While I was in South India during November I started to write using the names of my friends as characters in an adventure story. Chapter two begins with a night time scene at Margao Station and you can see that it was a place that we did indeed visit in the middle of the night.
Chapter one introduced my characters. They are Shyju, Jitu, and Zai and for some, as yet undisclosed reason, they are taking ‘The Englishman’ on a long journey, north from Kannur and they find themselves waiting, in the middle of the night, for their train on the next leg of their journey.
A week is a long time in India Chapter 2
The night is hot and there is tension and irritability amongst the waiting passengers.
The long platform disappears off into the darkness. Pools of light hold standing groups in silhouette. The air is heavy. Wood smoke drifts across the tracks to merge into a haze that glows in the platform lights like a London fog. Beyond the platform end a pair of red signal lights punctuate the smoky atmosphere in an unblinking gaze; their bloodied reflection skittering off the rippled sides of a line of carriages standing in the centre road: their dark doorways and vacant windows going nowhere; taunting those who wait on the platform in their limbo of the late train. The automated voice of the station announcer has no presets that cover the fact that the Mayanad Express is over one hour late, so the standing and seated groups wait, not knowing to what extent their fortitude will be tested.
Further down the platform a man stands watching the Englishman and his Indian colleagues from a distance. He is a lithe figure with bare arms that have tattoos in a band around his biceps and he wears a dark sleeveless jacket with something heavy in the inside pocket. He has been watching and waiting for an hour or more while standing in the shadows between the platform lights. His keen eyes miss nothing, but his focus is on the foreigner and his friends who sit and stand around a platform bench that lies between him and the platform buffet. None of them are aware of his presence. His name is Preejith. He is alert and tense despite the apparent calm of the scene before him.
The stillness is broken by a man in a striped shirt who wheels past with a trolley loaded with bottles of Bisleri Water, packs of Oreos and clear packages of cashew nuts, but Preejith stays in the shadows beneath an old tree. He is invisible unless he smiles. He remains invisible. There is no one to engage him in conversation and he watches as the man in the striped shirt gives a sandwich wrapped in cellophane to a middle aged man who has a small case tucked under his arm. A slimly built woman carrying a baby stands momentarily in front of the man with the case, and holds out her hand. He tells her that if she wished to bring a child into the world she should have ensured that she had the resources to feed it.
Further down the platform the tall Englishman rises from the stone bench, and turning away, heads for the busy refreshment stall. None of his three colleagues follow him. A limping dog runs up the platform and distracts Preejith as it starts to bark at another dog on the tracks. The sound echoes back from the silent coaches in the smoky air, and Preejith is caught off guard. At this very moment the middle aged man drops the small case, and starts to run towards the refreshment kiosk, he stops as he draws level with the girl with the child and raises a snub nosed pistol. The startled girl turns and screams just as the first shot rings out and the glass screen on the refreshment stall shatters behind the Englishman.
Unsighted, Preejith drops to his knees, firing upwards and underneath the outstretched arms of the man in the striped shirt who stands by his trolley. His first shot catches the middle aged gunman in the right shoulder, and as the man spins, his next shot takes him in the left temple. The girl with the child slowly sinks to the ground, speckled with the blood of the dead man. All around, people have thrown themselves to the floor, and with the sound of the three shots still echoing, the man in the striped shirt lifts a machine pistol from amongst the bottles on his trolley: and turning back towards Preejith, pulls the trigger.
Preejith rolls to his right as the sparks fly off the platform towards him. He fires once, and the machine pistol fire rakes upwards, all but destroying the trolley. Then it brings down shards of glass from the platform canopy, that continue to tinkle to the ground as the pistol is suddenly silent. The man in the striped shirt lies on his back in a spreading pool of water from the scattered Bisleri bottles, the pistol still in his right hand; a hand and arm stretched out beyond his bloodied body, by the force of the firing.
No one moves. Everyone, it seems, is holding their breath. All that can be heard is the sobbing of the girl with the child, and the sound of water bottles, emptying their contents onto the platform. Further down near the refreshment kiosk Zai and Jitu leap to their feet and push the Englishman towards the edge of the platform where they drop down into the shadows alongside the rails. This action, though silent, is the signal for everyone to depart the scene, and within a few seconds the platform is deserted except for two dead bodies and an injured Preejith.
Four minutes pass and the late running Myanad express rumbles into the station.