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THE MAN AT THE TRAIN STATION It was an eerie feeling. I had not seen this train station for nearly thirty years and yet when I laid my eyes on it, I was instantly brought back to the time I was my daughter’s age. I felt sad and agitated because it was then that I was going to see my father. I had never been away from my mom just as my daughter had never been away from me. She was going to see her father, too. The similarities were quite painful. But there was something else that came charging back to consciousness when I stared at that old, rotting wooden bench, near the ticket counter. I got in line to buy that one round trip pass. Jill was restless, as was I way back then, so I told her to sit on one of those old benches. I don’t remember exactly when he sat down. It was the beginning of summer and it was time to spend that part of the year with my dad who had just moved to Minneapolis. I never remember mom and dad ever being together. For as long as I could recall, Mom always hated this time of year. She had once told me that she never really liked summers when she was young because that is when she left grandma to go live with grandpa. Yes, it did mean the end of school, travel, days at the beach and time with friends. That was always great. It was bad enough when she had to go live with grandpa, but now, the same thing was happening. She had to re-live that separation and the one with my dad every time she came to the train station. The man had long, dirty blond hair and he sat by himself on the far part of the bench on which I was sitting. Mom had plenty of things to do each day and sometimes I wondered if she ever
I was going there. Though I hated to leave Mom. I was only It was hard to . I knew I felt a little nervous so I could not even imagine how she must have felt. again. It was also strange that he didn’t have a 2 It was hard to But then again. It was the first time I would be going by myself.wondering whether he had anyone to love him or be with him. worn army jacket that seemed too big for him. watch TV. I could not understand why I was feeling this way. like I had been for the past ten years. When I was at my friends’ homes I would stand back and watch quietly as they never gave it a second thought seeing their parents fix dinner. I started wondering about him. when this day came she said that it felt as if someone had removed her heart for three months and hidden it away. So here I was. twelve. Days like these were hard for me too. He had such a sad face but he gave me the creeps nonetheless. At least when I left. He didn’t look like all the other people waiting for trains. However. sitting on this hard. understand her sometimes when she said things like that. I missed dad a lot. Though he said nothing. I couldn’t help but look at that man with the sad face. wooden bench watching Mom stand in that long line she despised so much waiting to buy me my ticket to Minneapolis. I could not help gazing at this lonely man. Mom was only going home. He was wearing an old. clean up or play outside with them. together! imagine that that was normal. he just stared out into space focusing on nothing in particular.2 gave me a second thought. I never knew what it was like to grow up with my mother and father in the same house. While everyone else was either reading newspapers or nervously looking at their watches. He was kind and fun to be with.
I opened it and read one sentence. he made no acknowledgment of me. since I would be starting it when school began again in September. Mom wanted me to read Silas Marner.” “What is?” “No!” 3 .Fisk/ Train Station 3 suitcase. “Are you waiting for someone?” Again. over the summer. didn’t you?” I swallowed nervously and then nodded. He barely seemed to be breathing. “You okay mister?” He didn’t even move. It made me want to vomit. I don’t even know if he had a ticket. But that sad man did. “Are you talking to me?” “You asked me two questions. “No. Mom had always told me never to talk with strangers but somehow. I shrugged my shoulders and looked at Mom in line. It smelled and looked disgusting. He had a ripped backpack that had food stains all over it. She still had a long way to go before she got to the ticket window. “Well that’s my answer. I don’t even know if he knew I was there. She had made very little progress. for some reason. It didn’t hold my interest. that thought seemed like a vague memory now.” I looked at the man for a few moments. I stared at him now for a very long time. I let out a deep sigh after I saw where Mom was in the line.
” I quickly scanned the ticket line and could not immediately find Mom. turned away from me and resumed his apathetic gaze. I didn’t know what to do. “I don’t know. “You seem so sad. been quickly dashed. uh pardon me?” “I just wondered why you were staring at me. “I.” I blurted out. like a camera without film. They were red and watery and I somehow felt deprived that I did not know what had made him that way. He was like a shadow that people walked through without much notice. but it did not seem like any words came from him. But I could not bring myself to leave.” The man smiled.” He then looked away and began rocking back and forth very gently.4 “To which question?” “Both of them!” If I had entertained any thought that perhaps this man was not creepy they had now. not someone who could be no more than twenty-five. Summoning up all my courage I finally said. “Nice of you to notice. I. The man sighed and looked at me with neither a smile nor a frown on his face. I stood up and made a wide circle around him so that I could see his face more clearly. If it were only those eyes that I saw I would swear they were the eyes of any old man. Where had she gone? Why had she abandoned me in my moment of terror? That was proof she didn’t really love me. “So why am I so fascinating to you?” I saw his lips move. That just 4 . His eyes were empty and vacant.
Again. I got up but just then he looked at me. How could a man who was so creepy also make me feel sad? If this is what growing up was all about I sure as hell didn’t want any part of it! “Where are you going?” “Nowhere. Why else would you be here?” “It passes the time. “I don’t ever remember being any other way. “Please forgive me for asking. though Mom’s gyrations were becoming more pronounced. Just then I caught Mom’s eye and she was frantically motioning to me to leave my seat. I sat back down and stared back at him. For the first time I thought I saw a tinge of kindness emanate from his sad eyes. but why are you so sad?” The man continued to stare at me.” Now I was confused. I think the man gave her the creeps. only babies did that. 5 . He said nothing. though he never spoke. For some reason I couldn’t leave.” “Nowhere?” “That’s right. too. “Thank you.” I hesitated for a moment. I started feeling jumpy and uneasy and was ready to surrender to my mother’s wishes.Fisk/ Train Station 5 added to his creepiness. After all. “You have very nice manners. he seemed so sad.” He was definitely not making any sense to me.” “But you must be going somewhere.” he said with a bit more warmth. “But why are you so sad?” He grimaced momentarily and looked at me for a few seconds.
“Were you in the army?” The man nodded.” “You must have a mother and father.6 “Don’t you have anywhere to go?” “No. I was sure I 6 .” “But they’re your friends. Now he wasn’t speaking. once.” I leaned back and now. I thought we had been doing so well.” “Well.” “Yes. I did. I did.” “What about friends?” The man sighed deeply at this question. once. “Yes. “Can’t you go visit them?” “No. we did carry on a conversation. creepy man was saying. trying to give the impression that I understood what this sad. sighed deeply myself. Even though I didn’t understand what he was saying to me.” I nodded.” “You aren’t married?” “That’s right. I had just had a conversation with a man and didn’t understand anything that was said.” “Yes. they were. where are they now?” “Far away. once. “You were in the war?” The man nodded again.
I could see his eyes were red and watery. “Is that a medal?” The man nodded.” This whole thing was sure tiring.” He turned and looked at me warmly. mister. He calls it a Purple Heart. “You didn’t. too. He was shot in the leg. When he did he turned and looked at me first. He smiled and said. “My daddy got a medal.Fisk/ Train Station 7 had offended him in some way.” “Were you ever shot?” “No.” “It isn’t. I glanced over at Mom to see where she was. but the army says I wasn’t.” 7 .” “You were never wounded?” “Yeah. if I said something to you that made you sad.” “Then why did you get a medal?” Now the sad man seemed to take forever to answer. There were only a few people in front of her. I looked back at the sad man and this time. “The army said it was for courage and bravery. “I’m sorry. what you’re wearing. beyond the call of duty. noticed something large hanging around his neck. “The army gave it to you?” He nodded again.” I sighed again. Now I wasn’t sure if I wanted her to hurry or not. He limps a little but he’s okay. “That doesn’t look like a Purple Heartyou know.
” “But where will you go?” “Jill. isn’t it?” He nodded. “What. “Please tell me that you have a place to go.” “But you are alone.” The sad man started rocking again. I moved a bit closer to him. I suddenly felt such anger at her. “Just a minute. “I am here now. “I think your mom is just finishing up.” “I’m afraid that one day you will understand.” “That’s. but…” 8 .” “But.” He said nothing and seemed to look beyond me. I had never met anyone like this.that’s the highest one.8 “Then you are a hero?” The sad man smiled strangely as a single tear rolled down his face.” Mom yelled.” I leaned back in a huff against the bench.” When I turned back to look at the sad man he had taken off his medal and handed it to me. “I really don’t understand. what are you doing?” “I am no hero. You don’t want to be late for your train. sweetheart. Why are you so sad? Please tell me. I could see how upset he had become but I was also becoming exasperated with him. “What medal is that?” “The Medal of Honor.
” “What I earned I would gladly return. “Promise me you’ll be all right?” “I will now.” I turned and looked at this mystery man one more time. “Mister. I ran over to Mom and showed her the medal the sad man gave me.” Mom said in a more insistent tone.” “But. “A hero doesn’t deprive people of living. you earned this.” “Jill. You are the hero. “Please wait. please. I don’t want this. my sweet child. have done that today.” “But. I am still not 9 .” I nodded and turned to leave.Fisk/ Train Station 9 “You are. I feel wrong about taking it. I’m coming. I…” “For courage and bravery beyond the call of duty!” “Jill. A true hero lets them see the reasons to keep on doing so. please.” “Okay Mom.” I did not know what to say. “But you must promise me that you will also.” “Please. “And you. your train is leaving in five minutes. but. sweetheart.“ “So you deserve this far more than I do.” He smiled at me warmly again. smiled warmly as he looked at me.” He sighed and for the first time.” I implored.
but then again there was no sad man waiting on the bench. So. She was so worried that I would miss my train.10 sure if she knew what it was. waiting for grandma to buy her a ticket to see grandpa. By Peter Fisk 10 . We were close to the ticket counter. when she was a little girl. I turned to say good-bye to the sad man but he had left the bench and was nowhere to be found. there I was. waiting on the same line as Mom. I’m sure it was painful for her.
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