Two middle aged men sat on an iron bench at Falakata station. One was stout and clean shaven, and wore a business suit and his tensed eyes set on his laptop. The second man, gaunt and bearded, wore slippers and faded pants, and his eyes fixed to the distant whitish Kanchenjunga.
The station was empty. Only some beggars and stray dogs lay under the tin shed. It was 10 a.m., and till 11.30 no trains would stop. At times a mail train speedily passed, leaving a trail of smoke and dust behind. The beggars then stirred their limbs, and fell asleep soon.
“Hi! Me, Mr. Khemka, on a business tour to Kolkata,” gloated the businessman while putting his laptop into his backpack.
The other man was shaken at the abrupt address. He was lost in wayward thoughts.
“I …me …Mr. Faltu, an Idler,” haltingly he said and cleared his throat.
“An Idler, I mean…a person who spends time in an aimless or lazy way.”
“You do nothing?” I caught. Mr. Khemka sneered. He was a successful businessman and counted each minute. He had no time to hear an invalid. But he had just finished his task, and half an hour he had to wait for the train. So he mechanically struck a conversation with the man beside.
It was autumn. The sky was clear blue. The rays of the sun fell on the crest of the hill and it looked awful. A flock of white herons flew lazily across the sky, and they gleamed.
“And what you do, gentleman? Suck earth, hoard gold, serve a fat woman at home and die. Is it a life? Phoo!” Mr. Faltu twisted his face and spat.
“My wife isn’t fat,” resisted Mr. Khemka.
“Fat or no fat, it’s always the same. You’re living a rat’s life, a life in a hole!” He quipped.
“And you? An invalid, worthless, poor man, living a luxurious life? Uh….”
Mr Khemka was red with anger. Beads of sweat covered his temple. He took a handkerchief and wiped his face. And Mr. Faltu, apparently bitter, wore a mournful look, and sat silent. At times he caressed his greasy beard.
Meanwhile passengers began to crowd, and hawkers shrilly hawked.
Some minutes passed. They didn’t speak. Mr. Khemka took a cup of coffee and sipped, and unnecessarily looked at his watch.
“Don’t mind,” began Mr. Faltu. “Me, an irascible Idler. I hate women, money and success. All are traps. I love hills, fields, seas, skies, the sun, the moon, birds, butterflies, a forest path, a deserted hut, and the graveyards. And I’m not a clock’s servant. The day and the night, the dawn and the dusk all are mine. Such a free life I live. And, Mr Khemka, I’m a very rich man. Poor you are!” He squelched.
A processed voice announced the train, and Mr. Khemka, visibly bitter and sullen, began to ready himself. And dolefully Mr. Faltu stared at the blue horizon etched by the distant treetops. And when his eyes wavered back on the glowing hill, tears glided through his sunken cheeks.
(First published in Setu Bilingual, Sept. 2018)