This story grew out of a dream I had last night, which was quite remarkable in the technical detail into which it went on my fictional "Supertrain". I've only used a small part of that detail in this story. My Supertrain looked like a cross of a World War One tank, a Maglev train, and the Millennium Falcon's cockpit. Fascinating, really.
“Isn’t this exciting!” Little Sister said.
I looked at her, trying to snort like our English teacher. “Exciting, for kids,” I said. “For little kids.”
“I’m not a little kid,” she said angrily. “And you’re just as excited.”
“Am not,” I said, though I was, just a little.
“Stop fighting, you two,” Mummy said, over her shoulder with that special look, the one that meant that she meant what she said. “This is a great day, for your father and the country.”
Little Sister and I went quiet. The noise around us, of the crowd, was so great that we wouldn’t have been able to hear each other unless we shouted, anyway. There were men with guns and black uniforms everywhere, and we had to walk through a little gate after which Mummy had to open her bags for the men to look through. They even took Little Sister’s doll and put it through a thing like our washing machine.
“Shut up,” I told Little Sister, who had begun bawling. “You’ll get it back.” And just as I’d thought, her bawling stopped like magic when the men took her doll out of the machine and gave it back to her.
“Why are all these men with guns?” I asked.
“Because of terrorists,” Mummy said. “Terrorists are bad people.”
“Only good people can come in?” I asked.
“Yes,” Mummy said and laughed. “Only good people can come in here.”
We walked down a long corridor with pictures on the walls. There were shops at the side selling things, but we were walking too quickly for me to look at them to see if they had toys.
“Stay close to me, you two,” Mummy said. She had her hands full with the bags, or else she’d have pulled us along like she had earlier when the porter in the red uniform had been carrying the bags. But the men with guns hadn’t let the porters in the red uniforms past the gate.
“It’s too bad of them,” Mummy said to a fat auntie, “to make us carry our bags.”
The auntie was so fat that I felt like giggling when I looked at her, but Mummy wouldn’t like it. “Yes, what are the porters for, if we have to drag along our own luggage?” she asked, her cheeks wobbling. “Next thing they’ll say is for us to bring our own food!”
At that I imagined her dragging along a suitcase full of food, and I did giggle, but luckily Mummy didn’t notice.
Little Sister did, though. “What’s funny?”
“Nothing,” I said. So she started sulking and began talking to her doll.
“Isn’t your husband coming along?” the fat auntie asked Mummy. “Did he send you by yourselves?”
“He’s at the inauguration,” Mummy said proudly. “He’s one of the scientists who helped set up the system.” She said other things, but I could tell the fat auntie wasn’t listening.
We came to a big hall full of people, and Mummy pushed us towards where some men and women were sitting on a sort of stage with a lot of flowers. Among them I saw Papa.
“See, there’s Papa,” Mummy said, and I waved. Papa wasn’t looking at us though. He was talking to some of the other men and women and looking at his watch. I could see that he was impatient.
“What is he doing there, Mummy?” Little Sister asked.
“Hush,” Mummy said. “The Minister is coming at last.”
Papa and the others stood up and clapped as a fat uncle in rumpled white clothes came on to the stage, surrounded by so many men in black uniforms that we could hardly see anyone else. The men in black uniforms stood in a line, facing us, and held their guns up. They looked very fierce.
“This is ridiculous,” an uncle next to me muttered. “What do they think we’re going to do, lynch the bastard?”
“What’s a bastard. Mummy?” I asked. “What’s lynch?” Mummy said nothing, just glared at the uncle and pushed us to her other side. The fat uncle in the white clothes then stood behind a tall narrow desk and began to talk.
I didn’t understand a thing he talked about. “New vistas of transport technology…a great leap forward in communication…uniting the nation by bringing people together…” He talked for so long that people around us started muttering to each other and moving around like grown-ups do when they’re bored but don’t want to show it. All through, the men with the guns glared at us from the stage, and I couldn’t see Papa at all.
At last, the fat uncle stopped talking and stepped away from the narrow desk, and everyone began clapping. He then went off with the men with the guns and everyone on the stage, including Papa, followed him.
“I’m tired,” Little Sister whined.
“Let’s go to boarding,” Mummy said. “Your father will meet us inside.”
We went through some more gates with more men with guns, and Mummy gave her all her bags except one to a counter, and then we went through a doorway onto a concrete platform. Something so huge was standing there that at first I thought it was a long building, but then I realised that it was the Supertrain Papa was talking about, the one we were to go on.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Mummy asked us. The Supertrain was shining white and bright yellow, and had yellow tracks like the bulldozers on TV, winding up the front all the way up to the roof. At the front there were two places like spaceship cockpits from the movies, one at the level of the platform and one much higher. There was a man in a blue uniform and a black cap sitting in the lower spaceship cockpit. I waved at him but he didn’t look at me.
“Leave him alone to do his work,” Mummy said.
“Why are there two of them?” I asked, pointing up at the higher one.
“I don’t know, you can ask your father. Maybe the upper one is to see further along the track. Now come on.”
We met the fat auntie from earlier, but she pretended not to see us. I know it was pretending because she looked at us and turned her head away. We entered through a door and took a moving stairs up until we came out on a shining floor with rows of seats and large windows.
“There’s Papa,” Little Sister shouted.
We saw Papa coming towards us. He looked tired and a little angry, like when he came home from the office after a hard day and before he and Mummy began fighting. But they wouldn’t fight here.
“We’re two hours late already,” he said. “That damned minister kept us waiting. Can you, imagine, he couldn’t even cut the tape because…”
“Don’t say things like that out loud,” Mummy whispered. “You never know who’s listening.”
“I know, but this is the first run, damn it. And we’re already late!”
Papa looked round at us and smiled, like he did when you knew he was making himself smile. “You two OK?” He pointed at the seats. “Sit down quickly.”
“I want the window seat, Papa,” I said, but Little Sister had already run to it, and grabbed on to the armrest, glaring at me. Papa wouldn’t have let me pull her away, of course, so I had to sit next to her and Papa to my right. Mummy sat on the other side of Papa.
All around us the seats were filling up. A boy and girl in front of us were quarrelling in a language I didn’t understand, and suddenly he slapped her. Everyone there began shouting.
“That’s a good start,” Papa muttered angrily.
I suddenly realised that we were moving. Outside, where there had been metal roofs, was now open air. But there was no noise.
“We’re floating through the air above the railway line,” Papa murmured in my ear. “It’s a magnetic field, holding us up, and the tracks on the train are generating the magnetic field. Do you understand?”
I nodded, though I didn’t of course. Papa must have realised that. “Never mind,” he said, shaking his head a little. “I’ll tell you later.”
“Is this the biggest train ever built?” I asked.
“The fastest too,” Papa said. “Earlier we’d have taken two days for this trip. Now, we’ll be doing it in three hours and twenty-five minutes. Or,” he added, “we would have, if we’d started on time.”
“We’re flying in the air, like a plane?” I’d never been on a plane, but I’d imagined it many times.
“Not quite, we’re just off the track. But we are going very smoothly, aren’t we?”
“You made all this, Papa?”
“I did a little bit,” he said, smiling. “Only a little bit.”
“You’ll never get further in your career if you don’t begin promoting yourself,” Mummy said to him, in the same tone as she used when she was getting ready for a fight.
“We’ll talk about this later, all right?” Papa said to her, and she sighed loudly.
A girl in a blue uniform came round with sweets and tiny bottles of cold drinks, and both Little Sister and I were busy crunching the toffees and sucking on the bottles of drinks. Then I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew, there were tall buildings outside, grey and very dirty, and I could see that we were moving slowly.
“We’re almost there,” Papa said, “Wake up, both of you.”
“What are those buildings?” I asked. “Why are they so dirty?”
“Low class people live in them,” Mummy snapped. “Dirty people, slum people. Not good people like us.”
We stopped, and everybody got up. Papa took Little Sister and me by the hands and led us over to the side wall. A line of small rooms had opened up, shining metal like bathrooms, and Papa and Mummy ushered us into the nearest.
“We’re going down.” Papa said, and the room began moving, the other rooms lining up behind us. Just behind us was the fat auntie, who was staring up at the roof.
Looking to the side, I saw the rooms were moving alongside the big tracks, which were moving slowly now, and outside I could see buildings and people. We got to the bottom and Papa and Mummy took us by the hands and out. “I’ll get the luggage from the carousel.” Papa said. There were TV people with cameras, and everyone coming out of the train waved and smiled.
“It’s a great day for the nation,” someone shouted.
On the way to the taxi stand, Papa bought us ice cream.
As we were eating it, a beggar came up to us, rattling a cup, and Papa gave him a coin.
Mummy was angry. I could see that from the way she tightened her lips. But there were people around, so she didn’t say anything. It didn’t matter. I knew already they’d fight all night, anyway.
The train trip was over.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2011