Leon on the Train

On the day that Leon left his Florida cousins, there was despair writ loudly across his face, and secret jubilation in Ahmed’s heart, that he vainly strove to hide from his face. Leon was very loud in his good-byes; had to hug everyone, and kiss his aunt and uncle unashamedly. Then he was off in his snorting red truck.

Lo and behold, the truck broke down right around the South Carolina border. Leon was never one to be down and out, but this was hard to swallow. His dear, willing, companionable truck, where he had spent so many happy hours singing odd songs. The cheerful mottos on the license tags zooming by all promised him ”smiling faces and beautiful places”, but that was no comfort when his truck had broken down!

As he leaned over his steering wheel, getting teary-eyed for the second time that day, Leon noticed a train coming by. Could he wave it down and grab a ride? For one fearful moment, he watched it sail beyond his reach like an august sprite spitting warm, golden diesel. However, this was Leon’s lucky day. Away down the horizon, what should appear but a merry cow, that having lost its path through the pastures now went ambling onto the railroad tracks. In a flash, the onerous, cranking iron engine slammed on the brakes. Leon’s car jumped an inch as a loud pop burst from the train. All was quiet, then the train doors streamed open to reveal desperate passengers emerging and screaming for a smoke break. The poor cow was nowhere to be seen, the conductor was running around flapping his cap, and the wheels against the tracks were still. This was Leon’s chance. He ditched his truck there on the side of the road. He gathered up his knapsack. There was a quick gagging cough as he plowed through the smokers, a flash of his boots up the high train steps and then – Leon nabbed an empty seat, free of baggage, and settled in for the long trip.

They spent four hours stuck and stationary there on the South Carolina border, tending to the cow, and then it was ten longer hours en route to the nation’s capital. Having lain waste to the hospitality of his Florida cousins, Leon had decided it was right to move on to those in Maryland. Luckily, there was plenty of entertainment on-board during the long wait.

The first act was a feeble stewardess who kept sweeping up and down the train aisles to keep everyone updated of the trains’ mishaps. ”Y’all, y’all, everyone stay calm! We just got a hole in our train brakes. That’s what caused the pop. But don’t worry. They’re out there right now, fixing it up with duct tape. Duct tape, I say, it works wonders on these things.”

Finally came the moment that the fragile train stewardess hobbled through wailing out, ”we got the duct tape, and it’s all fixed up now. All fixed up.” The train in its expert, re-engineered form, resumed its rhythm. It had huffed its way up to the Virginia border, and then stage two of the entertainers commenced.

Out from the front of Leon’s car suddenly floated a smooth, clear voice. A young lady had stood up and was singing. Leon stared at her, impressed. This impromptu exhibition demonstrated the kind of valor that he always attempted to emulate, to the consternation of others. But no one seemed upset by the young lady. She went on, and on, singing. Her song was very sweet, but seemingly limited to two phrases, which she repeated with increasing levels of pandemonium and conviction.

“But it was worth iiiiiiiit …. but it was wooooooorth it,” she belted out. She followed that up with, “and it wasn’t eeeeeeeeasy. And it wasn’t eeeeeeeeasy. But it was worth iiiiiiiiiit. And it was wooooooooorth it.”

Thus the train was rocked in the profound nature of her words for ten minutes, and when she finally finished, the passengers clapped gamely for her. The young lady clasped her hands together in gratitude, then exclaimed with an excited little catch in her voice, looking this way and that to invite goodwill,

“I’d like to tell you all a story. Once upon a time, there was a leader in charge of some troops. And it happened that these troops were out in the desert, and there was very little food and water. The leader of these troops …”

The girl went on and on, about how these troops of truthful and clean souls had been slashed at, had darted to and fro, had fought the valiant battle, and the stunner was when the girl revealed the leader to be Jesus himself. See, see that? It was all an allegory! More amazing than the story was the endurance of the girl’s voice; there were at least 10 carriages in the train. If she now planned to go from carriage to carriage and repeat her song and tale, no one knew; why all the train stewards should happen to be absent, so as not to intercede, remained a mystery.

At the end of her routine, the carriage applauded loudly.

Leon had listened appreciatively to her speech, and towards the end he wondered, “what would the passengers do if I got up and started preaching about Islam? Oh, I know, they’d love it!”

Having reached this ready conclusion, he got up, walked to the front of the car, gave a bow to the receding young lady, turned around with a big goofy smile, and waved at everyone.

“Hi, y’all!!” he blurted out, as his cousins in the south had taught him to do. “I’d like to sing for y’all, too. Ready, steady, here goes. Alllllaaaaaaaaaaaahuakbar!!!” he shrieked out with feeling.

This got the passengers’ attention better than Jesus’ representative had managed, although it must be owned she had the sweeter voice.

Leon smiled, satisfied, then he continued in a strong, carrying voice, complete with his adopted southern accent.

“I’m here ‘cause I’d like to tell y’all a story, too. My story is about a leader, and his troops. Just so happens this leader’s name was Mohammed. Well, they lived a long time ago in what is now Saudi Arabia…”

Already, the “boo’s” were starting. Leon looked surprised and redoubled his efforts.

“No, y’all, listen, you’re really gonna like this! So, this leader, whose name was Mohammed…”

A farsighted young passenger who feared for Leon’s well-being rushed up the aisle at this point, ran to grab a train steward from the next carriage, and both of them returned in a flash just as the first tomato was lobbed at Leon.

“Why, why, it ain’t no problem!” Leon cried. “That there other girl was telling us blessed stories about the great savior, so I thought this was all in the cards, I thought y’all’d like hearin’ ‘bout Mohammed…”

The train steward shook his head sadly. “My dear young man, she was talkin’ ‘bout Jesus Christ, the Lord. ‘Course that’s okay!!! You’ve got to learn to anticipate what the audience will clap at” – here the steward gestured towards the uproar of the passengers – “and what you decide to be talking about just because you wanna hear your voice. You got me, sir? Sir, let me take a look at your ticket.”

Of course, there was no ticket. When the train finally, and indignantly, reached its port in the nation’s capital, who was waiting for Leon other than the police. The long-suffering cousins of Florida received a phone call; they, in turn, forwarded the news to the cousins of Maryland; and early the next morning they made the drive to Washington D.C., to relieve the police of their startling inmate. The police was only too happy to be rid of Leon, once the train ticket had been belatedly paid; Leon, for his part, protested, “y’all, y’all, how was I supposed to pay my ticket when I’m that generous that I donate all my money to important institutions like the Islamic Comm…”

One cousin quickly slapped his hand over Leon’s big mouth; the policeman listening shook his head; and Leon’s uncle stepped on the gas and zoomed out of distance.

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