Oblivious to the scorching Indian heat, the shoeless boy flopped to his knees and put his ear to the ground. Raising his hand, he indicated that I should do the same. Reluctantly, I did, silently rebuking my, normally, rational head for yielding so easily to my compassionate heart and to the whim of this persistent child. “Listen!” he said. “You hear? It coming!” I didn’t hear anything, but I nodded all the same.
Then he was on his feet, whirling up the dust like a mini tornado, his arms outstretched, palms open. “I show you! One rupee! You give, please?” he urged. Intrigued, I gave.
The boy positioned the coin on the metal track, then he gripped my sleeve and, with deceptive strength, tugged me back a few feet and onto the ground where he squatted easily – knobbly knees poking up on either side of his malnourished body. I attempted to do the same, but my middle-age spread strained against my unyielding buckle. I knelt. “Now wait.” He grinned.
My knees ached and creaked, and droplets of sweat tickled winding trails down my face. But I didn’t dare move. It seemed… impolite. The boy sat with unmoving concentration. Then it began. First through our feet, a small vibration which, as it grew stronger, rose up through our shins, knees, buttocks — onwards and upwards, until my scalp tingled.
The boy squealed again, bouncing eagerly on his haunches. “Hear that? It coming! It coming!” he cried. I heard it.
A surge of hot air, preceded it, the force of it almost knocking us over. Excited, the boy’s voice rose shrilly. “It here! Now wait… wait!”
The grimy red-orange monstrosity thundered past, like a god, without giving us a second glance. Single-minded in its pursuit of its prey — Mumbai. It emitted an ear-piercing screech — a warning of its intent — and left in its wake two dust-covered mortals to watch it rumble over the horizon. Instantly the boy was on his feet whooping and laughing – all white eyes and toothless grin — amidst the settling dry dust, hopping from one foot to the other, dancing to the music of his squeals and hoots. Strangely exhilarated, I found his simplistic joy at this event contagious and joined in his dance.
“It done! It done! Look now, look!” He retrieved my flattened coin from the rail track and held it out to me. “See!” He said. “A souvenir for you…” I nodded and reached out for it. He held it back. “…for only two rupee!” He cocked his head and grinned.
I laughed aloud… and paid.
Lea Pryer is a primary school teacher and lives with her husband and daughter in the village of Toddington, Bedfordshire in England. She enjoys singing, acting, directing, reading, films and the theatre. Writing has always been part of her life, in one form or another, from writing stories for her pupils to penning pantomimes and plays for her local theatre group to perform.