The Cho Cho Train

my life felt like a cho cho train tucking down a gloomy journey with so many painful stations to stop over

The train was already late. I was standing at Platform No. 4 of the Lahore Railway station since 3:30 pm. The clock just struck seven, the train was supposed to be there three hours ago. I had been planning this little visit of Hyderabad, Sindh, for over a year. It was one of the cities in Pakistan I had never been to. The last several months of my life had been like a horrible nightmare. I had spent months imagining this visit as a necessary escapade for my ailing wife. But I had never thought it would be in these circumstances. I stood there at the platform holding only the hand of my little boy, my wife was already gone from this world. 

We stood quietly holding each other’s hands, and yet I was acutely aware of the distance my son’s heart felt from me. The past several weeks had matured my son’s mind many times over his seven years old tender age and his thin and weak body. Although there was a lot of noise on the platform; happy and excited chatter of all the passengers waiting for the Cho Cho train, there was a heavy and murderous silence between the son and his father. I knew that wounded look on his face all too well, only that this time it was filled with total disbelief, doubt and desperation about his own father. I knew his tender mind and his little heart were severely wounded.

The previous night, I had done something we both knew would drastically change the course of our lives along with various other variables. I was sure he knew that too, and that was why he was wounded, but to what extent he understood it I didn’t know. I was sure he didn’t understand why I had to do what I did, and why I had decided to let go.

The train finally departed from Lahore at 8:00 pm. We had a whole three-seater cabin all for ourselves. Thanks to the current regime, I realised a few things have definitely improved in our train. It was relatively nice and clean, and the seats were comfortable than the last time I was on a train. It was my boy’s first ever trip on a train. He was super excited to be inside this awfully large piece of junk that ran on a parallel track of steel.

He jumped and ran around the cabin, and the bogie, and ordered a few snacks and drinks before settling in the convertible seat. He even sang the song One Way Ticket quite a few times at the top of his voice. I laughed, and played with him, all the while checking in on Facebook at every station we crossed on the journey. It was an hour past midnight that we crossed the Khanewal junction when my son finally slept while the train got off the electricity grid.

I was now awake alone in the cabin. The thoughts of my disasters came squirming back to me as soon as I switched off the lights. I sat beside the window and kept watching outside as only sporadic light came in from distant cars, towns and small stations we crossed. There seemed to be nothing else outside except huge patches of vacuum and darkness. It seemed too peculiarly like my own life, with hopes so bleak as black holes. It felt like a folly to dwell on them. I almost desired that my ticket was one way, and the Cho Cho train was not going to take me back to the reality I desperately wanted to escape.

And it all seemed very desperate to me. I recalled everything; the losses I have sustained, the pains I went through, my horrible loneliness, the people I trusted stabbing my back, and the person I loved taken from me. What hurt me the most was the prospect of losing my son to distrust, and to the circumstances nature had put us both in. The thought of the daunting challenges of single parenthood clogged my mind. I had done many things in recent times for which people I cared for continue to judge me. And for some sheer stroke of bad luck, I continue to hurt them than make them proud.

I am haunted by my destiny, and knowing me, given the chance I know I will make the same choices I have already had. For good or worse, I didn’t see the possible consequences. I just did what was necessary, and to do the necessary I often didn’t care for my own personal benefit. On the contrary, I made choices in which I was almost always at the losing end. I made those choices because I had one simple reason; I loved. Indeed, God forgives, people don’t no matter how much you love or suffer.

The train had halted to put a stopper on the chain of my thoughts. It was almost three in the morning. I came out of my cabin and the bogie to find out that we had stopped on the Bahawalpur station. It was freezing cold, and foggy, on the platform. I had been trying again to quit smoking. But my thoughts had triggered an urge to smoke I could not withhold. I bought a couple of cigarettes from the small stall on the platform and sat there in that freezing cold to smoke, and my thoughts returned again.

The cho cho train stopped at the Bahawalpur station very late in that freezing cold night

It is said that desperate times call for desperate measures. Philosophers have long battled with the idea of necessity on one end, and with the question of moral responsibility on the other. In a world of necessity, nothing happens because of chance but because it is necessary and it has a reason. We make decisions every day not because they are right or wrong but because we deem them necessary for legacy and posterity or even just for survival.

I don’t care how and where the people around me place the moral responsibility of my actions. I only know that whatever I went through, whatever misery and pain I sustained, I did it for the people I loved. I also don’t know how my son would judge me one day after the evening on the platform as John Rooney had said in Road to Perdition:

“Sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers”

The train master whistled to announce that the train was about to leave. I got up from the cold bench and started walking to my bogie as a thought struck me. I realised that my life was indeed like the Cho Cho train. And I had been standing at this lonely and gloomy station for a long time not wanting to leave. I realised it was absolutely necessary to keep tucking down the track and leave all those painful stations behind. I decided that it was time to move on to whatever stations are left in this life for at least one reason if not more. With that thought in mind, I entered my cabin to find my son wide awake waiting for me and my smile returned to my face.

Author: Bilal Khan

I am a Lahore, Pakistan, based researcher in the fields of Political Science, Public Policy, and Public Administration.