July 25, 2011

The third rail

Winter had set in with unprecedented severity. In the brightness of the day, his tired eyes had noted the malfunctioning gate, and it was there that he was presently headed. Shuffling on through the snow-filled deserted street, he was mocked by occasional bright windows containing warm and happy families.

He didn’t manage to get in unnoticed. He did not try. The lone guard at the counter had looked up from his book, gazed at the rugged and shivering figure of the tramp for a few quick seconds, and had resumed his read without granting him a word. Yes, indifference was nothing new to him. At least indifference was better than being kicked out.

He lumbered down to the underground station. It was considerably warmer compared to the world above, not ‘comfortable’, but warm enough to continue living. Having crawled onto a waiting bench, he was about to drift off, when he discovered another man by a pillar some distance away. The man was facing the tracks with his head bent down; peering at a book he was holding. Late night travellers were always an excellent opportunity. Judging from his clothes, he seemed to be quite a gentleman, too. It wouldn’t be a bad time to beg, or even to rob, in case of a refusal. The tramp made his way up to him and tugged at his sleeve.

“Sah, I haven eaten nothing for days… spare some money. God’ll do ye mercy.”

The gentleman looked up in alarm, unmistakably frightened by the sudden presence of another human so late at night. On seeing the tramp, however, his face calmed with an expression of genuine pity.

“Sorry, fellow. I haven’t got a farthing. Only a ticket to the next train and this magazine. I got pickpocketed you see.”

“Please sah, ‘nythin ye can spare.” The tramp had clearly not believed.

“What did I just say? Don’t you see I’m stuck in this freezing station, waiting for a train that’s not due for another half-an-hour? I could’ve taken a cab if fellows like you started earning an honest living for a change.”

“How do ya buy that ticket then?”

“The man at the counter is an acquaintance.”

“Why not he give ya money for cab?”

“Look here,” the gentleman said, irritated “I am not compelled to tolerate your interrogation.”

“Sah I reelly be needing some money.”

The gentleman let out a sigh, creating a thick cloud of smoky breath. He pointed towards the metro tracks.

“Fellow, do you know the third rail contains 750 volts?”

The tramp looked on without a word. He had no idea where the gentleman was getting at, nor did he know what ‘volts’ meant.

“Being here often gives a powerful feeling,” the gentleman went on, “we can do ourselves away with anytime. But I can’t, I have a family to look after and other commitments to fulfill. The question is: why can’t you?”

“What do ya mean?” the tramp asked, frowning.

“Why can’t you kill yourself? I bet it’s the best thing to do, a quick and easy way out from your pathetic life. All you get is pain and hunger anyway.”

“Ya must be a madman!”

“Am I? Maybe, yes. But I see plain and superior logic in my thinking. We all die in the end anyway. I wish I could do it, only I’m too entangled in life you see.”

“Dying is scary thing.”

“Nonsense! It takes just a second.”

“But sir, I be…”

“All you have to do is touch the third rail.”

“No way I’m touchin’!”


Simon walked into the living room and chucked the morning paper at David.

“Look at the article on the third page.”

“What is it?”

“Perhaps a useful reference for your lecture against alcohols.”

David read through in a hurry. Some tramp had descended onto the subway tracks and had got himself electrocuted. CCTV footage showed that he had been standing on the platform and talking to himself for a long time, before the final suicidal act. The investigators believe it is a case of momentary insanity due to dead-drunkenness. The body had been sent for post-mortem anyway.

“Perfect!” said David. He tossed the paper aside and went up to fetch his coat.


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About Debapriyo

A random person with few hobbies here and there.

Latest Posts By Debapriyo


Creative Writing, Short Stories


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