It All Began …

It all began in the corners of my eyes on the drive home from work. Coming to a halt at a traffic light near the Lemon Street junction, I saw a single axle delivery truck speeding towards its destination on the other side of the road. Weaving in and out of traffic, the driver had a cigar clenched tightly in tobacco stained lips; he seemed insensible to all save his next destination, and the grind of making his daily quota was etched on his face. The street was congested with more traffic than usual; it was miserable. All vying for position; everyone seemed preoccupied, especially those driving in their air-conditioned yuppie cocoons. It was stiflingly humid and people shuffled along glumly on the sidewalks; all were seeking relief from the torrid heat.

Across the street, nearer the tracks, I saw pedestrians milling near a lamp post and an empty news stand. Three were passing a liter of coke back and forth. Two were sharing a cigarette, and one was ardently rubbing her temples in an effort, I assumed, to subdue a heat headache. I could hear several complaining that the train was late again; most were glancing down the tracks, and at their watches, as if this ritual would somehow speed the train’s arrival. Heat waves were shimmering off the blacktop in the hundred degree heat, and I could see an old derelict man pouring a bottle of water over his head. Several cars behind me two men had left their vehicles and were out on the street posturing like roosters with one another; the argument was escalating. Another street fight would be ensuing, I imagined, and I shook my head in disdain. On a whim, I checked to see if my 357 magnum was under the seat – it was.

Four young degenerate’s in baggy low slung pants lit cigarettes in unison as half a dozen young girls departed a community school bus on the adjacent corner. All living breathing examples of modern fashion, the girls were dressed scantily; pierced navels, too much breast showing, too much leg showing, haughty expressions, too much of everything showing except good sense and intelligence. Not at all furtive in their actions, the boys began ogling and posturing boldly as the young women swaggered by several feet in front of them. After they had all passed, and were several yards away, one of the girls turned defiantly and flipped the boys off. All their faces clouded at once and the girls began snickering with dark expressions. It seemed they didn’t think the boys were all that “cool” after all. After a series of expletives were exchanged, the agitated young men turned on heel and shuffled towards the gate crossing, while the young women moved away down the platform. I glanced briefly to see if the traffic light had changed — it hadn’t.

In the distance the repetitive clicking of steel wheels on steel tracks was singing and the approaching train’s horn began blaring. Tip lights, and buck lights, began flashing, bells began clanging, and the crossing gate slowly descended to protect the approach. Everyone milling by the snack dispensers, and along the platform, ran to the loading lines and waited for the train to stop so they could board. The last few who hadn’t done so, bought their tickets with frantic expressions. The two men arguing behind me had been approached by a policeman; in an authoritative voice, both were sternly instructed to return to their vehicles immediately. Still red-faced, both re-entered their vehicles and slammed the doors. I could see the officer’s watchful eye and an unwavering hand on his weapon as they moved away.

The next few moments were a blur …

As the train rolled into the station everyone adjusted their clothes and glanced at their watches again in preparation to board. The traffic light was still red to accommodate the train, and some around me had begun revving their motors impatiently. The beat officer had now approached a disheveled man sitting on the sidewalk drinking from a bottle hidden in a brown bag. A frantic woman, pushing a stroller, bolted across the tracks in front of the train so she could board on the correct side. The old man who had earlier poured a bottle of water over his head, was now rubbing his face and had begun stumbling backwards towards the approaching train.

Suddenly I heard many people screaming! As the train moved into the station, the crossing guards rose up and the lights changed. Glancing to the left, as I moved away, my heart sank and I began to weep. I could see the old man had somehow been hit and dragged by the train as it came to a screeching halt. There was nothing left of him but parts.

Richard Lloyd Cederberg


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I read this when first posted and it left me stunned to the core – not quite knowing how to respond other than with deep dismay. Since, I’ve read this well-written piece several more times. It highlights how our lives can change in an instant and how those with a keen eye and propensity for observation can take the time – even when stopped in traffic – to really ‘see’ that which surrounds him. This is a powerful write that will affect the sensitive reader.

Let me correct my grammar: “…that which surrounds THEM.”

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