Hobo on a Train: A Short Story
There's only one thing that can make me happy. That one thing is riding back and forth all day, every day. I don't have to drive, don't have to walk, and the best part is, I can entertain. I can entertain myself and the people who are either frightened of me or the ones who want more.
I lost all my money on the apocalypse. I threw it all, bought rations for the end of the world and gave up my job because I didn't think it'd be there anymore. I was right.
There was an apocalypse for me. I lost everything I had except myself from my madness. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but not in the way I'd thought it would be. No, it was the end of my job, my career, my life as I knew it. Did I feel dejected? Sure, a bit. But then I realized the prophecy came true for me. Anyone who truly believed it lost their lives like I did, and the strangest thing is, I wanted it to happen. Not because Jesus was supposed to come down, because I never really believed in him, and not because I thought the world would explode. I saw all the billboards one day, all of them beginning to appear. “Give it up to the Lord” the signs said. “The Prophecy will be fulfilled on December 31st, 2013.” A year after 2012. A year after nothing happened then. I didn't like the Mayans. Bunch of liars who knew they'd be long dead before their prediction and who made it a joke on the descendents of the world to come, I believed. I enjoyed the excitement it produced, and I had no real family anyway (sisters don't count, especially when they're estranged whores), and I really had nothing else to lose. Friends aren't friends when they don't invite you to lunch on break, even if we worked at a Nike as sales consultants. I still wear those shoes.
I wanted to believe 2013 was it. That was last year. A year ago today I still had a job. I was able to buy fresh clothes every day and pay for food more luxuriously than even I'd thought. Now I ride trains.
Everyone wanted to blame someone, and the man who predicted this end was man named Friedrich Zimmer from Sweden who had apparently claimed to have predicted Reagan's assassination attempt. So, naturally, a group followed and then blamed him.
After I lost my life at twenty-nine, I started taking the train with what little I had. Took it to other towns, other places all over from Chicago to Harvard. The Northwest Line on the Metra became routine. I enjoyed looking out the windows, but that got old. I grew bored with death, the end of the world. I made money not by panhandling, but picking change from fountains wherever I went. You can make good coin if you have no dignity, feeding off people's wishes.
I paid for tickets, five bucks for one-way. Ten-trip tickets became my regular meal. I'd buy a burger and eat on the train. I'd buy Arby's at the Ogilvie station in Chicago and eventually throw up. It's hard being dead, being one of the ones “Raptured” and taken. I hated it.
The train gave me some sense of movement. I was a hobo on a train. I'm too tired to make a joke out of that. I'm enough of a joke as it is.
It got tiring just traveling back and forth, even if it made me feel like I was still going somewhere. I fell asleep on the train once. Nobody wants to wake up a man in dirty, old tattered brown sport coat and jeans that try to hide in the stench of stale, discarded deodorant. I looked like a young business man who was pretending to be homeless. In essence, I was. I hadn't shaved, since I was dead, possessing a full, dark brown beard with samples of virtually every fast food joint sitting in it. I was a billboard myself, with added Nike product placement on my feet. I felt like the Geico caveman at times. Nobody understood me. I even felt fictional. I was supposed to be dead, after all.
No one ever wanted to sit next to me on the train. They never wanted to smell me or look at me. Maybe they wanted to stare, but they didn't. Funny how people wanted to stare, but then they went ahead and did the exact opposite, only making the desire more obvious.
Then, when things got really dull, I began to try doing something different.
I know people expected me to be crazy, even in my tweed wool sport coat. They may have thought this simply added to my insanity, thought maybe I believed I was smarter, more proper, than I really was. So I thought, Maybe I should freak them out, enlighten them.
One Saturday morning on the train up to Chicago, getting on at Fox River Grove, there were all these business men and women with their briefcases and snobby postures. Older versions of a living me. Yet, here I walked on, my semi-fancy clothes, my six-inch beard and improperly cut bed hair, black Nike blazers with dirty once-white laces. Had my hands in my jeans pockets, trying to appear together despite everything else there was to see suggesting I couldn't figure out how to open a revolving door.
I decided to take a seat down on the bottom level of the train, passing row after row of these middle to upper-class yuppies to the front of the car, modern day people who didn't believe in 2013, just lived it. These were people who could bear witness to me, an angel, one of the few real winners of that endurance test from a year before. They were seeing a resurrected ghost, Christ returned. I even had the beard, just needing to grow my hair out. Of course I felt invisible, everyone avoiding my gaze with their eyes out the green windows.
I took a seat in one of the empty seats facing toward the center aisle beside the bathroom. I started off quiet. A few people would look with suspicion at me on occasion. The moment I'd try to meet their eyes they'd turn away. You have no idea what it's like to be an invisible elephant in the room, seen, unbearably acknowledged, but relentlessly ignored. People think you're stupid. They assume you are. But that's not enough. They believe you're crazy, a maniac waiting to snap. Sure, I may have looked crazy, stupid even, but I tried to at least appear mentally there, even if my hygiene was compromised.
There, that's when I started. It started with a “Jesus Christ!” An exclamation of my supposed Lord's name. It sounded like I was angry, but I was far from it. I was exhilarated. People actually looked. The elephant was visible again.
Eyes wide, people didn't know what I would do. I wasn't even sure. That's what it is to be crazy, I guess.
With a new appreciation for life, I, the dead man, asked, “Anybody in here a Cubs fan?” I asked it loud, trying to liven these stiffs up.
“I said, is anyone here a Cubs fan?”
One hand raised up slowly, one belonging to a suit in back of about thirty or so, clean shaven, jet black hair slicked back, sitting at the very back of the car.
I stood up fast, as though plucked from my seat. I opened my eyes wide, wider than those who gaped at me. I shouted, “You're a fucking Cubs fan?”
The man's hand lowered, and he looked around innocently at everyone else, as if they'd help him out by averting my attention from him. I walked over to where he sat and watched as he scooted as close to the window as he could, looking out.
“Next stop, Palatine,” the intercom said. The conductor was nowhere to be seen yet.
“What's wrong with you?” I asked the man, standing, leaning by his seat with my hand resting on the edge of the suitcase rack above.
“I like . . . the Cubs,” the man said softly.
“Why?” I snapped.
“Why not?” His voice quivered.
“Do you love Jesus?”
“Do you love Jesus?” I repeated, an interrogation now.
“Well . . . Yeah.”
I leaned into the bastard. “Would ya kiss him?”
The man hit the back of his head against the window now, and he said, “Well, uh . . .”
“Would ya?” I tried to sound as unstable as possible. It was working.
“I mean, um.” The man didn't know how to respond. He looked around, a couple of the people toward the front of the car getting up and walking to the car in front. “I don't know.”
“Jesus was a Sox fan, you know. Did you know that?”
“That's how they won the World Series. They didn't cheat. Oh, no. It was devine intervention, is what it was.”
“Okay,” the man croaked. “Can you go now?”
“Where would I go?” I yelled, making sure to get some spit on the empty space on the seat beside the man, who practically tried to sink into the wall. “The train's moving! Should I jump?”
More people left to the car behind this one: A middle-aged man with a suitcase and a woman in a red blouse on her cell.
I asked insanely, begged, “Would you like me to jump? You would! Oh, God, say you would!”
“Let me finish! You'd like me to pry open those doors out there and”--the man was terrified at this point, beginning to go red and sweat--”just jump and roll under the train and let those wheels cut right through me.”
“Sir,” an older balding man in the seat in front of me said, another suit. “If you don't stop this right now, stop scaring that young man, I'm going to get the conductor to kick you off.”
“Oh?” I asked, switching my attention to this threat. “It's hard to kick a dead man off the train. I'm a ghost.” Then I walked back to my seat up front, twitching a few times for dramatic effect and throwing my arms around in the air, and one more person, a young girl student with a black backpack texting someone, moved to the car in front.
The train stopped at Palatine and someone else got up and left. There were five of us left in the car and the conductor came in from the back of the car. The man in back pulled him aside right away and as the conductor leaned in the two shared a hushed conversation, the terrified man pointing at me in concern and whispering. Then the conductor walked up to me.
“Sir,” he said. At least I was being called “sir” this day. “I'm going to have to ask you to--” he seemed distracted for a moment, nostrils twitching. Then he backed up a foot from me. “I'm going to need to ask you to get off at the next stop if you don't stop harassing these people.” At least he was polite about it.
“You're a Cubs fan, aren't you?” I asked as intimidatingly as I could.
The conductor simply shook his head and started taking tickets from those who just got on, which was no one in this car. He moved on to the front.
“You're all Cubs fans,” I muttered, but with my volume up as high as I could make it. “Jesus hates all of you.”
Nobody said anything. They didn't even stare.
At Chicago, I got off, walked around, found a fountain not far from the Ogilvie station, started digging around for change. I came back about an hour later, bought lunch, went back on the next train to Harvard.
I did the same schtick. I wanted to become the next main attraction on the Northwest Line. I wanted to have stories told about me. Newspapers. “The Bum on the NW”, they'd call me. People would take this train specifically in hopes of having me on their car, simply for the amusement. “Come see the dead man who lost his life for your amusement.”
Some days I'd be on the train. I'd see the same people in my car, after weeks of taking this one train at a certain hour in the morning. It got so those people would instantly move to another car if they saw me settle down in the same one they were on.
But some stayed. Some actually began to chuckle to themselves, mostly younger students, guys, young punks in their late teens or early twenties, looking for a show on the way to Chicago.
I'd interact with some, ranting and raving. “Jesus doesn't like socks, but he loves Nikes.” I could've become a good sales consultant that way.
There'd be days where I'd make predictions of my own. “This train will get off at Edison Park.” I'd remembered the route so I could do this.
“Next stop, Edison Park,” the announcement would predict only after me.
“This train will crash in three stops, and guess what? You'll die,” I would say, pointing at a random passenger, who'd look around and maybe smirk. Or they'd just look away in worry.
I'd mention, “But I can't die. Because I'm already dead.”
Nobody ever talked to me. Some seemed amused, but whenever I'd try to strike a conversation, even with the younger more amused crowd, even the most outgoing would become the world's shyest.
“C'mon. You've got great tits. You could model bras,” I'd tell some women. If they looked slightly underage, I'd ask them when they'd be turning eighteen and grin perversely. That's when most would move. Some would answer. Some would answer, then move.
I figured out every type of person there was in the world by doing this kind of shit every day. Every day, I was able to find out who was more selfish, who was more introverted, who wasn't, who was more into art and those who were into business. Who was more serious-minded and who was more vivacious. I could tell by their reactions to me, the train circus. The lifeless hobo with nothing left to do but entertain the living, or at least annoy them. I hardly believed a word I said, didn't even take my rantings seriously, but my lies reflected everything about some people.
I've been kicked off twenty-five times. Arrested thrice for disturbing the peace. Beaten up twice (college assholes). For a year I ranted and raved about my death, about how I listened to the prophecy and was no longer a person. I was God's jester. I started taking other trains before I could get kicked off the Metra altogether.
And nobody listened. Nobody cared. But as long as I wasn't completely alone and could emote something in these indifferent, cold, lifeless lives, then my death was worth it, I figure. I'll only stop once I'm taken off this Earth, when the ghost has passed on. I just hope you find me before that happens.
© 2011 Benjamin Graves All rights reserved.
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