UNITED STATES—At Kansas City there was a smoking break. They were scheduled to stay a whole 25 minutes. Long enough for Raveendran to make a mad rush, beyond the train station, in hopes there would be a store near the station where he could find an apple.
The porters posted on the platform outside the silver train cares made it sound like the train was due to leave any second now. This set Raveendran on edge as he skirted around clumps of people with white round cylinders in their mouths, breathing smoke in and out. If this was India they would have had a space aboard to the train to indulge their vile habit. But this wasn’t India. Raveendran felt like such a criminal escaping the circumscribed world of the train. He scurried past the smokers and bounded up a steep flight up steps, passing a steady stream of sweaty passengers coming out of the waiting room, toting their bags on rollers, going down to board the train. The causeway from the top of the stairs to the waiting room was unbearably long.
At last, as Raveendran reached the waiting room, trimmed in honey oak that dated from the time of William Howard Taft’s presidency. Yonder, in the glassed-in waiting room, he saw the black flanks of vending machines for coke and candies. Somehow he didn’t have the heart to actually look inside and see what rubbish they had on sale: certainly no apple or orange. He felt claustrophobia. His resolve to keep going outside and onto the streets of Kansas City suddenly eroded, almost as if the controls over his mind and body were in the hands of another.
He could hear the train clanking away, and there would be only empty rails by the time he reached the platform and the smell of cigarette smoke, a few vanishing veils that hovered in the stagnant air. Seized by a panic of being stranded in Kansas City, he bounded down the steep cement flight of stairs, still pursued by insatiable longing for something fresh and crisp. Torn this way and that, between indulgence and austerity, James Dean popped into Raveendran’s head: “He says one thing, she says another. You’re tearing me APART!”
Even the Dunkin Donuts glimpsed before boarding in Chicago filled him with ineffable longing—even though succumbing to their deep-fried allure would constitute the most flagrant flouting of satyagraha.
Into that known, refrigerated world of the train car Raveendran returned, dogged by a sense of failure and entrapment. His ears were met by the whines of fellow passengers:
“We’re and hour behind and we don’t have wi-fi.”
“I can’t believe they don’t have wi-fi. We’re trapped on a train for three days and you think there’d be wi-fi.”
“I wish we had an apple or banana,” said a bright-eyed woman. “What I wouldn’t do for a stalk of celery, even. My sister is dying for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“My soul cries out for something simple,” said Raveendran in his melodic accent.
Whaaaat? rasped the speakers, their faces screwed up. Raveendran capitulated to silence and retreated upstairs and past the scout troup and the couple with the bawling baby.
With a deep sigh he sat back down in his seat. By watching another passenger he learned the clever trick of pulling the lever and making the faux leather seat recline. Soon enough, due to the soothing darkness and fatigue, he imagined swaying in the gentle darkness and hearing the distorted dinging of trestle bells passing in the night. Raveendran’s eyes blinked open and his gaze was met by clumps of still scattered on the cement platform, puffing away.
“Sir,” he said to the porter downstairs. “Can I run up to the vending machines. Just five minutes.”
Raveendran was resigned to the possibility of salted peanuts—at least a product of nature, even if the salt was man’s doing. The porter shook his head glumly. He blocked the open doorway.
“Did you see the guy in the red shirt who got escorted off the train?”
“The crazy man?” Raveendran said.
“This wasn’t the guy in the red shirt. This one was smoking in the bathroom. No regard for others. And the scout troup, none of those boys had a choice if they wanted to smell that smoke.” The porter smugly concluded, “He will be banned for life from Amtrak.”
I wish I had a banana peel and I’d leave it on the platform for one of these bleeding porters to slip on, Raveendran thought. In the time the porter had been blabbing, Raveedran could have run to and from the vending machines. Twice.
To be continued…
Humorist Grady Miller is author of “Late Bloomer,” available on Amazon. Please reach Grady at firstname.lastname@example.org.