Madhavan Edasseri

The Girl Who Loved the Engine Driver

Madhavan Edasseri

Day One

The push-pull train from north arrived half an hour late and lugged itself along the Number 3 platform of the railway station and halted with a jolt. Nancy was wondering about the type of day that lay ahead while she involuntarily let herself to be lifted by the milling crowd which was rushing up the stairs of the foot- over bridge leading to Number 1 platform. It was a new day, but merely as new as an old tattered dress after a wash, like in the advertisement of the washing powder! Jesus, you need not have betrayed me like this! As her struggle to float -like a log in the floods- ended, she had to balance herself on two legs to avoid a fall while stepping on the broken floor of the Number 1 Platform. Meanwhile, while she was crossing the crowded bridge, almost floating across, she had to jab, with her safety pin, the owner of the probing fingers as they were taking too much liberty with her. Avoiding the face of the humiliated offender who squirmed, "aah...” with pain, she came out of the railway station.                 

So far, so good, what next? Nancy wondered. The horde of passengers from the vast expanse in front of the station flows into the road and forms a river of humanity which starts flowing. By the time it reaches Jose Junction, people depart taking either the street to the south or the one toward north. In this city where bus stops are known by the names of cinema theatres, Deepa is in south and Shenoys in north. She has to head towards south.

     As she was about to cross the road, the policeman on duty stopped the vehicles, smiling at her as usual. This is a daily routine. On seeing her, he would first beam at her and would stop vehicles with a hand gesture to let her cross the road- only for her. He would signal the traffic to move on, to the disappointment of the elderly women who come rushing after her. ‘Silly fellow!’ she would murmur as she walked past smiling.   

Opening the glass door, she entered the shop. Malathy had already started work sitting in front of her computer. Bhaskaran Sir was working on her computer. When he saw Nancy, he threw a deliberate look at his watch.    

     After placing her bag on the floor, she stood behind her boss looking at the monitor- Looks like a new job order is received.

‘Is it a new job?’

Busy importing a graphic from Clipart, he did not respond.

‘Sir, please get up, I will do that.’ Again, there was no response, except that with a hand wave he signaled her to wait.

‘I don’t like it a bit sir, you looking at your watch when I arrive a bit late,’ she said.

‘But I didn’t say anything.’

‘Sir, you don’t have to spell it out! What can I do if trains run late?’

By now, the graphic had been imported to the required file. He gave instructions as to how to proceed. He told her that the work is to be completed before evening. Customer will be here to collect the finished work by 4 o'clock.

She sat in front of the computer and started to work.

‘You will spoil my keyboard with those long nails.’ He said, looking at Nancy's long polished nails in red.

‘Then we will buy a new keyboard...’

‘Rubbish! Was it your father who bought this keyboard!’

She stopped. Spreading her fingers, she appreciated the beauty of the nails. Last evening on her way home she had tested the nail polish from a Ladies Store. The sales man was young and new. After polishing all five nails, she spread her left hand before him and asked, ‘How does it look?’  

Infatuated and totally defenseless, he mumbled, ‘Baby, your fingers are really beautiful!’  

‘Then I will buy it tomorrow, okay.’ Throwing the bag over her shoulder she went out smartly.

Paying a visit to one such shop a week could save purchase of nail polish altogether.

     ‘Do you know your problem, sir?’ she said, ‘With no provocation you curse my father.’

‘It was your father who dumped you on me, isn't it? But why blame that innocent man? He is toiling in Mumbai to marry off this unruly girl!’

‘Papa is not that innocent.’

She continued with her work. Malathy was working at the next table. She does not speak. Only a few words, that too as a response to a question posed to her.

‘Sir, I had told you about an engine driver, didn't I?’ Nancy said. ‘A good-looking young man.’

‘Have you ever said anything about a bad-looking person.’

‘I saw him again. In fact, he was the driver of the train in which I came today. And he was waiting for me as I walked towards the foot over bridge. He looked at me and gave a wonderful smile.’

‘He would be smiling at every other girl.’  

‘Smiling at every other girl? I will kill him, silly fellow!’

Malathy laughed but Bhaskaran Nair did not. Stroking the grey hairs nearing extinction on his bald head he said, ‘If you don’t complete the work in three hours’ time, it will be my turn to kill you. Customer wants to give it to the press this evening.’

‘Sir, if you threaten me like this, I will have to go in search of another job.’

‘Am I so blessed to be rid of you?’ Bhaskaran Nair asked.

Anyway, out of concern for her own life, she started working.

Bhaskaran Nair went inside the glass chamber built in the corner of the shop. That chamber was built recently. Malathy says that it is to escape from Nancy. No irksome noises reach inside.

Bhaskaran Nair started this business only because he found it difficult to remain at home. His wife is always nagging. She gets upset almost about anything and everything. A delayed phone call from their son or daughter-in-law living in US is enough to make Nalini upset. Naturally, his peace of mind is also lost. After receiving her daughter's letter from Chennai, she would be listing out her hardships. Housemaid has stopped coming; elder son studying in second standard is getting low marks .... so on and so forth. Never ending worries.  A daughter to send letters full of complaints and a mother to dance to her tunes. It is better to come and sit here peacefully, instead of listening to those silly chats. Two nice girls. Both of them work hard. Malathy speaks less. But that void is taken care of by Nancy. Time passes for him listening to her witty talk. The shop generates just enough funds to pay the rent and the salaries for the two. That’s all. But, is that not enough?    

     Nancy says it is not enough. She says they should purchase two more computers and appoint two smart young boys as type setters. What good is an office without smart boys!

Bhaskaran Nair promptly senses Nancy's intentions. However, he appreciates her alacrity to improve his business. He asks,

‘We really require two boys, do we?’

‘Naturally; here we are two girls.’

‘I can appoint one. And I am here as the second man.’

‘Sir....’ she was hesitant. Then looking at Bhaskaran Nair's balding head and sagging face she said,

‘That’s Malathy’s choice.’

He laughed out aloud.

About this translation

This novella, “Engine Drivare Snehicha Penkutty’ by E Harikumar written originally in Malayalam (Engine drivere Snehicha Penkutty, എഞ്ചിന്‍ ഡ്രൈവറെ സ്നേഹിച്ച പെണ്‍കുട്ടി) is a narrative of a unique style which exemplifies the novelist’s empathy towards working girls and his elevated sense of humanism. He has dealt with the serious social issue of dowry, riding on an interesting plot with astute characterization.