I finally understood the working of an engine when I became a mechanical engineer. Projects, meetings, juggling between cities, my life was a non-stop machine with hundred percent stress and zero efficiency. Things were so worse I was on the verge of quitting my job.
I didn’t know how difficult life actually was until I ran into this old man.
Every morning, I would find him waiting at the platform when I would come to catch my 6.45 train. He’d always sit on the third bench from the doorway, hugging his threadbare garments in the bone chilling cold. All he had was a lousy piece of blanket to shield himself from the icy winter. His clothes were torn in places with careless stitches here and there.
No one knew his name.
One thing I didn’t understand was why the railway staff and some regular commuters made fun of him. All he did was stare at the tracks in the direction of the incoming trains and mind his own business. Just sitting there like any ordinary commuter waiting for his train.
Then, as time passed, I noticed he wore his shirt inside out. One day he was holding a Moo Cow balloon, which one of the staff guys pricked and blew off. The other day he was cuddling a teddy bear in his arms. Once, someone spread some Super Glue on his bench. I wonder how he got it off.
One day I had to go to Richmond Town due to the grueling 'nobleness' of my profession. I was at the station for the 10.15 train to Richmond, and guess what? The third bench still had a company.
The old man hadn’t left.
I still had fifteen minutes for my train to arrive, so I stood watching the old guy.
He was still for a while, gazing at the far end of the tracks. Suddenly, a distant horn bellowed. As the first hint of the approaching train appeared on the horizon, his eyes widened. The wrinkles on his face elated and he took a sharp breathe in. The platform shook as the train rammed on the tracks and came to a stop.
Before I knew, the old man was on his feet, pacing up and down the platform. As people began swarming in and out of the train, the old man was pushed around. But that didn’t stop him. He kept peering into the coaches and waving the wooden toy in his hand, like he was trying to tempt someone out of the train.
Time ticked away and the train, now packed with people, departed for its next destination. The platform was quite again. The old man walked away, his shoulders slouching, his head hanging low.
A few days later, as I came to catch my regular train, a chill ran down my back. When I turned around, I jumped. The lunatic man was so up close, right in front of me, his senile eyes shooting rays of anticipation at my face.
“Um, ahem.” Was all I managed to say.
“Would you help me?” the old man pleaded. “That- that toy over there, it fell from my hands and it—it started walking! On its own!”
I looked at the little Transformers robot walking casually towards the edge of the platform.
“Save him!!!” cried the man.
I walked towards the rebellious toy. Behind me, I could hear a wave of laughter.
I picked the toy and turned to the man, “See here? I hit this button and it stops moving. I press it again and it starts walking again.”
The old man looked like the happiest person on earth. He took the toy in his hands like I was handing him a baby.
For some reason, it made me smile.
“My dear old man.” I said. “Whom do you wait here for everyday?”
“For my children!” he replied.
“What is your name?”
“I don’t remember.”
The man on the ticket counter had warned me, “Don’t talk to him. He’s a mad man! He comes here five in the morning sits all day toying around. He thinks his family is coming to meet him. Even they don’t care about such an insane man. I’ve heard old age is a reflection of childhood, but this is absurd.”
But I couldn’t do that. He was more of an innocent child than a maniac.
Soon, the man struck a chord with me. He would bring some things and I’d explain how to use them. He would get some story books and ask me to read them to him. When I asked him why he bought so many toys, he said, “For my children!”
I asked him what he was talking about.
“Why, you want to meet them?”
I was curious, so I followed him. The place he took me to left me stunned.
It was an orphanage. The children swarmed around him when he entered the room. The old man was so happy that it seemed like he was a child again. He gave them the goodies he bought for them. He played with them and narrated the stories which I had read to him. I watched it all from the door, in an endless moment of awe and veneration, my insignificance keeping me from crossing the threshold.
The caretaker at the orphanage walked up to me. “Why don’t you go in?”
“Um, I just came along.” I said. “Does he come here every day?”
“Every day, since almost a decade.” He sighed. “His wife and his children died in a flood nine years ago. But he hasn’t come to terms with it. He still thinks they are alive. He still thinks they will return from their trip. But who has the heart to break it to him? He’s such a poor man he can barely sustain himself, but he spends all he has on these children.”
I was speechless. Here was a man torn apart from his identity, while the people at the station mocked him. He sat on that bench every day, waiting for his family who would never return. Still, he had found joy in living.
I entered the room.
From that day, the man never came alone to the orphanage. It was little I could to, but he had taught me one thing- Life is not a cakewalk.
He was a man without a name, but with a heart.