I was sitting on the lower berth; ambivalent yet observant. The view from my window seat was appealing. On the parallel track, a train had just pulled on. The neighboring compartment was a dynamic collage of people, suitcases, trolleys, food and jubilant chatter. There were two stocky boys, fighting for the window seat. And there was a mamma who would rather put her baby to sleep. The grouchy father stooped onto his newspaper and the two girls in the adjacent berth were…….BLUR. The train gave a swift jerk, collapsing the collage into a blur. It was gone in seconds. I was still waiting for my train to start. After getting a clear signal, another train leveled up to my side. Intrigued, I looked across the window again. Ah… The two girls. Yes, they looked a little different. Nonetheless, they were listening to music from the same walkman, they had plugged one earphone each into their delicate lobes. I adjusted a bit in my seat so that I could cover a wider body of the train through my eyes and spotted the third window to my left. A middle-aged man, with a little stubble was reading a book. And the name of the book was……..BLUR. There sprinted this train too. Our train was yet to bellow the whistle but I was in no hurry. I was not checking my watch, my time had not begun. It would only become consequential upon my train’s hissing, hissing jet black fumes in rings. Hauling a long body of several parts, it would chug along soon, swooping me up in its belly and strutting me into the driver seat. And then, I would steer it to a path of my choice. And indicating a very busy day, there halted another train by my side. I peered through the window railings to sew in the familiarity thread. I was craning my neck like a beaked animal to locate the man with a book when someone tapped on my shoulders.
“Miss, are you not getting down?”
“Oh! Why? Has our engine developed a fault?”
“Has the train’s timing changed?”
“Is there a deviation in route?”
“Why on earth would you ask me to alight then?”
“Because we have reached our last station, Miss. The train stops here.”
Often we think by boarding the stable train of love, sacrifice and forgiveness, we can assume the smug authority of being judgemental about the debilitating fleet of people on the other side of the track. But sometimes, all we end up doing is traverse the rickety track of misunderstanding, ego and cowardice, ourselves and reach a station of remorse where there is no going back.
Barnes weaves a heart-warming story of misconstrued life pieces of Tony Webster and Veronica Ford, over a period of forty years. The carefree Tony and the fiery Veronica of the twenties were connected by love and confused passion; the subdued Tony and the reserved Veronica of the sixties are connected by Adrian Finn. The facts, in the light of Finn’s death, after four decades, come to haunt them in such puerile cloak that believing in their veracity stands in direct conflict to their lives’ totality. Interspersed with patches of mimicking friends and stains of marital discontent, the cloak randomly envelops the two in strangling black stench of misplaced vanities as well as liberating white fragrance of ultimate clarity.
However, life never steals the smile altogether from our lips and hence, Barnes provides intermittent relief to Tony’s ramblings with a generous serving of humor and charm. His exchange with his friends, Alex and Colin, the Ford family, his wife, daughter, grandson and even his attorney, keep the light of cheerfulness aglow. But the hilarity invariably accentuates the futility of late comprehension and stark helplessness.
Time does not act as a fixative, rather as a solvent.
And quite always, we wish to see this solvent render a clear and transparent shine to our lives; where our young truths are not abdicated by our old experiences and our raw actions, not relinquished by our ripened maturity.
When some sights of our sunny times, turn hazy in sudden drizzle of delayed realization during our twilight years, they assume a new form once the haze subsides. The picture of life, then, looks painted by some alien hands. We always believed it to be our hands though, never doubting it for an instant. This slippery consciousness drops us promptly into the abyss of memory where we make half of what we gather and stare at the other half with perplexing culpability.
But as Barnes says, this indeed is the curse of life:
There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest. The longer we live, the lesser we understand.
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