Kulsum is my neighbour, not an ordinary neighbour though. She has no family. She lives in a cramped room in a crumbling house located in the backside of my house. She begs to meet her day to day needs which are not luxurious but simple and bleak. A meal or two a day is enough for her. Her face looks gaunt and unwelcoming. She is a bag of bones but her determination to carry on with life is astounding.

She never misses sunshine, she is an early bird. Her whining down the street is the first thing we hear in the morning. She is the burglar alarm that wakes all the neighbourhood up. Everyone despises her.

At 6 O’clock, everyday, she arrives at the railway station to start the day long to-and-fro journey on the train. The train is as clean as the backyard of my house. The backyard of my house, as a reminder, is Kulsum’s front yard. The pale red colour of the train reminds me of the dungeons in the Game of Thrones.

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As usual, the train arrives, she gets in and starts her work.

“May God and his Messenger bestow health and prosperity onto you,” Kulsum wailed as a woman in an embroidered velvet Pheran (Kashmiri gown) gave her a 10 rupee note.

Another man who looked ill gave her a 5 rupee coin. She prayed for him too. The men on the next seat were chuckling. She hates when anybody laughs in her presence. She gets offensive. However, come what may she remains professional at her work, good luck with the chucklers.

A 10 rupee note, a 5 rupee coin, a 10 rupee note, a 5 rupee coin, a 10 rupee note, a 5 rupee coin, giggling, laughing, chuckling, rattling of the train, a 2 rupee coin, a 1 rupee coin, a 10 rupee coin, a 5 rupee coin.

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At 2 O’clock in the afternoon, she had breakfast with samosas, as many as she could eat, and daikon sauce. She belched heavily and was sitting on her haunches at a marvellous railway station in Kashmir.

Railway stations in Kashmir are very enchanting not because of the infrastructure and the poor trains but due to the alluring Himalayas populated with deodar trees in the background.

The motions, the noise, the shouts, the breezy day, the comfortable sun lulled her to sleep.

At around 4 O’clock, she abruptly woke up due to long blaring horn of the train and walked towards the train. She sat on a blue coloured metal seat, eyes closed, arms crossed, asleep.

At 6 O’clock in the evening, she was at home wailing in her deplorable bleak room.


Postscript — The story is a work of fiction.

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