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The Train









The Train

  

The clock at the station read 6:34. Alayah Noor saw this and knew her train would soon arrive. She watched travelers buy tickets for short-distance trips at the ticket machines. Those going on long-distance trips waited in the queues at the manned ticket counters. Here travelers paid for tickets and made seat reservations, many for the premium red coach. She had a prepaid monthly Nibby card which made her daily commute simpler.

She touched the card to a reader. Her name registered, and she got on board the train.



For twenty years she had made the daily early morning trip. A Limited Express train with its red coaches stopped. Businessmen and salaried employees got aboard the train. Because the Limited Express required an added fare, she waited for the green Express train. It would take her the fifty-five miles from Dibbleville in Sector 67 to The Towers.



Each night she made the return trip on the Rapid train with the blue coaches. It stopped at more stations than an Express train but after a hard day’s work; she enjoyed the nap she took. Mr. Kelroy, the train attendant, always woke her before her stop.





Today, like other days, she arrived before the other house help arrived. Without these women and men, the houses in the Towers would cease to function. Each of these workers performed a variety of household services. Some provided care for children and elderly dependents. Some performed housekeeping chores, including cleaning and household maintenance. None could afford to live near The Towers, so they daily took the long-distance commute.



Alayah had worked for the Nabine family for twenty years. She had begun her employment when she was eighteen. “For the summer,” she told her father. “I’m hoping to save money to study finance and become a banker.”



Her father accompanied her to the train station on the first day of her job. Each day since then she rose early, walked to the station, and rode the train to the station near The Towers. Her first task that first day had been to polish the silver for a party.  She stayed with the Nabine family, first as a housekeeper and then, when Ladina was born, a nanny. Over the years there was never money to become a banker.



Today, however, instead of her starched white uniform, she wore a pink dress with matching shoes. Earlier, she had attended Ladina Nabine’s graduation from high school. Alayah could not have been prouder. She had never married, never had children. Ladina had been like her own child. From the first day the infant had arrived in the Nabine home Alayah had raised her.

She had the girl’s playmate and confidant. Alayah had taught her how to read, to memorize the multiplication tables, to tie her shoes, to ride a bicycle. When she was older, twice, Ladina had cried on her shoulder. Once when other girls said mean things about her. The other was when her boyfriend broke her heart. Ladina insisted that Alayah be at the ceremony and today she had honored that request. 



Now, the festivities over, Alayah stood at the station waiting for the train to take her home. She glanced around her. The people on the platform were not familiar to her. Many were elderly, standing with walkers and canes. A boy of ten or eleven bounced a ball.



A train with silver coaches pulled into the station and stopped. “All aboard!” the train attendant commanded. The assembled crowd drifted toward the open doors. The boy reached the door, but the attendant pulled him back and advised, “Not this train. Yours will be here in a few minutes.” He pointed to a bench next to the station’s door.



“Mr. Kelroy sick today?” I asked as I approached the open coach door.

“I don’t know, maybe he is,” the attendant said, motioning her to a seat at the back of the coach. Alayah took the seat but continued to keep her eye on the attendant.

I hope Mr. Kelroy is all right. I don’t like this attendant. He looks like a crook. I think I’d better stay awake. He doesn’t seem like the type who’d do a favor for anyone.



The train started, and she felt the strong force of acceleration pulling her forward. She looked out the window. The car was warm and although she tried to keep her eyes open, the gentle motion of the train lulled her to sleep.



Someone shook her, and Alayah woke with a start. Mr. Kelroy?

“Wake up! Wake up, lady,” the train attendant said. “Wake up. We’ve come to the end of the line.”



She heard shuffling, wheels rolling, and canes tapping. She opened her eyes and looked at the attendant. “I said, lady, it’s the end of the line.”

Alayah looked out the window. “Where am I?” she asked.

“End of the line,”

“I’ve missed my stop.”

“This is the last stop, lady. Get off the train. There’s a schedule to keep.”

Alayah rose and stumbled forward. The attendant took her arm and steered her to the door. She waited while those in front of her stepped off the train. When she stood on the platform, she was flustered. “This isn’t my stop,” she cried. “Where am I?”

“Cool it!” the attendant said. “You’re at the end of the line. We all get here eventually. Today’s your day.”

“Take me back. I have a Nibby.”

“Sorry,” he said, closing the doors. “It’s against the rules.”

She stood on the platform and watched the train disappear. She looked around the platform.

Where are the others who got off the train? Where am I? There are no streets, no houses, no stores. Where are the people, dogs? There’s nothing to see in any direction, nothing at all.

She heard a noise behind her and turned. Nothing was there. “Who’s there?” she said.

A slender man stepped into the ring of an overhead light. “Me.” She watched him move toward her, noting he wore a white dishdasha like that of her father.

He smiled. “Ms. Noor, we are so glad you came to join us. It’s time to go.”

“Go where? How do you know my name?”

“We know the names of all the arrivals. This must be so confusing to you. Most of the arrivals feel that way when they first arrive. But everything will become familiar to you soon.”

He took her arm and said, “Come with me.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you.” She shook away from him. “I’ve never met you before, don’t know who you are.”  She pulled further away, stepping backward.

The man smiled again. “Forgive me, I’m the conductor.”

“Well, there has to be a mistake. I fell asleep, missed my stop, and ended up here.”

“I can assure you there is no mistake.”

“The attendant was surly and made me get off the train. He wouldn’t let me get back on it. Said it was the rules.”

“He was just doing his job.”

“But he left me all alone. It’s getting late. I’ve had a long day.  Ladina graduated today. She wants to be a banker. I gave her money, all I have saved, for her studies. I hope it’s enough.”

“I can assure you it’s more than enough.”

“You know this?”

“I know this.”

The man stepped forward and took her arm again. She did not resist this time. “Please forgive the attendant. He’s new at the job. You don’t have to worry about getting home for anything. The passengers on that train go only one way. Welcome home, Ms. Noor.”





William Rathburg  







W. K. Rathburg lives in Michigan. After a fifty-year hiatus, he recently resumed writing fiction. He is thankful for the feedback and encouragement from his wife, Jan. Currently, he teaches English at Oakland Community College.




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