The task was to write a story about a photo they posted of a young Asian woman wearing a wedding gown sitting next to some train tracks. Her expression was non-discript. She was just sitting staring off into the distance. This is my story of what I saw:
As she waited for the train to arrive, Chizuko thought about her life and the choices she made to be here. Not just physically waiting to stop another train, but where she was in her life.
Today was her twenty-second birthday, and if successful this would be her eighth train robbery in a dozen tries. She made the choice to join Jesse and his gang two years ago when they visited the whorehouse where she had been held captive. She remembered looking into his soft blue eyes when he told her, “I’ve been with many woman; white, colored, Injun, none have the fire for life that you do. I’m takin’ you wit me.”
She recalled the smell of the gunpowder as he killed the guards and shot the brothel’s madam in the chest where her heart should have been. They’d been on the run from white man’s law and the Triad’s death squads ever since.
Her introspection was interrupted by the familiar vibration of the train tracks beneath her.
Looking over her right shoulder into the trees, she saw Jess and the boys mounting their horses and pulling the dark bandanas over their faces. It was time. She lay across the tracks facing the oncoming train.
She spied the smoke and steam plume rising in the distance.
She had loved the adventure and the danger she had been living with on the run, but she was also weary of it. Tired of the scorching days and freezing nights in the desert, rarely, if ever truly comfortable, never able to fully relax, to rest.
The vibrations increased under her, she could now see the headlight beneath the plume.
Secretly she longed for her days as a child in the camps of her fellow countrymen, building these same rails she lie across now. Yes it was too hot or too cold or wet or dry, but at least she felt safe with her family. She missed her mother, Chizu, and her three brothers. She never really knew her father; he was in and out of their lives until that day he ripped her from her mother’s arms and handed her over to the woman who ran the brothel. She remembers vividly the screaming, the tears on Chizu’s face, the fists of her father as he beat her down. Her mother on her knees pleading, arms outstretched, blood flowing from her broken nose.
The train’s stack was now visible, the fat black ‘cow-catcher’ coming into view.
Those early days in the house were hard. She was a slave to that evil woman. She was still too young to serve as a sperm depository for the wretched men who frequented the house as they passed through town, but she was old enough to clean up after them. The countless stained sheets and full spittoons, as awful as it was at least she had friends. The other girls were in her same position, enslaved for life with little hope of escape. They were sisters in pain and bondage.
She could read the engine’s number now, ‘22’. How fitting she thought.
The plan was the same as they had worked a dozen times before, it had not changed since the first time Jessie explained it to her. “When the train engineer sees you on the track, he’ll lay on the whistle and the brakes. Soon as that whistle blows, you look close at the tracks under the engine. Watch the wheels as he’s gittin’ close, if you see them spinnin’, he’s slowin’ down so’s you stay down.” His eyes were so beautiful, he was too young to be such a killer but she trusted him with her life. “If you ain’t hear that whistle or see them wheels slowin’, git up fast. He ain’t stoppin’.”
‘Erie’ above the number, ‘Pennsylvania’ below in bright red letters were easily legible.
She could hear the engine now, <chunk-chunk-chunk>. She could feel the individual thuds of the steam engine laboring to push the train along its metal road. She did not however hear a whistle. She closed her eyes and thought of a night by a fire in the camp of her youth. No particular night, just a peaceful evening in her mother’s arms gazing upon the faces of her brothers. Where were they now she thought.
The rails were digging into her ribs as they shook, <CHUNK-CHUNK-CHUNK> was almost deafening now. Faintly she heard gunfire in the distance growing closer. ‘Jesse knows’ she thought. ‘He’ll try to save me as he did from that hell of an existence in the rat and flea infested house in Tombstone.’ She knew that he would be too late, there would be no saving her now.
“I love you Jesse,” slipped from her lips as all sensation stopped.
She was young again, a child of 4 or 5. Throwing pebbles into a fire, watching the embers rise with the smoke as the stone dislodged ash from the logs. She was at peace.