Suddenly, clouds of red dust rose from the prairie and met billows of black smoke midair. The old locomotive pushed on, expelling fumes like an exhausted dragon that, somehow, survived extinction. In the crowded station, a cluster of people waited expectantly and impatiently for the arrival of the new Head of Town. When the train heralded its triumphant arrival with a sharp whistle, a party standing at attention broke away from the crowd and advanced along the platform, in a somewhat disorderly manner, to welcome the much-awaited man. The improvised procession was arrested by a dense gust released by the machine as it came to a ponderous halt, leaving its leader, holding with pomp and circumstance a red satin pillow in whose bosom nestled a plain tin star, in a rather
discomfited position. When the awaited man, candid and of good stature and bearing an enigmatic smile, emerged from the train still wrapped up in the damp haze produced by the wearied engine, all eyes glued to the mother-of-pearl grips that stood out of either side of his hips. Oblivious to the crushing curiosity, the new arrival waived his hat clumsily, whether in a gesture of greeting or to scatter the last shreds of smoke that prevented him from recognizing anyone, which, in a way, made everything easier.
There followed years of untellable action… in everyone’s hearts, it was clear that the man had been the right choice. At the end of each day that he zealously assured the peaceful sleep of his fellow citizens, the chosen man, now greying, hung heavily on a nail in the wall of his office the celebrated gun belt in whose holsters two lacquered firebirds were ever ready to take flight, depending only on the quickest or slightest move. To cap this routine, he would take the tin star from his breast pocket, rub it on the alpaca sleeve to bring out the gloss, and lay it over the revolvers, wearing the same enigmatic smile of the first day.
Once again, the train whistle blew victoriously like a trumpet of Jericho announcing the beginning of a new era. A modern era, with new rules and more assurances of imminent peace and justice for all. The station was packed anew, thousands of multicolored flags spilled over the squares and avenues. Everyone proclaimed the coming of a final agreement to end the war and live in love… Indifferent to the reigning euphoria, the man with the star on his chest completed his watch, keenly scanning the back streets and alleys of the town. He was accompanied, at a short distance, by a busker who followed him everywhere like his own shadow in exchange for a coin to drink in the bar, if only to help warm up his voice… despite the melancholy tunes and the more grating than melodious voice, that half-desperate song always encouraged him to carry on his duty.
All of a sudden, the sound of gunshots came from the station, silencing the singer and petrifying the restless watchman like a hound sensing impending danger. From the train descended hordes of brothers in arms, the very sign of a power everyone yearned to see the back of. At that moment, the man with the star on his chest was certain that that dreadful sound would continue to be heard for years on end.
The whistle would blow a third time… not for an arrival, but a departure. Not for a warm welcome, but for a farewell, an invariably sad and unexpected event. The whistle, which, nevertheless, echoed festively, was succeeded by a surge of smoke that trailed the hurrying passenger like a long bridal train. He bore few similarities to the young man that had arrived forty years earlier, except for the mother-of-pearl grips that shone in the midday sun as if brand new.
With his foot on the step, he waved his hat with his free hand. His eyes stung from the smoke and he barely saw the local dignitary hurrying towards him with a pompous blue satin pillow in his hands, in a vain attempt to recover the symbol of the highest power that he had, unintentionally, continued to carry on his chest. A while later, he tore it from his ceremonial clothes and flung it out of the train window, which, to the ears of the old busker, sounded like a coin rolling over the platform. The busker had, until then, grieved at the departure. Now, as he heard the clinking sound, he gaped a scanty-toothed smile and picked up his guitar to resume singing, in a harsher grating voice, the words he had sung countless times before:
Do not forsake me oh my darling
I implore you don’t brake my heart
Wait for me until high noon
I do not know what fate awaits me
I only know I must be brave
But when the train whistle thrice
I rather have a ring in my finger
Than in my chest a tin star
On don’t forsake me …