A strange, wondrous encounterYou find it very hard to let go of your selfish being. You don't dare take your life; instead, you buy a ticket to a faraway destination.
You look at yourself in the mirror, which lies just an inch away from the ticket-counter. You are in good shape. You notice your black, rumpled hair all covered in tiny, whitish flakes. Some might call it dandruff, but you despise that word. You stroke your beard gently with your left hand. You know shaving would have killed your masculinity, so you don't snip it. Instead, you keep it shaggy and messy, as it successfully hides your inflamed, rosy-coloured acne that cling all over your jawline.
You look down and see yourself carrying a heavy suitcase that's made up of plain, embossed tin. It's an antique steamer-trunk to be exact. You are five feet ten, and the suitcase is approximately half your height, maybe about a couple of feet long. The trunk's exterior is quite similar to your itchy hair—small worn-off tin flakes are seen congregated onto the numerous pits present on its shiny surface. You blow on it softly, creating an artificial sleet shower, not with actual snow but with minuscule metallic bits.
Sluggishly, you head towards the counter and ask.
"Can I get a ticket, please?"
"Where to, sir?" responds a woman in her forties.
"Anywhere the train goes!" you reply cordially.
She is taken aback by your eerie request, but due to hours of ticket-trading and short deals done with a bunch of businessmen, students, and officers, she becomes reluctant to talk about the available routes. So she hands you a ticket, all soaked in sweat, not mentioning the destination. You take it, and without even looking at it, you fold it and keep it inside the left slip pocket of your jeans.
You take a short stroll to the tea shop situated at 'Platform One' to warm your cold throat. As you reach there, you smell the aroma of cardamom tea along with the smidge of sweaty pheromones. You want some and ask a middle-aged man adorned in a red, velvety turban and a plain white lungi.
"Can I have a cup of masala chai, please?"
"Thikase! Apni bose thakun." (Sure! Could you please sit down?)
As the chaiwallah hands you a cup, you take gradual sips of the tea immersing yourself into extreme pleasure until a young boy, aged ten, wearing an old, worn-out Iron Maiden T-shirt and black, shabby boxer shorts, draws your attention. He pokes you incessantly with his pinkie and addresses you in a sickly voice.
“Sahib!” the boy cries.
You resent him at first, berating him for disturbing you. But as you see his eyes, which display credulous innocence and naivety, you cannot ignore him.
"What's the matter, pichhi (young boy)?"
"Sahib, do you know how to write in Urdu?" the boy asks.
"Of course I do. Why do you want to know?"
As soon as you ask him about your linguistic intelligence, the boy starts to dance with glee. He takes out a small, crumpled piece of paper, unfolds it, and hands it to you. He asks you again, putting high hopes, expecting you not to deny his request.
"Can you write a letter for me in Urdu? It's for my mother…"
He continues. "I want to write her a letter and gift it to her."
"What is it that you want to write?" you ask anxiously.
The boy babbles unfathomable syllables as he sits beside your bulky suitcase. He exhibits sentiments of utter joy and rapture, as he makes a light sideward stroke on your trunk's crooked surface. He then begins asking you about your metallic suitcase.
"Sahib, what is inside this big dabba?"
The fact that he addresses your suitcase as a box makes you chuckle. As a sarcastic reply, you say, "Whatever you wish to be there." You say jokingly, in a very ironic way, but the boy's naïve brain takes your words very seriously. He immediately jumps down on the ground with much bewilderment.
"First, tell me sahib, is this dabba really magical?"
You chuckle again, seeing the boy's innocence, but you don't want to disappoint him. So you nod your head and ask him to wish for the thing he wants.
"Sahib, can you tell your dabba to give me a packet of Dairy Milk? I always wanted to eat one, a whole packet by myself. Please, Sahib."
You swirl your hand in the figure of eight and utter the magical word 'Abracadabra.' You move your fingers around the suitcase and unlock it. Sluggishly, you take out a small tiny packet of Dairy Milk and give it to the boy. Seeing his wish become fulfilled, your heart fills with contentment.
"You know what Sahib…," he continues. “My amma is so clever. She always comes up with dozens of excuses and never buys me a single packet. And when we reach home, to brighten up my mood, she always cooks my favorite food, aloo paratha. And then I give my amma a big, tight hug. Even though I don't get my Dairy Milk, I know I always get my amma's paratha, and nothing can replace the love she pours into them. It's my favourite."
As soon as the boy finishes eating, you ask him again.
"Do you want to wish for anything else, pichhi?"
"See Sahib, my mother always tells me to be generous to people. I never thought today would be the day I'd be eating my favorite chocolate. But every good thing comes with a price. I could've wished for something else. Instead of a good, chocolatey delight, I could have wished for a packet of flour or a kilo of potatoes. That way I could've put a smile on my amma's face and have gotten myself a plate of delicious parathas. But I chose the chocolate instead. And the only thing I can do now is to go straight to my home and give my amma a warm hug and kiss her on her cheeks, and tell her how much her son loves her."
His words hit you deep to your core, making you realise the essence of love. The only reason you had come to the station was because you wanted to go somewhere distant, away from your miserable being. So you had brought your belongings with you in your trunk, thinking you'd catch the train and go far away. But you find it very hard to let go of your selfish being. You don't dare take your life; instead, you buy a ticket to a faraway destination. But as you reflect the boy’s words, you start missing your family and mostly yourself. Bursting into tears, you ask him his name.
"Saleem… Saleem Mukhtar," the boy answers and saunters out of the station.
The train finally arrives. You take out the ticket from your pocket and rip it in two and see the station fill with eager passengers jumping out of the train. You pick up your suitcase and ask the chaiwallah for another cup of cardamom tea. Seeing your startled face, he asks you.
"Having a rough day, janab (sir)?"
"Kind of…," you continue. “I met a young boy just a moment ago. And we had a little chit-chat…”
Giving a sigh you say, “I am just moved by his warm words."
"Did you happen to ask his name?" questions the chaiwallah.
"Yes. He said his name was Saleem Mukhtar."
The chaiwallah raises his eyebrows in complete awe and disbelief. With his eyes wide open, he asks you again.
"You said Saleem Mukhtar, right?"
"Yeah, I am absolutely sure."
"Impossible janab! I knew the boy. His mother, Soliha, used to own a small dhaba near platform two. She used to make such delicious aloo parathas. I used to eat there a lot. Unfortunately, they met with an accident a month ago and got run over by the train. You must be joking, janab!"
The chaiwallah hands you the teacup as you become stone-cold, not able to soothe yourself from the warmth of your hot tea.