Advent, Union Station
He remembered her voice, that of a woman now, saying
come, come before Christmas, before the snow. Tom
fingered a dog-eared photograph now, a smiling reminder of
her mother, before he returned it to his vest pocket, sighing.
His hand shook. Where it rested on his blue jeans, he was
aware of its restlessness. Looking down at his boots, he smiled
inside; he was no cowboy, but he liked to think he had a cowboy's
soul, that he had a soul. He reckoned he could do this, though
he wondered if she would know his weathered face, what
memories she might have. He had wandered far from the plains of
Oklahoma. Looking up, he noticed that the somnolent man across
from him had dropped his newspaper. The partially visible headline read
"Come home." He could not see who it bid.
9:02. Rosa watched the second hand on the big clock in the
station, ticking away the seconds. The children slept, their legs
and arms splayed over the chairs and bags. She watched their
eyelids flutter, sometimes, and she envied their dreams.
This time Juan could not come. He worked, even now. But
she was glad for the work. When he kissed her after dinner,
after he dropped her at the station, he said "Felice Navidad,
Rosa," and placed a small box in her hand as he held her.
Opening it now, she pulled back the tissue paper to see a
cross, silver, with turquoise studs at each end, on a silver chain.
She carefully took it out and clasped it in place around her neck,
holding it in her hand. Just then, the intercom sputtered, saying
"Train 402, Track 12, Tijuana. Now boarding."
The clock is ticking. The trains are leaving. The people are
waiting. The music is playing.
She figured she could paint her nails as she waited. She chose red,
no, blue. She thought what did it matter. Who cared. What in God's
name, pardon her French, was she doing here anyway? He had said
to meet him here, that he would be here at 7:30, that they would be
alone, finally, together. He was delayed, that's it. The traffic on the
405, on Sepulveda had been terrible. So he must be out there, stuck,
waiting. Jenny looked around at the pitiful mass of humanity around
her, the whole wretched lot of them. She should have flown. But he
insisted on the train, the novelty of the experience, the romance of
an overnight rendezvous, the deserts and plains sweeping past
them, the clickety-clack of the track, wine and cheese in their private
sleeper, watching the sunrise together, finally. She had said her
goodbyes. It was over. He was coming, wasn't he?
In the corner, an old woman, back bent to hard work, mopped the
floor. Rhythmically, she swept the mop back and forth, like a dance.
Her hair had grayed over her black skin, and she did not look up often,
though if you listened carefully, you could hear the soft singing. Like a
living psalter the woman was filled with hymns and carols, little
snatches of them filtering under the hub-bub of the station, the cacophony
of announcements, crying babies, chattering children, and here and
there the snores of too-long-waiters, those who had given up consciousness.
Tom smiled as he walked by her, hearing the familiar but almost forgotten
sound of "Jesus is calling, come home." Jenny too looked up, hearing "Away
in a Manger," a tear escaping her eye. Rosa hummed her own harmony,
as the woman sang "Holy, Holy, Holy," clutching her turquoise cross, all
Waiting. All going home. All longing for God to come.
[Union Station in Los Angeles is called the last of the great train stations. Built in 1939, it serves 26,000 people a day on Amtrak and Metroliner. When I visited there last Summer, I was appreciative of seeing something somewhat old in Los Angeles, a city which thrives on the new. I read that Union Station's exterior combines Moorish and Spanish architecture, though I would not have known. Inside, marble floors and arched windows are capped by a ceiling that is over fifty feet from the floor. It's not the biggest or most beautiful train station, but it does have a uniquely Southern California feel to it. And it's located across from Olvera Street, the oldest part of the city. I didn't write this the day I was there, but only today, as I thought about how people spend a great deal of time waiting in terminals around Christmas, and how each one carries a story with major and minor themes, and how we all carry stories, and we all wait for His Advent.]