The ticket line
No one heard it, of course. The cacophony was impressive, overwhelming, and almost heartbreaking in its scale and desperation. People talking, shouting, laughing, chattering. Trains roaring, booming, shaking, clanking. The cracked tiles on the floor carried the weight of uncounted people carrying the weight of uncounted dreams.
Four ticket counters had been opened beside the eight original ones, hoping to calm the lines of people. They were little more than rickety tables manned by four sweating, tired men on the verge of panic attacks. Due to either cursed luck or the fact that the station master apparently hated him, Joshim was one of those men. The lines were long, his back ached, his fingers were cramped from writing and stamping and folding only goodness knew how many tickets, and his throat was parched, a need he couldn't fulfil because he was fasting. The only thing holding his sanity together was the fact that his shift was supposed to end in just ten blessed minutes…
"Next!" he yelled.
The woman in front of him stomped off with fury, cursing foully, but Joshim just wanted this to be over with. At least these ungrateful people got to go home. He would be stuck spending yet another Eid in Dhaka, away from his wife and parents. Maybe he did have cursed luck.
The next woman in line ran forward to fill the gap, clutching a bulging cement bag.
"I'm Aleya. My husband, behind me, is Hasan."
Aleya tightened her grip on her bag, imagining the smaller burlap sack which carried the precious Eid gifts. Amma's sari, Abba's lungi, and a brand new panjabi for Hasan, who stood behind her, blissfully unaware of the surprise she had for him. She'd even pretended to cry last night, just to make it more real. It was going to be hilarious.
Hasan was sweating profusely. It was all right for Aleya, who spent all day in the shirt factory, but the luxury car he drove had the most wonderful air conditioner he could turn on whenever Sir or Madam were present. In fact, he would often switch it on even when they were not there. He didn't feel guilty about it. If they could afford a Prado, they could afford oil. The bag on his shoulders had turned into a boulder hours ago, but he didn't dare put it down. Pickpockets and thieves ruled over stations like this.
Shiraj's only consolation was that he was almost at the end of the line. Just the couple in front of him, and then he would finally be free. Otherwise, he was fuming. Someone had picked his pocket. Thankfully, he kept his money under his shirt near his armpit, but he'd still lost his watch and the beautiful white earphones he'd bought last month, just like the ones MD Sir wore. It didn't matter, though, because he was going home. In the village, no one would call him "Ai, peon!", or demand that he make endless cups of tea. He would see his wife, hug his mother, and play with his children. If only the teenager behind him would stop pushing, everything would be perfect.
Alam was too excited to stand still. He was getting married! Two days after Eid, and it would be done. Being married would mean prestige and responsibilities. Even better, he'd get to talk to a girl and not worry about her rejecting him, like what had happened with Sonia. The garbage dump was directly across the workshop where Alam worked, and she had smiled at him every day that she stopped by to empty the bins of the house in which she worked. He had blurted out "I love you" to her last week. The memory of her answering slap still stung, but he'd show her! It didn't matter that he probably wouldn't get to see his wife until the day of the wedding—he'd be far above stupid little Sonia anyway.
Tasnim glared at the boy standing in line in front of her. He hadn't noticed her behind her veil, but she knew him quite well. Sonia had returned home a few days ago in tears, mumbling about one of those mechanics across the street harassing her. Khalamma had wanted to file a complaint, but Sir had a better idea. He'd called the workshop's manager, and the two had spoken to the boy's parents. She grinned, hidden safely behind her veil. This poor boy was going home to punishment. Not that she had much to crow over. She was going home to get married. Her mother had spoken to a family friend, and everything had been arranged for two days after Eid. Her husband-to-be, Amma had explained, was a mechanical engineer in Dhaka. Just great. Some city brat was going to be lording over her forever while pretty little Sonia got to sleep on tiled floors and eat biryani, while poor Tasnim would be feeding chickens and sweating her youth away. Some people just had all the luck.
"Next!" Joshim called out.
Aleya and Hasan moved away, clutching their tickets and making way for Shiraj. One ticket to Kishorganj, and then Alam took his place. Tasnim did not notice that he bought a ticket for the same station as her, she was too busy daydreaming. Joshim had to yell twice to get her attention. She quickly bought her ticket and left the line.
No one came up.
"NEXT, PLEASE—oh." Joshim blinked. The line was gone. The huge clock chimed eleven, signalling the last train for the night. Night. He had actually worked through his shift and halfway into the next, but it was done. The dreaded Eid rush was over at last.
He rushed to pack up the table and darted to the station master's office. Ten minutes later, he came out with a smile as bright as a 100-watt light bulb, his fingers clenched around a ticket in hand.
This Eid, Joshim, too, would be going home.
Sarazeen Saif Ahana is an adjunct member of the faculty at Independent University, Bangladesh where she teaches English and drinks far too much coffee.