M. Vincent van Mechelen


"We're the only two survivors", i* said. "Can you believe it: here we are, coming all the way from Toronto, passing thru* Thunder Bay, Ontario; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. In all these places dozens, perhaps, hundreds, of people boarded the train, altho* some were getting off on the way too. And all that's left over of these hundreds of people now is just the two of is; you and me in the waiting-room of the Jasper railway station at 23.15 hours."

"You mean the only two casualties", Wendy riposted jokingly.

"Casualties?" i exclaimed questioningly, looking at her and myself, both alive and neither of us wounded. And not only that: we were young and healthy to boot; Wendy in her late teens, i in my early twenties.

"Yeah", Wendy answered, "by now everyone is home already or, else, on their way home. But we are stuck in this deserted station building. I don't really look forward to sleeping on a wooden bench, and I'm afraid we'll have to wait a long time in this town. The train arrived here around 11 o'clock, so we may have to wait until the next train arrives and will take us from here around midnight tomorrow."

Feeling a survivor rather than a casualty i continued in an optimistic vein: "Jasper, isn't that some sort of precious stone? This town should be as beautiful as a jewel, and if the town itself is not that beautiful the mountains will be for sure. During the day you must be able to see them around here everywhere". Wendy did not seem to be very impressed with my mountains and i tried a different approach. "We should be grateful that they let us stay here, because normally you're not allowed to stay overnight in a railway station. It's only because of the derailment that they let us."

"You know," Wendy answered, "this stationmaster probably thought we're a couple. If he'd known we met each other only a few minutes before we asked him if we could stay here for the night, he might not have given us permission. It's not Toronto here, you know."

Wendy was right. We were something like three days and three nights away from the City of Toronto, where i lived. The place on the border between Alberta and British Columbia where we were now was surrounded by tall mountains instead of tall skyscrapers. My interest in mountains may seem exaggerated to those who have seen so many of them --meanwhile i've even seen the Mount Everest-- but for me they were the first real mountains i was going to see in my life. I had spent my youth in the Netherlands, a country whose very name betrays how low it is, for a large part below sea level and destitute of any hill higher than 330 meters. (Unlike many other Dutch people i had never visited European countries such as Austria or Switzerland before emigrating to Canada.)

And it was not only i as a Dutch-Canadian who had been dreaming of going to BC, the country's province with the most marvelous scenery; at least half of Canada's East often dreams of going there. But there are dreams and dreams. In my days many youngsters left Toronto for Vancouver, BC, with the intention of finding a job and staying there, but they usually returned disillusioned after finding out that Vancouver was by far not such a good place for jobs as Toronto. The dream i was on point of making true myself was a more realistic one: i was merely going to spend my vacation in the West.

That is why one summer I took the train to Vancouver, a trip which was to last four days and four nights altogether. During the first half of the trip everything went like clockwork. I had a glimpse of the magnificent orange sunsets of Northern Ontario, only equaled in beauty, they say, by those of Manilla Bay (which i was later to see as well). And i met quite a few nice people on the way, especially in the dining car, altho not Wendy. The social atmosphere tends to be amiable on such a transcontinental train journey, for you are that long together that the need arises to be friendly to one another, while there can be no objection to maintaining the acquaintanceship on a superficial level as you will be going your own different ways anyhow as soon as the train arrives at your destination.

So far, so good. But when i had left Ontario and most of the Prairies behind me an unexpected announcement was made. The passengers were suddenly informed that their train would not arrive in Vancouver on the day, let alone the hour, planned. There had been a derailment in the Rocky Mountains somewhere between Jasper and Kamloops, and the train would, for the time being, only go as far as Jasper.

Fortunately, it was not my train which was derailed, and fortunately there were no casualties involved in the derailment of the other train -- at least they did not tell us. However, it was clear that a delay of twenty-four hours or so was not a thing to be taken very lightly. And the Canadian railways realized this too. So it happened that all the passengers on the train destined for Vancouver were offered a free plane ticket from Edmonton in Alberta to Vancouver in British Columbia. They would even arrive in that city before the scheduled time, and they would not be forced to stay on the track until Jasper.

Yet, this most generous offer was not accepted by me, altho i was not less looking forward to seeing Vancouver, where i had never been before, than the other passengers. For i was looking forward at least as much to seeing the Rocky Mountains from nearby on the ground. And from the air you were not going to experience their magnificence in any comparable way. One must not forget that the pleasure is often not only in the destination; it is also, and perhaps even more so, in the trip. And then, as far as the pleasure in the trip is concerned, one must not forget either that the choice is normally between seeing a little of a lot or seeing a lot of a little. In other words: the faster your mode of transportation the more you see and the less you see. You just cannot have it both ways at the same time.

And so i continued my journey by train. Upon arrival in Jasper the passengers that remained lived in the area, were met by people living there or, perhaps, found the last vacancy in some luxurious hotel. Besides myself there was only one other person left without a place to go: Wendy, a Canadian girl whose destination was not Vancouver but Kamloops. Unlike me, Wendy had had no other choice than to stay on the train, for it would have been too big a detour to fly to Vancouver first and then to travel overland back to Kamloops again. As i said before, we never talked to each other on the train; we met when we got off the train, both of us stranded at the Jasper railway station. And while Canadian railway stations are as a rule closed off for the night, a measure which prevents tramps or homeless people from using them as mere shelters, my fellow-passenger and i were, in view of the exceptional circumstances, allowed to stay there for the night. It was already getting pretty late and the two roofless human beings prepared to sleep on the benches.

I myself was used to sleeping, perhaps, not really rough but half-rough, especially in the Greyhound from Toronto to Montreal and back, but now also in the train after three days. However, as the night grew longer and the benches harder Wendy had a recollection: "Vincent, I've got an aunt somewhere in Jasper, but it's ages ago since I last was here with my parents for a visit. I'm not quite sure whether I can find back the street where she lives. I believe it was in that direction."

While Wendy pointed at a dark spot in the dark night i did not jump up immediately. "If we can't find 'er* relative", i thought, "we may not be able to return to the station either, and then we'll be left with less than we've got now". But Wendy became increasingly certain that it would not be too hard to find 'er aunt's house. So we groped our way into town and, indeed, in the early hours of the morning we, that is, Wendy, managed to find the house. The unexpected guests were welcomed most hospitably with drink, food and, to top it all, real beds.

Now the real bed was, of course, not the reason for traveling all the way to the West. But one of the real reasons was soon to reveal itself after sunrise, when the marvels of nature became visible in the background. Moreover, what is nicer in a distant place than meeting the locals at home instead of staying at a standard hotel or, for that matter, a railway station?

Meanwhile the train which had obstructed our track was put back on the rails, and we did not have to wait until midnight before we could continue: we were able to carry on during the day. The scenery which awaits the traveler who crosses the Rockies overland is gorgeous in more than one sense of the word. The train has a domecar with a glass roof thru which you can see the mountains above you, and at one place it is spiraling thru the mountains, so that in the front of the train you can see the back of it beneath you. There was nothing anymore i could miss out on, that is, until Wendy had to get off in Kamloops. (We wrote letters but never saw each other anymore, if only because of the distance which was to separate us again.)

Trains coming off the rails on which they are supposed to be running are usually no fun and also this derailment in the Rockies had not been on my itinerary. But am i glad that instead of accepting the free plane ticket from Edmonton to Vancouver, my destination that summer, i chose for the waiting. It added so much enjoyment in the end. 1

1  On the whole this 'waiting story' is a true, autobiographical story, inclusive of the derailment in the Rockies, which took place about thirty years ago. The name Wendy is fictional, if only for reasons of privacy. The conversation between Wendy and me is fictional to the extent that it is suggested to have taken place in the above words. Where my memory fails me some details irrelevant to fiction may be incorrect. Readers who know the area should keep in mind, however, that because of the derailment near Kamloops and because of the airport in Edmonton the train may not have taken the standard route anymore after the derailment became known.
 *  The first-person singular pronoun is spelled with a small i, as i do not consider myself a Supreme Being or anything else of that Ilk. The third-person singular pronoun used is 'e, with 'im, objective case, and 'er, possessive pronoun. He and she are used when it is believed or suggested that sex or gender is or could be relevant. See Speaking person-to-person at TRINPsite. (Al)tho and thru are more phonetic lexical variants than (al)though and through. From a phonemic point of view, however, it would be better to spell these words (al)thoh and throo. See The values of linguistic systems at TRINPsite and the Vocabulary of Alliteration.


©MVVM, 60-63 ASWW


short stories