Conversations on Platforms

I hurried along the platform, anxiously checking
the time. That’s when I felt that gaze upon me,
following my bags, with eyes as dark as night.
I had some time to spare, and I was curious.
I called for him, he looked at me, and I stopped.

He was no more than five or six- dirty,
shy, ashamed and worryingly thin.
‘Could you give him some water’, a nearby
woman asked. I did. Something about her pricked
at me, and I wanted to hear her talk more.

Maybe it was the vacant eyes, without and beyond hope.
She seemed like she had something to say,
if only she found someone to listen.
I checked my watch again and sat down,
asked her to talk to me, maybe I could help.

She and her son, she told me, were thrown out
of their home. Begging for a place to stay, they
knocked on many unanswered doors, before settling
for this railway platform, with fellow refugees from
the world having no voice, after slipping through its cracks.

“Would have killed myself if I didn’t have to
look after him”, she muttered, watching her son
kick around the empty bottle. I asked gently if she
went to the police or her family. She shook her head,
“Who wants a mad woman? They’ll take him away too.”

She stretched her arm out, a long line of neat scars,
each white over the years, each with its own reason,
each yet another strike against her for society
and for her family, each a silent scream to regain control.

But she seemed so lucid, and was talking to me so easily. As if
to read my thoughts, she said “I know. I stopped after I was sent
away. Why did I do it then? I don’t know. Sometimes I wondered too,
and I hated myself for not knowing why. They wanted to take my son
away. Why would I hurt him? I only hated myself; I know that much.”

I wanted to do something. Anything. What could I do?
As I kept thinking, I realised how much she had already tried,
and how little of what she went through could I ever comprehend.
And what about the son? Could I leave her with him, knowing
what I know? He seemed fine, and she seemed tired of it all.

By now, my train had arrived, and I knew I had to go.
I pressed some money in her hands, even though I knew,
It wouldn’t be enough, not by a long shot. She declined,
“I pass my days on the kindness of people here.  Thanks for
listening to me.” Here was someone who had no idea what
life had in store a year from now, and she was grateful. To what?

As I boarded my train, I promised myself that I would be back,
Talk to her again, maybe help move her into a better place.
I shook my head one last time, and waited for the train
to take me away. I haven’t gone back to P3 at Purani Dilli yet,
But I hope my friend has found a way out of there.

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