overhear the conversations, but more often than not the walkers were grimly silent. There was something heart wrenching in that silent march. The trickle of walkers did not become a deluge, but remained a steady flow. We still did not know anything about these new companions of ours.
Then one hot and dreary afternoon a group of young men came walking, and decided to rest on us. They opened their bundles and shared some spartan food, and through their conversation I discovered that these were poor people of cities who were trying to reach their native homes in villages. Since there were no trains, and apparently no other means either, they had decided to walk. For them this was the long walk from hunger and despair to a place which in their hearts is forever home. They came to the cities to earn a meager living because home did not even have that. But in the catastrophe of this virus, that faraway home seemed the only place for succor. With not a penny to their name, casting the virus fears to the callous winds they were headed home.
I felt pained as I listened to their conversation. The cities were as heartless as their concrete structures, which people like these sharing a meal built. Someone like them must have laid me and parallel on this never ending routes years ago. The sun was overhead and they sank into a exhausted sleep stretched across parallel and me, while some lay on the sides. This alarmed me. Maybe they think no trains are running, but the freight ones are! I wanted to shake, rattle or in some way make them go away. But exhaustion takes one into a nether world, deeper than sleep.
Parallel first felt the tremors of the approaching train and alerted me. The group was still in a deep sleep. We both tried to vibrate strongly together so that someone would get up. The train was getting closer, but the tired beaten group continued to sleep. The helplessness parallel and I felt cannot be explained. Here was a group of humans, resting on our harsh surfaces, unaware that they were about to be crushed. I cannot even imagine their extent of weariness that not a single soul stirred even when the train blew its horn strongly. We felt the brakes being applied, and my heart went out to the driver who had seen the tragedy waiting to unfold, but could do nothing about it.
The horn was blaring, the train was slowing but still at great speed, we were rattling but to no avail. For the first time in my memory I shut my eyes as the train approached – it seemed a monstrosity to me. The awful screeching thud as the wheels ran over the sleeping human beings in succession is a sound I never want to hear again. I think both parallel and I became unconscious because we were the ones on whom the innocent lay.
When we came, to there were people swarming all over the place. The train had gone, and so had the remains of those young men. Strewn across us were the remains of their meager belongings and their frugal food. A forlorn reminder of the moments they had shared before that eternal stupor. It was parallel who spoke first, ‘I wonder with what dreams they had come to the city, and what hope was taking them back to their home.’
‘And I wonder about the city people. They were in their homes – safe and secure. Did they not spare a thought for these people? Could they not have helped them reach their homes safely. Home is sanctuary parallel – one feels safe and comforted when one reaches there. However scanty and impoverished it maybe.’
‘We are mere tracks and paths to destinations, my friend. The how and the why are beyond our comprehension.’