The Threepenny Review

Express Train

AT SIXTEEN, the price of a dream can be very high, as we would often learn that summer when the Rajdhani Express first thundered past our bedroom windows. Its maiden run from Howrah to Delhi had reverberated through our town. The few coins we had earned doing odd jobs around Chandan Ji’s place, we traded to enter the train yard where its engine stood, scintillating like a silver jewel amid the older, snub-nosed and soot-covered express engines. This was no ordinary machine (we knew from the snatches of conversations that were abuzz the neighborhood): its box design contained a flurry of switches inside it, and controls that allowed it to cruise fast, a speed of a hundred or a hundred and fifty—I forget—purring rhythmically when it skidded over the joints in the tracks. In those long summer days, the train would often puncture our dreams, hooting its way into our classroom goof-ups and dinner-table conversations.

Those days, we could not be found in the three-room confinements of our school, rooms borrowed one at a time from the charitable Das family, whose balcony leaned heavily across our courtyard. Our shared existence with them was as much a violation of their privacy as ours; we had negotiated fickle concepts of mutual space over the years, the lines blurred and redrawn through festivities and mourning, a bastard kinship of

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