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I

The Leaving

 

The train is late. I look down at my watch as I stand on the platform. The watch has stopped. And this suit. It must be the nicest suit I have ever owned. Blue tropical wool tailored to a perfect fit. But where are my shoes?

“Would you like some shoes?”

I turn and see a man leaning against a pole wearing a black pin-striped suit and a Panama straw hat. It's one of the very expensive ones I’ve seen in magazines, but I can’t bring myself to spend that kind of money on a hat.

“Yes, I would like some shoes,” I say to the man who is now smoking a cigarette. I wave the smoke away and he smiles. “Over there.” He points to a pair of black wing-tip shoes. I slip them on. They fit like they were made for me.

“Where is the train, and for that matter why am I here?”

“It’s your short-term memory. It hasn’t come back yet,” he says.

“Back from where?” I ask.

He just looks at me and continues to smoke his cigarette.

“You know, I think the evidence is in that those things are not good for you,” I say to him about the cigarette.

He gestures with disregard as if I am insane.

“Really,” I say, “smoking is bad for your health.”

“The train is here,” he says as he puts out the cigarette.

I turn around and the train is here. “I didn’t hear the train arrive. I hear you just fine. Something strange is going on,” I say to the man. I look at my watch again and shake it.

“This time thing is interesting to me,” says the man. “What time do you think it is?” he asks.

“I have to feed the cows,” I say. My watch is stopped at 4:40. “It’s not working,” I say as I shake it and hold it up to my ear.

“Don’t worry about the cows,” the man says as if he knows me.

We board the train. It is full of older people and a few children. Most of them are already seated and they smile as we enter. They have a warm peaceful easy feeling about them.

The conductor speaks: “This train will have a change to FAS at the next stop. PEF continuance to termination.”

I am wearing a yellow plastic tag with three bold letters: FAS.  Panama hat man doesn’t have a badge.  Other passengers have badges with the letters PEF. I am the only one I see with an FAS badge.

There are two oversized leather seats on each side of the train. A man comes over with a china cup of hot coffee.

“Oh, no thanks…” I say as the Panama hat man takes the coffee and hands it to me. I have never in my life tasted coffee this good.

“What kind of coffee is this?” I cannot believe it. It’s the perfect temperature, the perfect aroma and strength. “I must be in heaven.” I must have said it a little too loud because the small talk stops and everyone looks at me.

“Do I have time for coffee? I thought the FAS stop was next. By the way, what is FAS?”

“There you go with time again. Are you still enjoying the coffee?”

“Yes, very much.”

“Let’s not worry about time while you enjoy your coffee.” The attendant comes by to pick up my cup at the exact moment I finish the last sip.

“Thank you,” I say.

“You are welcome,” the attendant replies looking me right in the eyes. I feel some affection for him as he moves along picking up cups. I have no idea why I am here or what I am doing here. There are many things I need to be doing.

“My wife is probably looking for me,” I say.  The man in the Panama hat turns to look at me. He has a tear in his eye. He puts his hand on my shoulder as we board the connecting train.

No one on this train has a badge. I look down; I no longer have a badge. Everyone in this car is young or at least as young as I am. Some are much younger, teens, but most are around my age, early to mid-50s.

We ride along silently. No small talk. No smiles or happy faces. Just regular people riding a train. Everyone seems to look as puzzled as I am. On the last train, the PEF-badged people were smiling, speaking to each other, and enjoying the ride.

The conductor announces the stop. We get off the train. “This is where we say goodbye,” the man in the Panama hat says. 

“What am I supposed to do now?” 

He just smiles and gets back on the train. 

I am standing on the platform as a woman comes over to me. She doesn’t say anything. She reaches out and takes me by the hand. She is smiling. I know this woman but for the life of me, I do not know how. I go with her easily. We move away from the platform gliding, I guess, I can’t really tell. She takes me to a shiny silver building, and the sky is crystal blue. I don’t recognize her, but she feels so familiar like I have known her my entire life. She has yet to say anything, and I for some reason do not speak. Somehow it seems pointless. It’s funny, but I have stopped thinking about time. I remember being in a field at my farm, lying on my back looking up at the sky, with a gun in my hand.

We move into a room and I can sense that the woman is about to leave.

“Please don’t go,” I say. I feel a closeness to her that I haven’t felt since I was a child. I reach out to embrace her and she returns the embrace. I feel like I’m five years old and have just hugged my Mom after being outside playing. I smell cookies baking. For a moment, I feel I am home.

The next moment I am standing alone in a small room with two chairs and a table.  I feel fear. A man comes in and we both sit. This feels like a scene from a police drama, but the man is not a cop. He is nice, he is warm, and he also feels like someone I know.

“You have questions?” he asks.

“Yes, I do. What does FAS stand for?”

“Forced a Solution,” he says.

“That certainly sounds like me.”

“Do you have your memory back?” he asks.

“I didn’t know I lost it.”

“What else do you want to know?”

“Where am I?”

“Did you see the movie The Matrix?” he asks.

“Yes.”

“So, the question is not where, but, go ahead, you know it.”

“When?” I ask.

“Yes, when.”

“Okay, when am I?”

“Good, you are catching on. You are now.”

“I am now?”

“Yes. No yesterday. No tomorrow. No 5 o’clock somewhere. You are now. The beginning and the end.”

“I'm confused,” I say. “Yesterday, I was at home with my cows and today, I’m boarding trains with strange people. And now I am here with you.”

“Part of the problem and the solution is that your short-term memory has been suspended so you can go through the healing process. If you knew how yesterday ended, you would be very sad. It would take us an eternity to help you get through it, and eternity is really all we have, so you can see why we have it set up this way.”

“Have what set up?” I ask.

“It.”

“It?”

“Yes, the experience you have had.”

“Did I take a drug? Am I on some kind of trip?”

“Actually, you are just coming off the trip. This is reality, just you and your experiences on your journey to enlightenment.”

“I’m dead?”   

“You would call it that based on what is now your limited vision and memory of now. Have you ever just stared into a two or three-day-old baby’s eyes?”

“I remember doing that once,” I say. “I was holding my daughter in my lap. There was a lamp nearby. She saw the light. She was staring into the light smiling.”

“And?”

“I started crying. I don’t know why.”

“Welcome home. We have some work to do because of your exit, but we’ll get there.”