The Railway Watchman and the Little Boy (Short Story)
By: Noel N. Villarosa
November 27, 2017
During the ancient period, watchtowers were vital in overlooking the surrounding--for a watchman to see the situation and decide to send a warning or herald for a coming harvest. There are boundaries we need to put barriers to protect and prevent someone from getting hurt. Many centuries ago, there were objects and things that possessed magical power that can ward off the evil and bring luck to the owner. If the ship is the lumbering hulk of the sea, the road has its clunking train with sprightly speed. Everyone will be completely engrossed in the sound of steam whistled from its engine's metal innards.
In a bustling train terminal of old Manila, where train travels to or from the north or south ends of Luzon. Many captivating moments were registered in the mind of a young boy named Gabriel. In his youthful mind, there were many questions that need an answer, like the many different kinds of signage he saw in the crossing, but one thing he got interested in was the saltire sign also called Saint Andrews Cross. In what the signage was referring to was where his fate will take him.
Once in the train station, the conductor called that all passengers be aboard, as the train will be leaving. The lady said to the conductor, "Please wait my son Gabriel is still outside." Her husband got off to look for Gabriel.
During the occupied time of lifting their luggage, Gabriel had let go of his mother's skirt. Gabriel was persuaded to see what was happening in the run-round loop track. In there, he saw locomotive being attached to the opposite end of the train. The need to detach and reattach the locomotive motivated little Gabriel to approach the watchman inside his wee shed just near the level crossing. Gabriel politely asked the old watchman, "Sir, what is the purpose of that detaching and attaching of the locomotive?" The old watchman puffed on his tobacco before he replied to Gabriel, "That's what you called the terminal headshunt where it allows the locomotive to dissociate itself from its train. That is the intent of moving it to the opposite end and then pulling the train out of the station into another direction." Gabriel excitedly answered, "That's interesting, and may I know your name, sir?" "You can call me, Filomino or Pilo for short," as the watchman puffed again on his tobacco. Gabriel aimlessly looked at the cross signage and then asked, "Mr. Pilo, what is that cross signage for?" The watchman while pointing toward the location of the signpost said, "That is the 'saltire' or the 'Saint Andrews Cross' that is to warn road users for a coming train. I am responsible to stop passersby with vehicles or no vehicles and to clear the tracks." "I have witnessed many accidents afar from this point, as many people braved in crossing the track in a way to cut their long walk heading to the other side of the road," continued by Pilo.
It must be fairly evident now to Gabriel that he needs to dwell on the age-old warning of Stop, Look and Listen which is the most sensible thing that he can do.
Mr. Pilo gave Gabriel some tips to remember while riding a train. During his travels, Gabriel should stay track on the exact location of every signal that he gets to see and try to remember any remarkable things behind those signals. Gabriel should be aware not only on the physical condition of the train but also of the crew who is manning the train.
Mr. Pilo shared many stories to Gabriel, like accidents whose fate caused by humans themselves. Lack of awareness was one thing that caused many railways' death. Mostly careless crossing, unaware that there were two tracks to look at -- the northbound and the southbound that caused their untimely death. Mr. Pilo as an experienced watchman and a book fanatic about train survival guide had also shared few tips that might help to survive a train mishap. Mr. Pilo pointed out the importance of finding the safest seat which will prevent him from any kind of collision. It will be a safe seat in the middle section of the car during a collision and if it was a derailment--the one seated on a car at least one or two back from the center of the train will be a safe seat. But nobody will ever foresee an accident. If one had to choose which side of a seat was safer, one must grab an aisle seat which was the rear-facing aisle seat toward the back of the train. It was also self-explanatory to always pay attention to announcement from train conductor for any situation inside and outside the train. Mr. Pilo also explained the importance of using every emergency alarm to alert the train driver. If there was a need to jump off a train, one needed to jump off at the end of the last car. The last car was at least running slow and it was safe to jump off at this pace. Mr. Pilo talked about the location of all emergency windows and the proper pulling off the rubber ring colored red to lift it and also with the panel of its doors. Mr. Pilo also advised Gabriel to familiarize himself with the different emergency signs located inside the train. Mr. Pilo finally instructed Gabriel that during a helter-skelter situation, he must always be alert in analyzing the situation and must be loaded with much of unswerving determination to survive and save other lives if he can.
As Mr. Pilo turning his eyes heavenward, he prayed for a safe travel of Gabriel and his family. Gabriel happily thanked Mr. Pilo for sharing his vast knowledge of being a prepper and a survivalist. Gabriel as a token of appreciation gave his lucky coin to Mr. Pilo. As the train was about to leave, from a sheer sound calling Gabriel's name became louder as his father came approaching. "Mr. Pilo, this is my father, Mr. Joselito," introduced by Gabriel. "Hello, it's nice I've met you with my son," politely uttered by Mr. Joselito. ""We have been looking for you Gabriel, where have you been all the while?" continued by Mr. Joselito. "I am having a meaningful conversation with Mr. Pilo, and now I am packed with so much knowledge about travel awareness," answered by Gabriel. "I am so thankful to you Mr. Pilo, and it is nice to meet you, the train will depart now, cheerio and will see you again," mentioned by Mr. Joselito. "Have a safe travel, God bless you," responded by Mr. Pilo.
As father and son were supposed to leave, Gabriel went back to Mr. Pilo and whispered him, "That coin I handed to you was minted in the leap year and was found by my father outside during a storm with its head side up, as told by old folks that kind of coin is a luck-bringer. If and only a green grasshopper would crawl into that coin will be a harbinger of danger." Gabriel reminded.
The solemn-looking watchman although feared the superstitious belief of the little boy just waved goodbye to both folks and went back to his office. Mr. Pilo staring out at the foggy train-tracks from the window had started hearing the clickety-clackety sound as the train where Gabriel and his family were riding went rolling away from the platform.
It was Gabriel's first time to ride a train bound to his parent's province--Bicol. It was sad for him to visit his grandfather's wake. The unsteady shaking of the train added excitement to Gabriel, as he tried to walk around every car. Gabriel had closely observed every passenger and the souvenir gifts they were bringing to their family and relatives. There was one scene that captured his attention when he saw a mother trying to hide her child from a roving conductor--for that child had no ticket to show. Big and small boxes, a can of assorted biscuits were the usual items brought by the passengers. Side by side, passengers got along with other passengers; they have so much time having a leisurely talk during this 10-hour ride.
Come evening, all were resting in their designated seat and sound asleep, while Gabriel enjoyed peeping on the window looking the fast viewing of outside sceneries and the frequent site of twinkling lights from fireflies attached to the trees or sometimes just outside the windows. His father told him that during his childhood rides, that the windows were open, unlike Gabriel's time, the windows have clear sturdy glass protected by metal screen grates to block stones hurled by people living along the tracks. The train would usually have a stopover at every station to allow passengers to shake off stiff muscles during a long seating. Gabriel had the fun of buying foods at the laid-back food stalls or to peddlers.
The next morning, the train arrived at Naga City. Gabriel and his parents looked for a jeepney that would bring them to his grandfather's house. The journey had been so tiring and the only consolation they got was traversing along with green rice fields and tall coconut trees. They got off in the marketplace and entered small alley leading to his grandfather's house. They paid respect to the dead and later joined other relatives for exchanging inquiries. Their stays have become less tense and worry-free, away from the noisy and busy city. Gabriel used to play with his cousins in the park and tried many outdoor games. Gabriel had so much fun. In one occasion while searching for adult female orb-weavers suitable for spider fighting, Gabriel accidentally stumbled upon a silver chain arrowhead along with a pendant that looks like an eye. Gabriel picked it up and went home. The little boy proudly showed it to all the guests in the house, and one elder recognized it, telling that the arrowhead silver chain was believed will protect the wearer from illness and guards against the evil eye while the pendant with an eye was known to be the Eye of Horus which was an ancient symbol associated with supernatural powers in perceiving things beyond the senses. Gabriel with superstitious beliefs took it seriously and kept it wherever he goes. Those amulets will be more powerful if the one who wears it has a kind heart.
The day had come when Gabriel and his parents were about to leave. They said goodbye to their relatives and thanked them for such a memorable stay. They went ahead to the train station. Their travel will again be a long and a winding trip. Gabriel wearing his two amulets turned his eyes heavenward and prayed for deliverance.
Back at the Tutuban station where Mr. Pilo was expecting an early morning train to arrive had put the lucky coin on the window sill. Unexpectedly, a green grasshopper perched on the coin. Mr. Pilo shaken with fears did the sign of the cross and went outside to observe what was unusual.
As evening fell and it grew quietly, Gabriel had fallen to sleep, only his body was inactive but his other senses had picked up a threatening danger. Gabriel clearly saw a danger in the next daybreak the train they were riding will slip off the rails just about 1 mile from Tutuban station. Gabriel ignored the first warning sign, but as the time went by--the more unpleasant emotion caused by his belief that something was unlikely to happen. Gabriel's only recourse was to tell this to his parents. "Father, I have a premonition of an imminent disaster which transpired in my dreams," confessed by Gabriel. Mr. Joselito touched the two talismans that Gabriel had been wearing and said, "This pendant of the Eye of Horus had helped you to see events beyond the normal senses, even if it is unconvincing, I must warn the train driver to keep the train at slower pace, although I might appear ridiculous, we must keep the safeness of all the passengers," replied by Mr. Joselito.
At the Tutuban station, Mr. Pilo kept thinking of Gabriel's admonition, not wasting any time, he called for his backup personnel to relieve his post as he got the parked handcar and drove it southward to check any broken rails, he was bringing with him a kerosene lamp to impart a good range of brightness to his path, he steered the handcar as far as it could until his handcar fell out the rails and that was the impending danger that his superstitious belief was telling him. From that point of the broken rails, Mr. Pilo continued to steer the handcar onward up to longer miles as far as where the broken rails were spotted. When Mr. Pilo thought that he was at least two or three miles away from where the broken rails were spotted, he immediately radioed back to the locomotive engineers and reported the broken rails on a curve at a distance of 1 mile from the level crossing that they need to close the railway crossing and send alarm signal for vehicles. Mr. Pilo set aside the handcar and stood guarding beside the railway, if any time he will see the train was coming, he will send a signal by waving the kerosene lamp to the approaching train.
Back inside the train, Mr. Joselito approached the train driver and had told of the danger, but the train driver had no way to believe such supposition. Mr. Joselito told the train driver that if in any way he believes superstitious now was the time to heed his warning. The train driver just replied, "In a short time we will be reaching the station, you need to sit down as everything is alright unless I received a call from my radio relaying for an emergency stop of this train." Mr. Joselito could do nothing but to pray that what little Gabriel saw in his dreams will never happen. The train was running at about 45 miles per hour, more than three times the supposed speed limit along that curve of the track, which had broken rails.
Many incidents happened, that railway track had portions not securely welded down and sometimes residents pilfered more metal parts causing derailment accident.
At a distance of three miles from where Mr. Pilo was stood guarding the railway. The train driver received a radio call from the locomotive engineer instructing him to reduce the speed as they were approaching broken rails just 1 mile from the level crossing. Upon receiving the warning, the train driver immediately reduced the speed and increased the light from its headlight and ditch lights with accompanying sound from its horn four times (long-long-short-long). The loud noise reverberated from where Mr. Pilo was standing. Mr. Pilo immediately stepped in the railway and waved his kerosene lamp to send a signal to the approaching train. At a close distance the train driver saw the waving lamp at exactly the train had started reducing its speed, a rail squeal sounded making all passengers hold tight as seated. All their hearts pounded and trembled with fear as everyone bathed in sweats after that terrifying moment. The train had successfully made a full stop before reaching another mile.
Mr. Pilo clambered up the train's door and checked if everyone was unhurt. At the last car, he found Gabriel and his family very safe. Gabriel ran toward Mr. Pilo and embraced him as their savior. "Thank you, Mr. Pilo for your strong determination to save lives," said by Gabriel. Mr. Pilo while holding the lucky coin that Gabriel gave him, said, "Thanked also this lucky coin that you gave me, it is really a godsend."
Being stranded there, the desirous waiting for a quick fix of the broken rails had produced a good result. All the passengers were safely transported back to the station platform. Some went to the beanery to satisfy their hunger, while Gabriel and his parents stayed with Mr. Pilo telling every detail of the story.
If two souls will be interacting through their superstitious belief, there will be a strong positive energy that will tailor favorable events. The train gives different thrills in our journey. It may clear the way of other's route. In the cold and misty evening, drizzling morning come, its structure still gleaming while slowly moving away from the station and into its destination. Its motion is full of clunking and screeching and rolling down the old track passing through villages just like gentle beats in the middle of the night.
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