Chapter One – The Escape
Kaua was his name, well that was not his birth name, but he’d been called Kaua since childhood and had trouble remembering what his real name was.
Kaua had vague memories of his parents in his ancestral village. His father had been a village toddy maker and brewed his noxious potions in among a collection of thorn trees by the village tank. One day that mix of dangerous elements had been contaminated and killed all customers who purchased their drinks that day.
It was rumoured a rival toddy maker had sneaked a deadly cocktail into the bubbling brew being prepared for next day trade but be that as it may the village demanded revenge and Kaua’s parents had been set alight in their home and died there with his siblings. Only Kaua survived to dwell on the outskirts of the village in fear lest he meet the same end. His name described his habit of lighting raids on rubbish tips, homes and grain fields to somehow survive. For Kaua is the name of the scavenging crow.
Eventually this boy became such a nuisance in the village those who’d lost family members decided to put an end to him and complete their revenge on this remaining member of the family. But Kaua lurking in the evening shadows looking for an opportunity to dart in and steal food heard those plans being discussed by village elders resting lotus fashion on their charpoys. In fear that night he stumbled down the long bullock cart road which connected his village to the nearest rail station village.
He’d been to the station before to investigate better survival potential but after stealing from fruit barrows in a collection around station entrance he was chased out of the village by young touts who frequented the station selling cheap food and drinks to those reaching out windows with rupees to buy a travel snack. These battle-scarred young warriors wanted no competition in their territory.
This time Kaua made sure he avoided that station entrance. Squeezing through a fence originally placed there decades ago in colonial times to keep people off the line he carefully negotiated the little hutments now clustered around the rail track and waited patiently for the Janata Express train. Hour after hour other trains sped through the station on their way to larger cities without stopping. But just when he was about to nod off tired from his stressful escape the applied brakes and horn of an approaching train woke him to full alertness.
Station personnel would inspect the train from engine to rear carriage for those trying to hitch a free ride so Kaua watched as inspectors did their job and engineers checked wheels and linkages. Then as they turned to return to stationmaster’s office and report he saw his chance and silently slipped between carriages. Finding a foothold, he tried to meld into shadows in case an inspector returned. With a lurch and sound of brakes released the train began to inch forward. Finding a ladder to the roof he made his way slowly to the roof of the carriage as the carriage swayed from side to side. He’d seen it done before but the reality of doing so on a moving train was terrifying to this village lad.
It was only as he reached the roof he discovered he was not alone. An assortment of people young and old were on the roof of his carriage. They’d been lying flat in station to try and avoid detection and favoured the rear carriages which were further away from station offices and waiting rooms where major activities of a stop and better lighting could result in their being dragged down. It was obvious they’d done it before as they sat watching the countryside slip by on this beautiful moonlit evening.
Kaua was wide awake now despite his lack of sleep. While terrifying trying to hang on as the train sped rocking through the night he could feel developing excitement as he speculated as to what was at the other end of this journey.
After several hours of travel, he saw in the distance a bright light that seemed to originate from earth and light up the distant sky. As each mile sped by Kaua speculated on the increasing light source and wished he could ask someone what it was. But with the speed of the train, noise of its progress and wind created one could not hear himself speak. Then in the distance it appeared to him the ground was on fire but as he came closer he could see it was the merged lights of a metropolis. He was far from his comfort zone now and shook with fear at what he’d find when the speeding rel gaadee came to a stop. And half an hour later it did after slowing to negotiate a sprawling hutment settlement on each side of the tracks for the remaining distance to the nearest suburban station. As the train slowed further there was a mad exodus from the roof as those travelling roof class without a ticket sought to escape the clutches of railway police. Kaua was not as practiced as these seasoned travellers and made his way shaking down the ladder. A challenge could be heard above the din as kaki clad men moved in their direction and people like a flock of birds disturbed from their resting place ran as fast as they could for a hole in the fence seasoned travellers were obviously accustomed to. Kaua joined them in their rapid flight. Out on the street Kaua paused to catch his breath. His eye took in the scene. The first rays of dawn were beginning to bring dark shapes into focus. Row upon row of people were sleeping on paper or cloth with the occasional shelter erected against walls supposedly protecting railway property. He blinked in disbelief. The press of humanity around him after the light population of his village alarmed him. How would he survive? He could outrun those chasing him in his village but here with the press of humanity emerging from their evening sleep there was no escape route. How could they sleep with the various wallahs already shouting their wares, calls to prayer from thousands of loudspeakers around the city and the intoned prayers of those who worshiped a menu of gods as the sun rose? The events of the past long hours took their toll and he sank to the ground beating his head against the pavement in desperation. To be continued.
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