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The Railway Lady

She was always there. The railway lady, they called her, on her bench on Platform 3. She was as much a part of the station as the railway tracks, and more so than the station master, whose father, too, had known her to sit there for every hour of his duty, and more besides. All knew her faded kaftan, and when the wind blew, the worn petticoat beneath. But who would dare to pity those cheekbones, that high forehead? Who would think to pity that serene little smile? She watched them that came by, and intermittently she closed her eyes, but most were not sure she ever slept.

All she ate was the station fare. Nuts and crisps and too-sweet tea, and once in a while vegetables and ruti. Some gave her money, and they felt guilty doing it, though later they could not have explained why. Those days the street urchins fed well.

She had faraway eyes, ones that would have gone well with incense sticks and princess tales. The fine lines around her mouth did say: I have had everything.

The rich men paused to wonder, the poor men stopped to ask, “Who are you?”

“Ask anyone,” she would chuckle. “They call me the railway lady.”

“Why are you here?”

“There is a bench here,” she would say, “and many things to see. Why shouldn't I be here?”

Don't you have anywhere to go? - they nearly asked, and where are you really from?

I have had everything, the fine lines around her mouth replied.

She christened the trains Shah Jahan and Aurungzeb, and Rabindranath, the one with the beard of steam, and often she asked the coolies about their children by name. A fat tom sat around her feet whenever it deigned to appear; her fingertips rested upon its head, slender as the ends of silver spoons.

The station people could tell you how often she spoke of death.

“Tauba, tauba,” they would say on automatic, hands raised to their cheeks. Her eyes would turn ironic at this.

“We all must go, children, we all must go.”

Many hesitated to start a conversation. Should she be their sister or their aunt?

Maa, they settled, finally, though her face never quite let them in. And into these conversations crept politics, and philosophy, and agricultural botany. She could tell them stories of Moscow and Vienna, England and Nigeria, and they supposed she got them from the old newspapers people forgot on her bench.

The bottom part of her hair was black, and the top half was grey. Cruella de Vil, she told the beggar children, and they looked back at her bewildered.

“Hair dye,” she explained. She used to dye her hair bright black, and when she stopped, it grew out grey. Cruella de Vil, she repeated, clapping her hands with glee. Now the children laughed along.

She said her prayers five times a day, sitting on the bench, without a veil or prayer mat. When the first note of the azaan sounded, those around her saw a flicker of irritation cross her face.

“Why are they dictating to me?” she would demand. “I will pray anyway; incessantly they cut up, cut up my day.” They would stare at her, a little shocked, and she would close her eyes and begin to murmur.

Her fingers were empty of rings, and her earlobes were bare of shine, but the fine lines around her mouth did say: I have had everything.

By Safieh Kabir
For my grandmother


No alarms. No surprises.

The sun seeps through the blinds of the window, forming zigzags on my arms, running up all the way to my shoulders. They fade away; it's a sunny day with blue skies, lots of clouds and the sun going in and out of hiding every now and then. There's also a slight breeze, one that picks up and whistles through the leaves and then dies down the next second.

I look to my left, out on to the close horizon. It's littered with houses, apartments and buildings varying in shapes, sizes, colours. I can hear people buzzing at the market a few feet below, the random barks of dogs in the distance, the laughter of children playing in the heat, the splashing of water as women wash their clothes and of course the whistling of the breeze through the leaves.

My room is silent; the creaking fan had stopped long before dawn came over the buildings on the other side. I stay there in bed and close my eyes. The light continues to play on my arms, smiling passionately on the world now and crouching playfully under a cloud next. The sounds continue to pour through, the silence inside my room beckoning them to come and join. I can hear the sound of more children now, and running feet, they seem to be getting closer. A noise of a rolling tire follows. The clip clop of slippers fades away.

The sun is back and it stays for a while, I can feel its heat on my face as the rays peek over the window blinds. The sun moves again, the warm embrace disappears, my body feels cool. An alarm clock shrieks from the right side of the bed. It shuts out the silence and all the noises and sounds from outside rush away immediately. The clock screams out and all of a sudden that's all that is heard in the room. My arm shoots out in reflex and soon the alarm stops ringing. It's silent once more.

I open my eyes. It's dark. No noises, no sounds. Dark silence.

I look around; the alarm clock shows it's time to move. 5:00 am. I gather my books and my student id, and the keys from the bowl nearby. It's still dark when I close the door to my room behind me and lock it. My jacket feels heavy in arms. It's probably snowing outside. I put it on.

Two minutes pass. My boots crunching on the wet snow is the only sound in the dead parking lot. I reach my beaten down Honda and wipe away the snow from the windshield and the handle. One wrench later, I'm inside.

The car is cold inside, the leather on the seats are stiff and uncomfortable. I check my reflection in the mirror above me. Tired eyes stare back at me. I look away.

The engine starts at two tries. God is with me today. Home however, is far away.

By Munawar Mobin


Kids Stars

The Ghost of the Unicorn

Once upon a time there were five friends; Mark, Robert, Jack, James and Gloria. They were all about the same age and had lots of fun together.

One day James's uncle, Sir James Slave invited him to his house for a couple of days. James brought his friends along for the trip. When they arrived they were surprised that his uncle lived in a castle. “Why do you have a castle, uncle,” James asked. “It belonged to your grandfather,” he replied. “Enjoy yourselves but whatever you do, don't go to the basement,” his uncle warned them. But they were curious and decided to sneak in there. Later that night, they tip-toed to the basement and discovered the statue of an unicorn. As they walked around the statue, Mark thought he'd pull off a cool trick and he jumped and grabbed the unicorn's horn. But the horn broke and suddenly the unicorn turned black and disappeared into thin air.

When they got out of the basement James told his uncle what happened. His uncle got worried and told them that the statue of the unicorn sealed a ghost within and the horn sealed the ghost's powers; without the horn he could break free. “Why didn't you tell me this before?” James asked. “I didn't want to scare you,” his uncle replied. “Now that the unicorn is free he will terrorise everyone! What can we do?” Gloria asked. “The only way to stop him is to put his horn back,” Sir Slave said. “Then let's do it,” James said.

After searching for a while, they found the unicorn wreaking havoc on nearby residents. Mark decided to throw a rock at the unicorn to distract it. The unicorn got angry when he got hit and ran towards them. The kids ran to an unfinished building and hopped into the elevator. The unicorn couldn't catch them because a unicorn doesn't know how to use an elevator but the kids did. They were hiding at top of the building. Suddenly, the unicorn, upon seeing his reflection on a piece of broken glass, got scared and began running like a bull, destroying everything in its path.

James and his friends followed. But they couldn't make a plan because they didn't know much about the unicorn. James asked his uncle to tell more about the unicorn. His uncle told them that the unicorn had a bad side and a good side; the bad side turned it evil and the only way was to free the good side was by putting the horn back on the unicorn. “OK, the plan is this. We'll put a treadmill in front of him, Jack and Mark will be bait and lure him to the trap and Gloria and Robert will start the treadmill and when the unicorn gets tired, I will put the horn back,” James said. Jack and Mark managed to bait the unicorn to the trap but the unicorn was fast and almost got out of the trap. James had to hurry up and put the horn back. He jumped on the unicorn's back and banged the horn against the unicorn's head. The unicorn became dazed and James put the horn back once and for all. Things were back to normal and as a reward James's uncle let them keep the unicorn.

By Ayan Haider
Age: 8 Years, Marie Curie School


 

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