Despite what the last post might suggest, I think that the saga of the Switchman has now come to a close, so this will more than likely be the last post on the subject and probably the last post on any similarly personal matters. Judging by some of the emails I've gotten, some of you may be disappointed and then some of you may be greatly relieved.
You may remember a little over a month ago, I ended up running into the Switchman here in my town; an exasperating coincidence since I had been trying to avoid him on the way to and from work. The following week we saw each other several times and ended up speaking one more time. This time however, we did not talk about work. I don't know what possessed him but for some reason he wanted to tell me that he still thought about me. We normally never spoke of such things, so I was a little stunned to hear such words from him and that I was actually able to express some feelings myself instead of my normal custom of staring at my feet. Now, before anybody gets their panties in a wad, let me just say it wasn't anything illicit. Just the simple agreement on an unfortunate situation. The occasional unfairness of life that strikes everyone in some way. But also, the acknowledgement that there was something that struck us both from the very beginning. A something that can take the rumbling and groaning of a dozen locomotives and silence them completely with just a few kindly spoken words. A something that makes words obsolete anyway; when your eyes meet, you just know.
It was only a few minutes. I touched his face and was mildly surprised at the softness of the whiskers, so neatly groomed, that outline his mouth. Other than shaking his hand once a long time ago it was the only time we have had any contact. "If I don't leave now, I won't ever make it home" he blurted out, but then blushing deeply and turning away when he realized what he had just let slip out. So, we said goodbye one more time, turned our backs and walked away. I noticed that he pulled over and waited across the parking lot for me to pull out before he would leave. I'm not sure why.
I passed him on the way to work the very next day. Normally, we wave and smile and if there is no traffic, maybe even goof around a little but that morning he didn't smile or wave. I really couldn't read the expression on his face and I just waved quickly and passed on by. Despite his admonition for us both to go about our usual business and routes, I have not seen him since. No other reminders or lookalike trucks or trains running by the job site. It's as if he has just vanished.
I was thinking about this the other day on the way home and it suddenly brought to mind an incident that occurred while we were at the railroad. It was the day that they were to run the first train through our new building. As I've mentioned, it was kind of a big deal to the RR people and I was so hoping that he would be the conductor that got to bring the train in. Well, about an hour before the scheduled time I looked around and saw that he was gone. They (the RR workers) parked right by where we were working and so it was easy to see if someone was not there. Now, this was unheard of for one of the conductors to just leave in the middle of a shift like that but he was absolutely nowhere to be found. My heart dropped. Damn, one of the other guys would get the job. So, I went on about my work, not really concerned now if I was around when the train came in. After a bit I rounded a corner of the building and there he was, standing by the tracks, smiling. "This is it!" he grinned and pointed to the approaching train as it slowed to pick him up.
So, will he ever reappear to me at the last minute? No way of knowing I guess, so I just have to go about my work. But, as I told him, I will always remember seeing his handsome face looking down at me from the front of those trains, forever smiling.