UNITED STATES—Raveendran’s eyes locked onto the dull silver string of cars that constituted the Southwest Chief, chased by a lone sagebrush tumbling to Ratón’s main street. The window of the general store supplied a beautiful view. Over the ridge disappeared the last car, and there only remained the rails, silver shiny on top.
“A hamburger,” Raveendran said to the red-bearded man. “That sounds like a capital idea,” And then added as an afterthought, “Without the meat.”
“Well, then it isn’t a hamburger,” said the man. “It’s a ketchup sandwich.”
“I’ll have one, please,” said Raveendran.
A moment earlier he would have skipped the please, frantic over the train’s impending departure. The man took his time putting on an apron and tying the knot. He heated up the grill to fry the buns. Raveendran was in no hurry now that the train was gone.
“I missed my train,” Raveendran said, while the man check to see if the buns were brown on one side. “When is the next one?”
“Now till tomorrow,” said the man. “Think about hitching by the highway.”
He paid the gentleman, and out into the street he took his nourishment wrapped in white paper. He thought frankly about throwing the “ketchup sandwich”out, but he had paid the same price as for a hamburger with meat. He was surely becoming American in his 12 days in the country; he was buying things he no desire for, let alone the will to enjoy. Yet once he had acquired it, he was seized by a fiendish possessiveness. He strolled west down the main street, following the direction of the train and the sagebrush.
He walked over the cracked sidewalk, where clumps of weed had their way. In front of the store that said ‘Market’ there was a sign that extended overhead: FRESH PRODUCE, in the papered window was a painting of a turnip with eyes and little feet; in a lower corner was a For Sale sign; it told the full story. Through a tear in the paper Raveendran spied dusty scales hanging in limbo. Between the front windows was a recessed doorway. In the shade as a woman crouched.
“It’s you,” he exclaimed.
It was the bright eyed woman from the train who’d wished for an apple , banana or stalk of celery.
“The train left us in the dirt.”
“Here,” he extended the bun with the pickle and a dab of ketchup.”
“Oh no, I can’t have that. It must have glutens.”
“If one hungers enough, I suppose one might eat dirt,” said Raveendran. “Now what is this terrible menace of glutens which is bringing western civilization to its knees.”
“Didn’t you see the snack bar on the train,” she said. “Everything they have has glutens, even the water.”
His finger extracted the pickle from the bun smothered in ketchup. Would you like it?”
“It’s loaded with glutens. No thanks,” she sneered.
Raveendran took the scalloped pickled and bit into it with great fruition. “What are we going to do?” she, hysterical. “I left my cellphone on the train.”
“The next train comes tomorrow at the same time,said the man at the store. If you’re in a hurry, we can hitch a ride by the highway, and the way the train is you might even catch up by Albuquerque.”
They stood out in the hot sun, sticking their thumbs out. Vacationing families whizzed by and blew off her hat, RVs the size of African republics, morotcyclists on Harleys. Then a red pickup, a dusty unwashed red, passed them by. Then it veered to a halt and backed up. Raveendran jogged up; Gloria followed. The man at the wheel signaled: “One of you sit in back by the toolbox.”
“Great scot,” said Raveendran. He saw the red T-shirt that said ‘Stay Calm and Carry On.’ “You’re the man from the train.”
“You’re the man with the red shirt who got kicked off for smoking,” Gloria barked. “I heard of you. You’re famous.”
“I jumped off.That was the train from hell,” he said, craggy lines showing in his face.
“Now we’re stuck in Ratón, New Mexico.”
“I’m still pissed off at the way they treated me,” he said, sucking on a Marlboro red.
“I’m pissed off about the gluten,” said the woman.
“I’m pissed, as you Americans say, that I can’t find an apple,” said Raveendran.
“The next long stop is Albuquerque. Hop aboard,” said the craggy ma. “I’ll get you there. I’m still sore about what happened; I just wanted a smoke.”
“I just wanted an apple. A crisp shiny apple,” said Raveendran. “By now, I’d do with a mushy apple.”
To be continued…
Humorist Grady Miller is author of “Late Bloomer,” available on Amazon. Please reach Grady at firstname.lastname@example.org.