No More Trains Left

I found myself at a crowded train station, packed to the brim with folks from all walks of life. Some were friends I grew up with, mucking around by the playground when I was a little boy. I spotted a few of them, and I waved. They waved back. The train platforms stretched to no end; it was train after train after train, all spanking new, gleaming under the morning sun. It was a scene of hope, excitement, and anticipation. Then came the time to board the different trains, and a steady stream of bodies began to funnel in. The names of the trains were boldly spelt out by their sides, clear as day — “Medicine”, “Engineering”, “Law”, “Finance”, and even “Tech”. Majestic was the sight of those gleaming locomotives, gradually filling up with hopeful passengers preparing themselves for the long voyage ahead. As my eyes traced the train tracks, they seemed to extend far beyond the horizon; where they were going was anyone’s guess. 

Tried as I might, I couldn’t find the train I was looking for. The station was beginning to empty as train after train started inching away from the platforms, accompanied by the customary tooting of their horns. I spotted yet a few more friends and I waved again, except this time, it was to bid goodbye. As the chugging of the train engines faded into the distance, so too did the fanfare in the station, and before long, all that was left were flyers advertising different destinations, fluttering in the wind. Stationmasters remained hard at work, strutting around purposefully, preparing the station for another wave of one-way trains. I paced its many aisles. No luck.

Feeling slightly lost, I approached an experienced-looking stationmaster.

“Excuse me mister, is there a train, named ‘Writing’?”

“Ah, I guess you missed the memo, kid.”

“Memo?”

“Yes, that train service was discontinued some time ago.”

“Why?”

“No one boarded the train. Why would they? Look at the flyers going around, all of them promised luxurious destinations — a world of opportunities and fun; ‘Writing’ didn’t. ‘Writing’ couldn’t.”

“But… mister, it doesn’t mean the service should be canned.”

“Kid, you don’t know how costly it is to maintain an empty train service. What’s the point? It doesn’t make the station any money. Ever since we stopped it, we were able to improve the other train services.”

“That’s not fair. What about me”

“Look, kid, I like you, but this station doesn’t revolve around you. Millions of people pass through here every year. We do what’s best for the majority, and there are sacrifices to be made. You’re not the only oddball I’ve seen, and it pains me to turn away folks like you, but this is how things work over ‘ere.”

“But-“

He studied me briefly with curious eyes that seemed to capture my every detail.

“You’re persistent aren’t you, kiddo? Alright, I’ll take you to the platform, but I want you to take it in, and move on. The next trains will be here; you can always choose to board another.”

I followed him without a word, letting the tapping of his polished black shoes against the marble floor lull me into a rhythmic trance. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, we stopped, right at the edge of the station, at the very last platform. I could see why I was never going to find it — the train was smothered in dust and looked like it could fall apart anytime. Even the once-bold name on its side had started to crack and peel. “W_ _ _ing”, that was all that was left, a clipped wing. The track that could have carried the train, well, there wasn’t any; it stopped abruptly even before it left the station. I felt an arm on my shoulder.

“Sorry, kid. It’s hard to take, but you need to face your reality. Look, it’s not so bad. You look like you’re a smart kid; I don’t think the other trains will be too ill fitting for you.”

He gestured at the other platforms, as if to encourage me on.

“Is…is there- I mean… do you think it’s possible for me to rebuild the tracks and repair the train?”

A snort of derision.

“Good one, kid. What do you have that you can possibly fix this with? The tracks have been stripped to supplement the others, and you’ve seen the train for yourself. I wouldn’t even trust it to toast my bread.”

“No, I feel like I need to try-“

“What about your parents waiting back home for YOU to get somewhere? Their hopes for you, dashed because of YOUR stubbornness? Open your fucking eyes!”

It was the first time I saw him vexed. Just as quickly as his temper flared, it receded.

“Kid, you don’t have to do this. Don’t end up like me.”

“You?”

“Yeah, yeah. That’s what you become if you don’t board a train.”

“Do you ever regret not doing so?”

“Every damn day. You know, I feel like this is my calling now. I scout the station for idiots like you to set straight. The world ahead is vast, so stop playing with your ideals. Get up and get the hell outta here.”

“I can’t do that, mister. I can’t watch it decay.”

An exaggerated sigh of resignation.

“Oh for God’s sake… If you want to stay in your bubble just a while longer, I’m not going to stop you. Perhaps you need to experience that futility before you see the light, which, by the way, lies just outside this station!”

He started to walk.

“Come look for me in my office later. I may have some work for you. In return, you can hang around, and if I’m feeling generous, I’ll even lend you my tools. I still think you’re an idiot, though.”

“Wait.”

He turned around.

“What now?”

“How long do I get to stay?”

“It depends. How long do you got?”

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