You Were There With Me
April 02, 2013
Like so many love stories in India, this one begins at a train station. But unlike most others, it ends there, too.
Malabar Express shot by Kaniyapuram railway station at about 0815, as it does every morning, packed with commuters on their way to work or school. About a kilometre out from Kazhakuttam station, the tiny, old-world railway hub for the increasingly rich and modern Technopark IT facility, the driver slowed his ten cars to a slow roll. The train passed gently by coconut palms laden with tender green fruit, a church exhorting passengers (in English and Malayalam) to have faith in Jesus Christ, a series of compound walls with broken glass embedded along their tops, and a boy and a girl in their early twenties standing two feet apart and facing one another.
They stood on a dirt pathway alongside the tracks a half-minute's walk away from a road crossing, where cars, taxis, scooters, and autorickshaws waited for the train to pass. They stood talking for a few more moments, resisting the urge to reach out and touch one another with so many people watching.
He wore 'Western clothes', or a short-sleeved shirt and jeans, with light chappals to guard the soles of his feet from foreign objects in the red soil. She wore yellow salwar and pink-and-blue kameez, audacious colours to complement her restraint in keeping a physical distance between them.
The people on the train speculated about their relationship. Too coy to be related, surely. Bindi on her forehead but no gold around her neck, hmm. Maybe he is Muslim, or Christian? A few of the older commuters remembered a time like that in their own lives. They understood how exhilarating it was to cease to be merely someone's son or daughter and start exercising their romantic free will to carve out a unique identity.
As the train's engine reached them and the carriages began to roll on by, he said goodbye and turned to half-walk, half-jog the hundred metres to Kazhakuttam station. She said goodbye as he abruptly wheeled around, her words falling on his left shoulder, quickly replaced by a backpack strap. Her heart beat a little faster.
He moved gracefully over gravel and metal before jogging slowly on the wooden sleepers of the tracks adjacent to the train. His head was upright but his eyes focused downwards, checking for stray rocks or empty liquor bottles in his way. The train creaked a little as it pulled into the station.
She stood in place for at least his first twenty steps, watching him go, before turning and walking towards the road crossing, where horns rang out again as the last carriage went through. Like him, her eyes pointed at the ground a few steps in front of her. Unlike him, she searched not for objects that might interrupt her passage but for something as firm and certain as the ground beneath her to distract from the thumping in her chest. It didn't work, so she turned to look back at him as she walked.
Just as the passing commuters could only speculate, the same was probably true of their families. No doubt their parents had little idea, though they might have harboured suspicions after their ward came home later than expected a few too many times. Most likely, only a few of their closest friends were in the know. Maybe their siblings, if they had any, might have seen something and been asked to keep it quiet. It's also possible, in this conservative-minded paradise, that they came from families that took an unusually open stance on dating.
It's also possible that there was nothing going on between them at all. Maybe they were just friends. But in the look on her face, still only a few slow steps from the spot where she had been looking into his eyes and smiling bashfully, the girl betrayed her love. The train had gone all the way past her and was coming to a stop at the station, and commuters were beginning to traverse the two feet down from carriage to platform, but she saw nothing but his diminishing figure. She looked ahead again and walked a few more steps, each one bringing her closer to the day's endeavours and further away from her beau. She turned her head toward him once again, only hinting at the storm behind her still eyes with the occasional involuntary flutter of her eyelashes.
He kept moving inexorably toward the train and readied the muscles in his legs for the leap aboard. With her blinking eyes, she willed him to look back at her — just once — but he never did.