The Train


The old man walked steadily along the edge of the dusty road leading to the train station. Without looking he located the gold chain that hung from his belt, his fingers raced along the links to disappear into his vest pocket. When his fingers emerged, they held a fine gold watch which he caressed in the palm of his hand. He felt the familiar warmth and smoothness of the case as he lovingly coaxed it open.

As the cover sprang open, it revealed a plain white face with bold black Roman numerals. The second hand clicked away the seconds, stopping on each one just long enough to say it had been there, then jumped ahead to the next. The old man noted that it was five forty three and saw no reason to quicken his pace.

The train was not due for seven minutes and he knew that he could easily reach the station in four. With loving care he returned the watch to his pocket and gave it a little pat, to assure himself that it was secure.

As he walked along he asked himself if he had done everything necessary for her arrival, had he made all of the preparations? As he mulled it over in his mind he was satisfied that all was in readiness. He climbed the short set of stairs to the platform and looked at the tracks. They were empty as he knew they would be at that time of the day. The sun was low in the western sky and cast a golden glint on the shiny smooth surface of the rails. He was alone on the platform but he knew he wouldnít be for long. He moved over to a wooden bench against the outer wall of the station; as he eased down on the bench, he leaned back against the wall of the station and felt warmth from the bricks penetrate his shirt.

Again, the old man took out his watch and noted that it was five forty seven. A tall, distinguished looking man, wearing a black suit, mounted the platform from the far side of the station and walked to the bench where the old man was sitting. The man sat down next to the old man; neither looked at the other but kept their gaze upon the empty tracks as the man in the black suit spoke.

"Evening."

"Evening, Preacher."

"Nice day."

"Yep."

Their conversation was interrupted when a door in the wall of the station rattled as it slid open; the rusty metal rollers cried out for oil as they moved along an overhead rail. The stationmaster emerged from the darkness beyond the doorway as he pulled a large baggage cart out onto the platform. As always, the only thing on the cart was the outgoing mail pouch which could have easily been carried by hand rather than hauling it on the cart. In a previous discussion the stationmaster said it was regulations to use the cart. The old man thought that it was way over doing it to have such a big cart for such a small parcel, but accepted the s explanation of the stationmaster and let it go at that.

The stationmaster parked the cart next to the edge of the platform and raised the tongue, as he rested it against the foreboard. He then retrieved his watch from his vest pocket, glanced at it and then replaced it as he cast an eye up the track. Off in the distance the low tone from the horn of the east bound Sunset Limited could be heard. The old man glanced towards the sound and remembered when the trains had whistles and longed for those days to return.

The stationmaster straightened his cap, adjusted his tie, and brushed off his trousers, to make himself presentable for the inbound train. Just then, two young boys rounded the far end of the station at full gallop, bounded onto the platform and reaching the edge, they leapt out into space toward the tracks. They hit the ground on the run and skidded to a stop on their knees at the edge of the nearest track. Each released their tightly clinched fist revealing a bright new penny which had been held securely in his grip. With the dexterity of a surgeon they each placed a penny, dead center on the surface of the rail and then quickly scrambled back onto the safety of the platform. All of this happened before the stationmaster could utter a warning to the boys. When he heard their commotion, he had turned in their direction, raised his arm and started to speak; but before he could say a word the boys were back on the platform and smiling innocently. The stationmaster dropped his arm and let the unformed words roll out in a groan of disgust, as he turned his attention back to the track. Again the train horn sounded but this time it was louder and seemed to be saying, "Here I come, ready or not!"

The stationmaster smoothed his vest and glanced at his shoes, and, while feeling the shoes could be cleaner, he raised one foot and wiped the toe of his shoe across the back of his trouser leg and then repeated the procedure with the other shoe until they both met with his approval. Then he snapped to attention as the engine rolled passed the platform and slowed to a stop. A variety of sounds accompanied the arrival of the train; There were the screeching of the brakes, the hissing of compressed air as it was released from a diversity of places, the clickity-click of the wheels as they passed over the junction of the rails and a series of indescribable clanks and clunks that only a train could make. Then like a mighty sigh, a final release of compressed air punctuated the arrival of the train.

All was still for just a moment; then the baggage car door slid open and an arm extended, holding the mailbag. The stationmaster quickly snatched the bag and tossed it on to the waiting cart. He then grabbed the outgoing mailbag from the cart and handed it to the arm that protruded from the open door. The arm and the mailbag then disappeared inside of the baggage car, and the door closed. The old man had stood to his feet as the train came into the station and looked to the door of each car; they were all closed. He looked for an open door, which would have indicated that a passenger was preparing to disembark, but not one was open. The old manís eyes darted back to each door and then to each door again; but each remained closed. He then began to search the faces that stared out of the large glass windows on the sides of the passenger cars; none were familiar. He saw a soldier with his head resting against the glass as he slept, a middle-aged woman whose blank expression and tired eyes revealed that her thoughts were many miles from this place and a wide-eyed youngster who gave him a quick smile when their eyes met; but he did not see the face he so earnestly sought.

The horn of the train sounded and the powerful diesel engine went from a soft purr to a mighty roar as the train began to slowly move forward. The old manís eyes raced from window to window and from car to car as the train slowly picked up speed to continue on the journey east. As the last car pulled away from the platform, the stationmaster pulled the cart towards the open station door, exchanging meaningless grimaces with the two men as he passed by. The two young boys who had been anxiously awaiting this moment, plummeted off the platform and pounced upon their flattened pennies lying on the track. They gingerly held the still warm, paper thin pieces of copper in the palms of their hands as they examined them and then examined each otherís before they raced off out of sight around the far end of the station. The old man stood motionless for a few moments as he watched the last remnant of the sun slowly drop behind the two peaks affectionately called the Twin Sisters by the townsfolk. He then walked to the edge of the platform where he watched the train until it was just a speck on the horizon.

The old man thought, ĎTomorrow, . . . Tomorrow she will come.í. . . . . . The old man then made his way to the end of the platform and as he passed the preacher who was still seated on the bench, he said, "Evening." The preacher responded, "Evening", as he pushed himself up from the bench and stood staring after the old man. The stationmaster emerged from a door, placed a key into the lock and turned it. He then shook the door while he turned the knob, as he satisfied himself that it was secure. The stationmaster turned towards the preacher and noted his eyes were fastened on the old man as he walked away from the platform. The preacher becoming aware of the stationmaster's attention, said, "I wish more people had faith like his."

"Never knew the old man was much of a church goer." Said the stationmaster.

"Oh, heís not, but he is a man of strong faith."

"Whatcha mean, Preacher?"

"Do you know why the old man is here when the train arrives every evening?"

"Canít say as I do. All I know is that Iíve worked here for twenty years, and that old man has been here every evening; you can set your watch by him. I donít recall him ever missing the evening train, rain or shine; heís always here."

"Precisely my point. How old do you think the old man is?"

"I really donít know; around seventy or seventy five, Iíd guess."

"Well, heís seventy eight; and like us all, he was young once and had a pretty young wife. They were married when he turned twenty; she was eighteen; wasnít long before they had a daughter, they called her Becky. Becky was two years old when her mother died. I donít know of what; she took sick one winter and never saw the spring thaw. The old man never re-married and raised his daughter alone. He did the best he could, making sure she had everything she wanted, even if he had to do without. Spoiled her; and he knew it, but he didnít care; he wanted her to be happy. Everything went well until Becky reached her teen age years; the girl learned about the big cities and the excitement of the outside world. This one horse town couldnít hold her and neither could the old man. One day she just packed a bag, left the old man a note and got on the west bound. At first letters came, postmarked from a variety of places, but then the letters stopped. The old man didnít hear from her for over a year; and then one night he received a phone call; it was Becky and she said she was coming home soon. She asked him to meet her at the station, as she would be arriving on the evening train; that was forty years ago. The old man has met the evening train ever since, he has not missed a day that I can ever remember. He has a great faith that she will come and expects her to be on the evening train; and if she does not arrive, he expects her to be on the next train. He does not doubt that she will arrive on the evening train, just as she said she would. If only I could get my congregation to have the same faith concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus also said he would be coming soon; yet very few expect him to come in the same way that old man expects his daughter to come. Occasionally I will come down here to sit with the old man, to offer moral support, just in case he needs encouragement; but he has not ever needed any. You see, he expects Becky to be on the next train. Oh, I imagine that he is somewhat disappointed when she does not arrive, but his disappointment is quickly replaced with the expectation that she will arrive on the next train. You know, . . . Itís kind of catching."

"Whatcha mean Preacher?"

"Well, Iíve got to where I almost expect Becky to get off of that train one of these days. I hope Iím here the day that she does."

"If youíre not here, Iíll call ya."

The preacher looked into the stationmasterís eyes and saw what he thought to be a glimmer of expectation.

"Now if I could only get that same glimmer concerning Jesus." Said the preacher, just under his breath.

"Whatís that Preacher?"

"Will I see you at Sunday service?"

There was a moment of hesitation, as the stationmaster reflected on the preacherís words.

" ĎSpect so, Preacher. Goodnight."

"Good night."

The preacher stood alone for a long moment on the platform and then glancing upward said, "Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief."

Mike Boudreaux boodrow@ocsnet.net

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