As a regular customer of a commuter rail, I sometimes wish there was a signalman at my home station instead of an impersonal ticket vending machine without a proper waiting area on a barren platform that makes the nondescript station all the more desolate, drab, and dreary. California wintry mornings are treacherously cold and heartless; they make you yearn for a conspicuous presence of a guiding light of humanity. So it gave me a fillip when I happened on an article about an extraordinary duo from my subscription magazine on the train.
Let’s take Time Train to Uitenhage in Cape Town, South Africa circa 1890. Meet Jack the Baboon and his senior partner James, the Signalman working side by side watching a train coming toward their station from a distance. James brought Jack to his station after losing both of his legs in a train accident to train the primate to push him around in a trolly, as well as to operate the train signals. Jack was indeed James’s working avatar and a best buddy at work. For good nine years, Jack’s work performance excelled some of his human colleagues, which earned him official employment for which he was paid twenty cents a day and a half a bottle of beer a week. A laborer is indeed worthy of his reward.
Fast forward the mind’s cinema projector, and I am back at the same home station in the wee hours of cold, rainy California morning. There’s neither Jack nor James, except for a motley of hooded figures of would-be passengers on the platform. All seems crude and cruel except a light with a whistle approaching the station growing bigger and bolder, and I welcome it with the feeling of thankfulness mixed with adventurousness into an unknown new day