They laid the train tracks back to front and this caused a great deal of confusion- you’d think you were on the train to New York and arrived in Kinshasha, or to Shanghai and found yourself lost in Istanbul.
Deoye grinned at all the commotion. His father had tried to explain how the tracks being laid wrong was an embarrassment to the city, but Deoye didn’t care. Father complained about everything. The boy watched now, as a train began to leave the station. The train whistle blew, and he pressed his mother’s palm in excitement. She smiled at him, drawing him back a little and Deoye’s eyes widened as the belching behemoth roared its way along the tracks. He loved experiencing that feeling, standing still on the platform as the big train moved faster, seeming to go backwards while he raced forward, a little boy-mother locomotive, moving past a train. His father had told him it was just a matter of perspective and nothing to be afraid of. Deoye was not afraid. He loved feeling like sand rolling down a dune, ending up in exotic places like Egypt or Morocco in his head, no thanks to his overactive imagination, his mother always said. That feeling was one of the reasons he always looked forward to following his mother to the train station whenever his father was returning from town.
He squirmed, and leaned forward to watch the train finally move past him, waving at the people peering out the windows. Most of them stared back stonily, already too weary of life to spare a moment to wave back at a strange child. A few smiled at him or waved back.
His mother pulled him back gently, “Not so close, dear.”
Mother was afraid of everything. He suspected that if she had been one of the passengers on the train that had just left, she wouldn’t have waved back at a small ten year old boy standing on the station platform. And she would have probably come up with a good reason for it. Father always said she was full of excuses not to enjoy herself, although Deoye thought was a mean thing to say. Mother must have thought so too, because she cried.
She cried a lot these days.
She cried when Uncle Frank came around. She cried when father called to ask if she missed him, and sometimes they shouted at one another. She cried when she dropped Deoye off at school, as though he would never come back. Deoye thought she was lonely and wished father would spend less time in town. If his father were around, mother would put her face in his shoulder when she cried, rather than on Uncle Frank’s. He didn’t like Uncle Frank. He was always hanging around the house and eating all the food. Once, Deoye had seen him wearing father’s shirt.
Father had been gone for long this time…almost three months.. and Deoye was worried. Mother had been sick every morning for the past week, and although she said she was fine, she always cried after. Uncle Frank came around almost every day now and he had overheard them talking about taking her to a hospital. That scared him. Hospitals smelled of medicine and were full of nurses with sharp needles.
A slight shower had begun and now the sky rumbled as the first drops hit the metal sheets protecting the platform. The water began to fall onto the tracks and he moved back slightly, afraid of getting his shoes wet. Maybe the sky is afraid of the thunder and cries rain, he thought. Everyone was afraid of something. It didn’t mean they didn’t want to enjoy being alive.
He couldn’t wait for his father to come. Maybe he would tell him to be nicer to mother, so she wouldn’t cry so often. Everything would be okay when father got here. And he would see him soon, for a train was pulling into the station now. He looked up at mother in excitement and saw she was crying. She looked frightened. Deoye was startled. why would mother be afraid of seeing father?
She saw him looking at her and rubbed her hands over her eyes, smiling. Her smile made him want to cry. He turned to watch the train and for once, he forgot to enjoy that backwards feeling as the train slid to a screeching halt. The roar of the rain filled his ears and muffled the sound of the train stopping. He couldn’t see the passengers coming down from the carriages. He couldn’t see his father. Rain dripping from the rusty gutters made a curtain between the platform and the tracks.