Friends in Passing

Samuel awoke to an ordinary, splendid spring day. It was of the kind where you wake up to a shining sun and a cool fresh breeze – the kind that makes you want to sing and sniff the air and dance and drink coffee. And it was one of the kind that makes it very difficult to go spend a day working inside. Samuel stopped at the post office before heading to the train station to drop off a pair of shoes he’d ordered online that didn’t fit.

“Why did I order those shoes online? It would have been way more efficient to just go to the store,” Samuel questioned himself.

He pulled into the station and found a parking spot at the very back of the parking lot, since it was empty in the back and he felt more comfortable doing so. He usually boarded the prior Washington Station, because it was closer to his house. But Windsor Station was closer to the post office, so today it made the cut.

Samuel took a seat on a bench near the tracks, watching others arrive and enjoying tidbits of conversation with strangers and familiar faces now and again. He looked intently at the faces around him – some were happy, some seemingly stricken with sorrows of life, still others he couldn’t quite describe, but maybe plain was the right word. He sat patiently, here and then glancing at the papers in his hand or his phone to check the time, waiting for the train to arrive. Five more minutes until 6:00AM arrival. However, this train always ran early in the mornings; it was usually here at 5:50AM every morning.

“I wonder why it’s not here by now,” Samuel thought.

A few minutes passed, and looking around Samuel could see and feel the growing frustration of the crowd. He turned and glanced down the track as far as his eye could see. No train. No sound. Just the morning breeze and the sniffles and breath of the assembly. Minutes continued to roll by. It was 6:15 now, and finally one man spoke up, stirring the silence to complain.

“They’ve got one job, these guys. Why can’t they just show up on time and do it right?”

The majority of the crowd joined in, with growing frustration about being late for work or about plans being messed up for the day. Samuel stayed silent, so sure that the train would arrive any minute. At the same time, the pressure to conform to the voices of those gathered tugged at his tongue, and at last he caved in.

“Good grief,” he said to the woman beside him. “So much for getting off work early today.”

She confirmed his words “I’m supposed to lead a meeting at eight. At this rate I will barely make it.”

Samuel looked again; the tracks were still silent. Many people began to make phone calls to co-workers and bosses, letting them know that they would be late. Some even began to get in their cars and drive away, the time now being nearly 6:30AM. Samuel sat still.

“Something must have happened,” he spoke at last, before the train master’s voice came through the speakers overhead.

“I’ve just received word that the Northwest Line is now closed due to an accident. You will be notified of it’s reopening in the days to come. Thank you for your business.”

Samuel heard some gasps from the crowd, but still overall the pack complained.

“An accident? Seriously? What did they do this time?” An angry man’s voice could be heard above the throng.

The crowd began to move away from the rails and towards their vehicles or other means of transportation. A bus arrived on the scene and within minutes was full and on its way again.

“Well, I guess we’ll meet again when the line reopens,” the lady next to Samuel spoke softly as she began walking away. “Have a good day.”

“Thank you,” Samuel replied.

A few more minutes passed and Samuel alone remained near the tracks.

“An accident?” Samuel wondered. “That was all the information they gave? An accident that closed the line down?”

Eventually, he rose and walked slowly towards his car, stepped in, and drove away towards home, making a mental note to call his manager upon arrival in about twenty minutes. He had done this drive at least a thousand times, having grown up here as a child and now having been commuting daily into the city for work. He passed the familiar banks, stores, coffee shops, parks, and drove through the same stoplights he knew the timing of down to the tee. He travelled passed the same signs and streets which felt like home, and with the same railroad line which, though curving at times, ran mainly parallel to the road he took most of the way home.

“What an unusual morning,” he thought. “Why did it feel so strange?” Almost the whole time, Samuel had expected the station master to say those words. It was not at all surprising to him. Why else would the train be so late?

In the distance near Washington Bridge he could see flashing lights and traffic that had piled up.

“There was an accident,” the words played again in his head. “The train must have run into a car.”

The traffic came to a dead stop and Samuel could see people getting out of their cars to see what was going on. Pulling to the right side of the road, Samuel decided to do the same. As he stepped out and began walking towards the lights, he saw the looks of horror on some of the faces of people walking back from the scene of interest. His heart began to beat faster. He didn’t want to ask anyone what happened. He wanted to see for himself. He could see the flashing lights clearly now, and people on stretchers. He saw police tape forming a perimeter blocking the entire road, and he walked straight up to it, out of the line of trees. He stopped in his track, looking up. He knew these skies, but everything had changed now. The familiar sights and sounds of cars and trains were no longer. They were now replaced by the cries of those being rescued, the yells of the rescuers, and the slam in the distance of people getting back into their cars.

Samuel’s eyes filled with tears. The scene reminded him of a story he’ read in the newspaper as a boy. But he could really only imagine it then. Now it was right in front of him.

“How foolish I was to be complaining this morning, joining the murmur of an impatient throng!” He thought, wishing to hear what the man who had initiated the grumbling would say after he saw this. “What were we grumbling for? Such a small thing in comparison. We wanted to get to work, but He didn’t want us there. We wanted our lives to work out so badly the way we expected, but He had something different planned for us, something we should learn from.

Samuel wiped his tears and walked towards a police officer to offer some help. The police officer said he was alright, but then another police officer spotted two limp bodies barely floating on a train seat in the water. Before anyone else acted, Samuel had already entered the water and was swimming towards them. Within a few minutes the passengers were on the shore, but it was too late. They had already passed. Samuel was drenched and cold. Someone handed him a blanket, and he gratefully accepted. He didn’t know what to think. He was still so stuck on the fact that they had all been waiting as Washington Bridge collapsed, and complaining as its passengers were smashed and drowned to death. He couldn’t believe it. All the year and times he passed it . . . every day for years now. And it was only today he was dropping by the post office and came to Windsor, the station after Washington, where he usually boarded. He would have entered the train this morning to sit next to the two passengers he so quickly dove in to save, not just because they needed help, but because he so easily recognized them – his friends in passing.

 

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