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“May I have the next in line?” called the friendly looking woman in the sales booth. I took three long strides towards the stand and asked for one ticket for the 11:30 a.m. train. After completing a transaction of eight dollars and forty-seven cents, I found a dirt-covered mint green bench masked with much graffiti and ABC gum. I unwillingly plopped onto the shabby bench and checked my gold-plated watch whose two-hands read 10:47. I sighed and prepared myself for the next forty-three minutes of involuntary leisure by pulling out Dorian Grey, the novel I was currently reading. My feeble attempt of being proactive was forgotten by the excitement of spending the weekend with my fiancé, Trevor, in Asheville. Seeing a happy look on his blue-eyed, chiseled face would make the gruelingly painful two-hour train ride worthwhile.
When I was once again checking the time, I saw an elderly woman crawling upon two legs wearing a red, black and white checkered cotton blouse and blue and white floral silk pants with brown leather Mary Jane shoes and large, black, dark shaded sunglasses. The woman accidentally bumped into three small children and apologized feverishly, unaffected by the scornful faces of the cross mothers. The woman then found a short, mustached man with a nametag reading “Walter-Handicapped Assistance” who led her to the ticket-booth. She then purchased a green ticket that read “Blue Ridge Mountain Transportation -Asheville- Admit One.” Walter led her to my bench and aided her in sitting down. He smiled at me, his balding head shining in the light of the overhead sun. I greeted both him and the woman. After making a little conversation with the woman, I said to her, “I see we are both traveling alone, would you mind sharing a seat with me when we board?” She agreed without delay showing happiness upon her grooved and wrinkled face. At 11:29, the Kelly green electrical train approached shrieked to a stop at the over-run and out-of-shape station. With Walter, and my train companion, Marie, I marched towards the train laughing with my new friend. Once we found a comfortable seat, Walter left us insuring us we could always find more assistance during our trip if necessary.
As the train departed from the gritty, grimy station the scenery exploded into a green splendor of life in its natural state. Remembering the old woman, I turn towards her, and asked her why she was traveling alone, as politely as possible, explaining curiosity killed me, though I am not a cat. She smiled at my petty humor and said, “I completely understand, deary, I asked similar questions in my youth. The story of my loneliness is a long one. My husband died six-years ago, shortly after I lost my vision to the cataracts. I miss Earl everyday. You know, today was our anniversary. That’s why I’m here. The Blue Ridge Parkway Railroad was his favorite place in the world. ‘The most beautiful sites out of those train windows! I once saw three black-bear cubs!’ he used to say. Normally, our daughter, Eliza, and her darling boys come with me, but this year they are in a baseball tournament, but
I decided I’d make the pilgrimage by myself this year anyway.”
I saw a single tear slowly drip down her cheek as she felt the unique pear-shaped pink-sapphire surrounded by minute diamonds. The ring was truly stunning. I felt this woman’s pain like I had felt none-others in my lifetime. It felt as if a small part of my soul had died as this woman I had barely known an hour explained to me her pain. I then said the only thing I could think of, “Ma’mn, I know the sentimental value this trip has to you, but why come if you cannot see?” As she began to object, I continued, “Can I, please, act as your eyes as we make our way towards Asheville? I will try to describe to you the beauty that surrounds you.” She then smiled. I began my work.
“Out of the window I see what appears to be a beautiful fairy-land, with burnt orange leaves falling from a massive maple tree onto the damp, deep brown dirt. A small squirrel is scurrying up the tree where it encounters a small red cardinal nest. We now have a fantastic over-look of the entire range, the overpass looks like it’s a flame with the rusty-red, golden yellows, blazing oranges, smoked browns, and plum purples that are covering the mountain side.”
“That’s what I remember seeing on the day my late darling, Earl, and I wed.” I smiled at my new friend and continued my descriptions; “In the distance I see a road carved into a mountain, climbing the monstrous mountain like a gray snake entwined around a branch. On that same mountain, I see a colossal evergreen tree, which stands out as a singular brave soul within a neighborhood of those shielding themselves from the cold. Right in front of the window I see a perfectly raked pile of purple leaves. A little boy is standing next to his older sister with a mischievous expression on his face about ten feet from the pile. He creeps towards the pile. He’s taking one step forward, now glances back towards his sister to see if she has noticed. He is now taking another spastic, lurch-like step towards the leaves, but I cannot see his expression. The train has advanced too far out of the range of the two…”
As the woman has not made any noise in the past few minutes, I decided to check on her. I turned my back to the window, and noticed she had fallen asleep. Her mouth was open exposing her pearl white, straight teeth, as she breathed in a soft rhythmic pattern, her wrinkled, grayish nostrils flared slightly. Her limbs lay limply by her body, which was splayed out on her seat like dead frog waiting to be dissected. I observed her serene state for another moment; I then dove towards my bag to get my book, embarrassed because a man in the seat opposite of mine had noticed me examining the woman. I then emerged myself into my novel, until the woman awoken.
“Oh my, deary! I am so sorry! I dozed off during your description….I remember picturing your words. Then, I found myself in a dream where my grandchildren were playing in leaves….” I accepted her apology, I understood as she was an old woman and could not control her body very well. The P.A. system then hissed on and a strong, intoxicating voice filled the train car with the words, “We are now about to pass Mt. Mitchell, which is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. This will be one of the most stunning views on our journey to Asheville, so please keep your eyes, and windows, open.” The woman smiled in a way I immediately recognized, the smile that signified she was remembering a moment of her own history. I smiled with her. She then asked, “ Would you mind being my eyes again for the next several minutes, this is my favorite part of the trip you see and I’d love….” I cut her off with a very potent, “Yes!” and once again began to paint the scene through the window with my words.
“I see another blazing mountain. The trees a plethora of colors and a high metallic peak, bursting out like a serrated knife. Beyond the peak the sky is a pure baby blue. The candescent, cotton-candy-clouds floating far above even the highest mountain peak. In the distance I see a vast dark figure. It’s coming towards the train with ferocious. GRACIOUS GOD! IT’S A BEAR!”
“You’re pulling my leg!”
“No Ma’am! I promise I’m not! The bear is now about ten yards of the tracking and just ran behind an elephant of a bush. The poor thing is probably more frightened then an apple at a pie eating contest!”
“Well, I’ll be darned, and to think I thought my Earl was lying all of these years.” We both laughed at our surprise and then the old woman’s eyes once again began to tear. “Marie, what’s the matter?” I asked.
She turned towards me, and stated with a gleaming smile, “Nothing, absolutely nothing.”
When the train screeched to a halt at the scummy and rundown station, my heart gave a lurch. I knew I would probably never see Marie again. This time it was my eye that a tear trickled from. As I helped the handicapped woman off the train, I told her how much it had meant to me that she had honored me by sitting with me on our adventure. She grinned, and told me that the pleasure was all hers. I helped her to a beige bench that appeared to house various types of vermin and gave her a final hug good-bye. I then saw Trevor and rushed over to him.
“How was the trip?” he asked as if he already knew my answer.
“Wonderful!” I replied in between embraces.
“Really? I thought you hated the commute.”
“Well, today I saw it through someone else’s eyes.”