By Imran Garda
The train screams towards him, louder, louder with every inch of ground covered. Then a halting screech. And a jolt. The doors open.
Grey-booted legs step off and onto the platform. His grey-booted twigs embark.
“Station 55 Military Capital,” said the automated voice, “stand clear of the platform, next station 56,” the accent is aggravating, feeftee seeeex with roller-coasting elongated vowels. Neither American, nor English, but tinny, whiny and almost Australian – if Australia still existed, he thought. The doors close.
Screaaaaam away towards station 56. Half an hour until he reaches home. Eleven small stops, rather momentary slowdowns in-between, at the mini stations not large enough to warrant a name or number. They used to be stations until the Peace Enforcement Brigade finally put an end to the riots in Chinatown.
Adam Shirazi leaves his newspaper in the bag. He prefers to think. In this place, in this life, all he has are his thoughts. He thinks.
Before the war the trains never used to scream, they would glide. Or maybe that’s just the way he and everybody else sees the past. Water tasted sweeter, now it merely serves as a survival fluid. Food tasted delicious and it nourished; now food is a battery recharger, just enough to keep them alive, just enough for them to do their work, not enough for them to enjoy it.
Tasteful enough to keep them from suicide.
Tastelessly plaguing every mouth, weighing on every tongue like a bad memory, only to be replaced with a new one, three times a day.
There are a few seats available. But he chooses to stand for now.
I’m old but I’m not dead, he thinks.
Facing forward, holding the leather strap with one hand. Staring ahead, thinking.
He only has one thought – “All I have are my thoughts.” He has none, except that. But it sustains him. Ahead, Shirazi can see the slightly open door leading to the next cabin. It’s rattling, just a little, and his eyes focus on a small corner of the yellow Obama-era door; the rattle is therapy, he drifts into deep dozy daydream. Thoughtful thoughtlessness, “all I have are my thoughts,” like a mantra it metronomically taps at regular intervals in his mind…”all I have are my thoughts.”
A voice from behind: “Prrrraise the Lor’d….Prrrraise the Lor’d.” It’s getting, louder, closer. He’s back.
The Moronian – he could get himself a minimum of five years for this. “Prrraise the Lor’d, the Lor’d Jay-sus said dis time gon’ come, and I have been anointed by the Lor’d Jay-sus himself to tell ya, oh sinners, oh Babylon, that the return of the Lor’d is near…”
He is in Adam’s peripheral vision now – a caucasian burnt black as charcoal, tattooed nose, dirty as always – a silent mumble, “hope he doesn’t have any of those fucking pamphlets,” Adam’s getting nervous, continues to look ahead but makes a tiny adjustment to his left, gripping onto the hanging leather strap tighter, its edge hurts his palms. He’s closing off his body, angling it away. He gets off at station 56. But they’re still a long way away from it. Adam will have to be patient.
Momentary slowdown. Mini station. Back to full speed.
A trembling, sweaty palm on his right shoulder.
“You sir, belong to da Kingdom of Heaven version 2.0 as expressed in the second coming of the 13th apostle” – the Moronian addresses him mechanically; crossing himself with one hand and pinching his nose with the other in the process, the standard way.
“Excuse me,” Adam rudely mumbles and swivels further to the left. If the cameras see him interacting with the outlawed Moronian, any Moronian, he might get five years.
Momentary slowdown. Mini station. They’ve passed a few already and Adam’s failed to notice. Back to full speed.
The man insisted. “Wait sir, wait….” his greasy hands now seeping through Adam’s cotton shirt. Their bodily fluids meet for the first time.
“The lor’d has said chosen me, and chosen you, and put us both, together in dis place so we could find a way to get the hell outta dis purgatory, for maynkine to re-establish god’s word in dis blessed country…” his accent sways from southeast DC to Mississippian. He continued: “…and to be free from tyranny, tyrants tyrannication, tyrannical tyrannicalism of the tyrant tyranese!!!”
Adam’s starting to sweat profusely. This is too much.
The other passengers are starting to look, not at the Moronian, but at Adam. Their eyes are locked onto him. Scanning him. The woman to the left is writing something down.
“Is she making a note of my barcode? Do I look as if I’m paying attention to him?”
He thinks. Paranoia reigns.
“Five years”…he’s hyperventilating….”five years” he thinks… the woman stands up, waving her index finger at him, now all the passengers are standing up, wagging, wagging, five years….his feet are shaking, drenched under his shirt, it makes no difference because the Moronian’s filthy palms have made him wretchedly dirty enough.
His thoughts like a bouncing rubber ball in a room made of corrugated iron.
“The people, they’re not looking at him they’re looking at me. I must do something. I can’t be seen around him! What the…?”
The accent sounds Pakistani now, “And Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘aalah says that the time will not come until Nabi Isa alayhis salaam slays the one eyed imposter, DAJJAL, the anti-christ…” like velcro mittens the Moronian’s palms grip Adam’s cheeks and turn them to face him. Close enough to see the specks of yellow in his one eye, bulging now, like a grape. He’s laughing. It’s a deep, throaty, spiteful laugh. Now they’re all laughing, and they’re so many of them. The finger wagging and the laughter, in a simultaneous diabolical symphony. Adam needs to get out. He needs to do something.
“My pen, my pen…”
He reaches for his pen in his left pocket, shaking, but this is his only option – he stabs him straight down the middle of that hideous eye. It explodes….with light…a FLASH….
A halting screech.
And a jolt. The steel coated edge of the yellow door looks stained. The door rattles just a little.
“Station 56 Military Capital.”
Adam stands alone. He looks to his right, nobody. Behind him, no finger wagging, just a handful of indifferent, numb passengers, with the same numbness you see everywhere in this place where smiles once visited but visit no more. The same people. But they’re not laughing, not finger wagging. Where did he go? Adam wonders. The woman to his left, nestled in the corner where her plastic seat meets the inside wall of the cabin, humming to herself, eyes closed. Cosy, but numb too, indifferent.
He was never here.
“Stand clear of the platform, next station 56,” the doors close, they scream off once again into the hollow darkness.
About the author
Born in Johannesburg, Imran Garda has over a decade of experience as a journalist, writer and broadcaster. He most recently hosted The Stream on Al Jazeera in Washington DC.