Ticket in hand, Amos, a well-dressed skinny young man walked through the gate and went looking for the right train platform. The train to Tarshish was not in yet, so he sat down on one of the benches waiting and fondly toying with his expensive ticket. He was looking forward to this trip, hoping to get away from his burdensome responsibilities and stressful duties. Finally, the train arrived and he got himself seated comfortably in one of the private booths. Shortly, the train started to move and he sighed a deep sigh of relief…oh Tarshish, here I come. For a while, he watched the world fall backward rapidly as the scenery kept changing from lush green meadows, to dreary vast wilderness…to rolling hills as far as the eyes could see. Soon, he fell into a blissful dreamless sleep.
Amos suddenly awoke, feeling something was amiss. As he opened his eyes, he noticed that the train had stopped. Outside, the train seemed to be surrounded by glum and morose Rocky Mountains. Some people were chatting outside the train. Amos got out of his first class booth and walked around asking what the problem was? Someone said that it was a signal problem, while others told him that the train engine had malfunctioned. He went looking for the conductor…inside and outside the train but he could never catch up with him. He got so frustrated and went outside the train again when he caught a glimpse of the engineer arguing with some other person near the back of the train. By the time he reached the spot, there was nobody there. He heard the loud whistle go off, and turning around he saw the train beginning to move. He ran to get in, tried to catch the door post, but his sweaty hand slipped and as he fell to the ground, to his horror, he saw the train speed away to disappear around the bend and leave him sitting on the ground in the middle of nowhere. There goes his dream of rest and relaxation in Tarshish. He had his wallet and his phone in the pockets of his jacket hanging in the private booth of the train. Anyway, what good is money or a phone in the middle of this frightful place? In despair, he stood up, looked around and decided to walk along the rails. It should lead somewhere…?
He loosed his silk shirt and tie, and started walking. He walked and walked under the afternoon scorching sun, until he got so exhausted that he felt like crying. As the sun was about to disappear behind the high hills at the distance, his heart raced when he saw the silhouettes of some low buildings far away. He thought he was imagining it at first. Yet as he got closer, it appeared to get bigger…it was real. He pulled himself together and quickened his step…Stumbling along, he finally arrived at a side post on the road with a few dilapidated buildings. He was almost at the end of his rope when he arrived at the door of one of the run down one-story cabins. He stopped for a few moments to catch his breath, and then he gingerly pushed the door open. He found himself in a dim lit dirty room with a lot of tools strewn around on and under some benches with strong pungent odor of grease and petrol. In the middle of the room, an old burly man was working on some piece of machinery. The startled old man turned his shaggy head to stare at Amos with wide-open eyes betraying both fear and wonderment at his unexpected appearance.
“Who are you? How did you get here?” the old man asked grabbing a large wrench.
The weary Amos leaned on the door with half a smile and barely managed to say, “Sir, do you have any water please?”
The man relaxed, got up and handed a dirty pitcher to the thirsty stranger. When he drank his fill, Amos found a chair and sat down…
“Does any train stop by this place?” Amos asked anxiously.
The old man did not answer immediately. He stared at his weak intruder for a moment sizing him up, and then he walked away from him saying sarcastically, “Trains stop here only in emergency. How did you fall off the train?”
“Is there a place where I can rest for a while until any train comes by?”
“Rest? Ah…you mean…well, you may have to rest for a long while.” He giggled a little and then added, “There may be a place where you can rest… you can go to the whale Hotel. It is around the corner.” He snickered at the dirty silk shirt and expensive watch, then took Amos by the hand outside the door, and pointed to a small building that looked more like a shed at the end of the dirt road.
The tired young man thanked him and stumbled to the place like a drunkard, his exhausted mind dreaming of a room with a bed and warm covers. When he reached the shack, he turned the knob of the door and opened it easily. It was too dark inside so he could not see what kind of room he was stepping into. He took a couple of steps in and the door slammed shut behind him. He could smell an acrid scent filling the room. When his eyes finally adjusted to the dim light, he vaguely recognized the shape of a table next to the far wall and a leaking, rusty metal pipe running half way from the ground next to the right wall. There were two broken armchairs by the opposite wall with a wet mattress on the ground between them. He felt like throwing up, so he retreated and tried to open the door. To his shock, the door would not open. There was no inside knob. He tried frantically to pull it out of its hinges without success. He began banging on it madly and screaming for help…to no avail. At last, he got so weary and slipped down to the damp floor and passed out.
When he awoke, faint streaks of light were coming through some cracks in the ceiling. He saw that there was an empty can of sardines and a few crusts of bread on the table covered with moth. He felt cold, thirsty and hungry but he could not get himself to touch the filthy green bread. He satisfied his thirst by wrapping his tie around the leaking pipe to soak it with water and squeezing the water out to drink. Despondent, he crouched on the mattress with his head between his knees. His mind started wandering off in all directions…to the dream city of Tarshish and to the past, the horrible present and the equally grim future. He was shivering, with tears flowing freely and warming his face. How could the old man send him into this trap and never bother to come to free him. Is this why he was laughing when he called it the “whale Hotel”? He spent the whole day tormented by these agonizing thoughts until the last ray of light disappeared from the cracks and the room became dreadfully dark again.
He figured it was the third day of his captivity when he almost gave up hope to survive this ordeal, the door suddenly was pushed open and the old man appeared at the threshold, “what happened? I thought …Oh no…” He burst into uproarious laughter, “I forgot to tell you not to close the door. It opens only from the outside.” He could not stop laughing while Amos was wearily shielding his eyes from the strong sunlight streaming into the room. Before he could react to the old man’s words, he heard him say, “Any way, you may be glad to know that a train will be stopping here for a few minutes because they are repairing the signal ahead.”
Amos would not let him finish…he rushed outside as fast as his weak body would let him.
He staggered towards the railway and sat down on the ground waiting. A half hour later, the old man came to him with some food and a tin can filled with water. He gulped it all thankfully and a short while later the train appeared at the distance, approaching like a dream come true. Slowly the huge machine passed by and came to a screeching stop. He climbed in and fell into the first available seat he could find.
He waited anxiously for more than an hour until the great whistle went off declaring the resumption of the train’s journey. Only now did Amos realize he did not know the destination of the train. He waited nervously for the conductor and as soon as he saw him, he blurted,
“Where does this train go? Does it go to Tarshish?”
The conductor looked at his disheveled clothes and dirty face suspiciously, and then he answered slowly, “This train goes to Grand City.”
Amos fell back into his seat groaning, “No…no. I have a ticket to Tarshish. I must get to the train going to Tarshish…of all the places in the world …Grand City…no”
“Sorry sir, this train will go to Grand city…non-stop.” The conductor said emphatically, then he added scornfully, “May I see your ticket, sir?”
“Here…” Amos produced the crumbled ticket out of his pants pocket in disgust.
A moment later, the conductor looked at him raising his eyebrows, “Sir, you have a ticket to Grand City!”
A frightened and shocked Amos jumped in his seat, “What? Impossible…”
The conductor flashed the ticket at his face to see it. Amos looked at it eagerly and yelled,
“Tarshish…it clearly says here Tarshish…cannot you read?”
“Sir, you have purchased a universal one way ticket. This means that you can use your ticket to go on any of the trains, to any destination if you change your mind and no longer want to go to the destination printed on the ticket…to me this means you have just used your one way ticket to go to Grand city”
“That is not what I wanted to do. I thought a universal ticket meant that I could use it to go on any train going to Tarshish”
“I do not care what you think or what you meant or what you understand. I only know railroad rules.” The conductor spoke into his face, cut the expensive ticket, tucked one-half into his own pocket and one-half into Amos’s palm, and walked away.
Amos did not really care that all the other passengers were now watching him curiously. His mind was caught in a complete panic mode. He had a clear directive to go to Grand city to implement the program of School system reformation. He knew the horrible reputation of the City and the vultures in charge of its department of education. The program, which he was required to implement, would definitely start a revolution. He reckoned that if he succeeded, all the credit would go to the monster at the head of the school system. Yet if he failed – which was more likely – he would be lucky to escape with his body still in one piece. That was why he quietly submitted his resignation and headed to Tarshish. He had a lot of trepidations about this turn of events. Instead of heading to Tarshish as he planned, he finds himself on a non-stop train ride to Grand city. All along the trip, he could see nothing, feel nothing nor hear anything except the tumultuous thoughts in his head tearing him apart between …why …and what shall I do now? He finally determined not to leave the train station when he gets there. He would immediately buy another ticket to Tarshish and leave right away…oh…but how? He just remembered that all his cash together with his wallet, were somewhere in the pocket of his jacket inside that private booth of the fateful train that was supposed to take him to Tarshish.
The mere thought of being in Grand City made him wish to puke. Now he wished to die. He shall be in the detestable city without any money or even an ID. Who should he call collect to send him some money? How long will it take him to escape this new ordeal? He ran through the list of friends he knew who might be willing to help him. Surprisingly, he could not find a single person he could ask for help…either for fear of rejection or out of embarrassment! He was shocked for the revelation. He was always surrounded by many friends. So many people usually met him with hugs and kisses. Yet, now where it is most crucial, he realized it was doubtful that anyone would even accept the charges for a collect call. By the time the train pulled into the huge station of Grand city, Amos was so completely disheartened that he could barely push himself to stand on his two feet. Face down, in his grimy clothes and dirty, unshaven face he got out of the train and walked aimlessly towards the great hallway oblivious to the hustle and bustle surrounding him.
Suddenly he heard someone calling his name, “Amos…? Mr. Amos Jonathan?”
He stopped and looked around searching for the person who seemed to have identified him. He was ashamed for his appearance and yet happy for that glimpse of hope that there might be some help coming his way.
A young man emerged from the crowds repeating, “Mr. Amos?”
“Mr. Jonathan, My name is Stanley McCormick and I am a reporter with the ‘Hawk’…the daily newspaper of this great city”
Amos slowly grinned, “A reporter? How did you__?”
“Your disappearance is all over the news and your picture fills the newspapers. I am glad to see you and hope to find some answers to the drama surrounding your disappearance?” the reporter sounded very anxious.
“Well, if that is the case then you must see that I am not in any shape for an interview. I must find my wallet and my suitcase and I need to get some rest.”
“Sir, it will be my pleasure to help you with all that if you promise to give me the first interview” Stan replied grabbing his arm and leading the way.
All his fears dissipated, Amos willingly followed Stan to a luxury hotel in the heart of the city and made the necessary reports with the authorities to reclaim his lost belongings left in the train. After he had showered and slept for a couple of hours, late that evening, he sat down in the veranda of his hotel suite across from Stan sipping ice-cold lemonade and listened to the questions of the reporter patiently.
He went on to tell him the whole story, skipping the part of the whale hotel or his intent to go to Tarshish instead of Grand city, and then he finished with a question of his own, “now it is my turn to ask you some questions”
“Of course…shoot…but wait, you must understand that this will be also part of the report.”
“I don’t care. I just want to know how the news about my disappearance did become so public.”
“It is believed that your disappearance is strongly related to the disappearance of Mr. Arnold Beesly, the head of the department of education here in Grand City.”
“Pass this by me again.” Amos was flabbergasted.
“Wow, I see…so you have no idea that he disappeared too?” Stan smiled widely
“How should that be related to me?” Amos asked again.
“As soon as we got the news about your coming to Grand city to implement the reform program, everybody expected a huge fight to ensue between the two of you. Then you did not arrive as expected and instead you vanished completely. All eyes were on the big villain. That is how he is known around here, accusing him of foul play. Some thought he had a hand in your disappearance…others went even farther, as they feared he might have had you killed. Police started to ask him questions and in short order he too, vanished completely.”
Amos stood up and walked slowly towards the railing of the veranda, taking in the fascinating view of Grand City by night. A long silence was finally broken when the reporter joined him, “Something is bothering you about all this?”
“You know Stan, there are many things in this life that happen when they are least expected. I too believed I was going to be locked into a fight with Beesly…a fight that I was not sure to win. The manner in which the events took shape is totally beyond me. However, it took a few days of pain and discomfort for me, to frighten the villain and drive him to run___”
“Or may be some other third person we are yet to discover…has helped removing him from the picture…we are not sure yet how he disappeared.” Stan interrupted.
“whatever… but now my task is going to be much easier.”
“I certainly hope so…a lot of people are desperately waiting for this reform, if they do not turn around and accuse you of having something to do with…his disappearance, that is.”
“OH, No…” Amos laughed boisterously, “don’t worry about that. Where I was stuck, I couldn’t hurt a fly if I tried.” He calmed down at last as the image of whale hotel flashed into his mind… he closed his eyes and murmured under his breath, “I wonder how my plan to go to Tarshish had been incorporated into this big picture.”
“Say again, I am sorry, I did not quite get this… what did you say about Tarshish?”
“Nothing, I was just blabbering to myself,” Amos said cheerfully and turned around to bid his guest good night.
When he was alone again, it was very late at night. Amos looked at the telephone beside the bed wondering whether he should call his boss. It was obvious that nobody knew anything about his resignation. It was more bizarre that the news about his coming to Grand City preceded him in such wide spread manner. He pondered his next move. What if a third party had removed Beesly to stop him from spilling the beans about the hidden skeletons in their closets? What if the department of education discovered that he resigned and no longer had the authority to investigate or reform their system? What if Beesly reappears as suddenly as he disappeared? There were many what ifs. They all had to wait until morning. As he climbed into the cozy bed, his mind slowly retraced all the events of the previous few days…how he was so adamant to flee to Tarshish… he was so frightened in the darkness of whale hotel…he couldn’t think of calling any friend collect, out of embarrassment and fear of rejection…finally he fell into a restful sleep.
Amos woke up the next morning at the loud ringing of the phone. He picked up the receiver to hear the voice of his boss greeting him cheerfully, “good morning Amos, I hope you slept well.”
“Good morning Mr. Manuel …Thank you.”
“I just want to make sure you are OK. They are expecting you at the department of Education and they have reassured me that they had prepared all the paper work for signing. You have an appointment with the mayor. They set aside a secretary to work as your assistant while you are there. If you need anything just let me know…OK?”
“Joshua…sir, there are some loose ends which___” Amos started.
“Loose ends can be ironed down later when you come back. For now focus on the task at hand.”
“But my resignation____”
“Your resignation was rejected…I just hope the next time …you trust me when I assign you to any task…you know very well, I would never shackle you with any task beyond your capabilities. Now forget about all that and go on with your work.”
“Thank you sir…I will.” Amos, hang up the phone with a big sigh of relief.
Amos Jonathan spent four weeks in Grand city where he was treated like a celebrity. Arnold Beesly reappeared – with a lot of cash – in a foreign country, which had no extradition agreement with his own. Amos was so happy in Grand city that he didn’t want to leave when his task was finally accomplished. The people loved him for the reformation he brought to their education system and he loved them for the way they treated him. Several dignitaries accompanied him to the train station to say good-bye when he was to return home.
As he took his seat in the private booth of the first class, he smiled to himself, making sure that his wallet was in the pocket of his pants and his cell phone attached to his belt. He mused over the events that took place as his eyes were watching the world roll back in a maddening pace. What if he were successful in his attempt to go to Tarshish? Why is it that some people are allowed to go to Tarshish…or any place they choose, for that matter, and others are stopped no matter how they try? Which group should be considered fortunate in this case? Indeed…there are a lot of what ifs and whys?