UNITED STATES—Raveendran Patel looked forlornly at the Kansas plains emerging from the dawn mists at daybreak, behind the panoramic glass of the observation car. There across the upholstered seat for two lay the sleeping woman who had turned down his desperate midnight offer to buy a few almonds from her. The greedy woman had said, “No,” and went back to her romance novel. Raveendran consoled himself that he hadn’t been turned down, rather the woman had denied his call to join with the universal source of supply. This take on events certainly didn’t change matters, and Raveendran was still quite hungry.
He craved an apple, an orange, something natural as it had been created and packaged by Mother Nature. Something crisp and fleshy that he could sink his teeth into. Nothing else would do.
His cousin in Chicago had given him a fine send-off at a buffet on Devon Ave., which had deprived him of the opportunity to buy and bring fruit aboard the train. While at the buffet he had wasted the chance to go to the salad bar and had chicken tikka masala, instead, and much garlic naan bathed in spicy tomato dipping sauce. He had severely neglected Satyagraha, the vow to adhere to a diet of fruits, nuts and vegetables when in America.
At Union Station Raveendran had promptly boarded the Southwest Chief and then, filled by an urge to buy an apple or orange, retraced his steps and asked the woman who had scanned his ticket on the platform if he had time to go upstairs.
“The only thing I can tell you is this train leaves at 3:15,” she said in an icy tone of professional detachment.
Raveendran Patel sulked docilely back aboard the train: there had been plenty of time to run up to the store and stock up. Regret piled upon regret. The polished apples and oranges had seemed costly when he first spied them, walking to the train gate; but seeing the prices in the train’s snack bar, not to mention the fact that they had never heard of an apple, revealed his mistake. His regret for not buying those apples and oranges back in Chicago grew deeper as he repeatedly went window shopping in the snack bar, in the futile hope that the prices would lower or that an orange would magically appear. Creation had always provided. Besides, what else was there to do? People could be engaged in conversation, but many of the Americans made faces before his pronunciation and said “What!” And his name also caused them a great deal of trouble.
Raveendran Patel gazed bewildered for the umpteenth time at the same items for sale in the snack bar. His faith—faith that all his needs would be met—was severely tested. The stainless steel shelves offered a uniformly revolting selection of donut holes, Danish pastries sleeved in plastic, pizza pies, Angus beef hamburgers, hotdogs and sodas laced with sugar.
“Sir, what would you like?” the cashier asked.
“Nothing,” he said. “I’m just looking.”
While Mr. Patel was gazing at the disheartening shelves, the cashier was talking to another customer about a person who had jumped off the train outside of Mendota, Illinois. “He tore open the door and threw his bags out. He wanted to get off the train, but we had to bring him aboard. We just can’t leave somebody in the middle of nowhere,” said the cashier. “There he was standing in the middle of a gulley in the middle of nowhere. He is 5150.”
Another customer said, “Was he the guy in the red shirt?”
“He was wearing a red shirt that said: Keep calm and carry on,” said the snack bar cashier. “5150. Certifiable.”
Raveendran opted for a cup of coffee. It was the purest thing on the menu and it would hold him over for a 25-minute Kansas City stop when Raveendran plotted making a break for it and finding a convenience store nearby.
Meanwhile, at Fort Madison, Iowa after crossing the Mississippi, the doors opened and two policemen, and came to escort the man in the red shirt who had leapt off the train. He walked docilely onto the dry deserted platform. But just before the door closed and the train resumed its forward movement, he shouted, “A curse on this train for the way you treat smokers. There will be damnation and much gnashing of teeth before the City of Angels.”
to be continued
Humorist Grady Miller is author of “Late Bloomer,” available on Amazon. Please reach Grady at firstname.lastname@example.org.