The Train from Rhodesia

by Nadine Gordimer

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When a train from Rhodesia stops briefly at a station, its wheels are checked, bread is delivered to the stationmaster’s wife, malnourished animals and poor children approach the train for handouts, and artisans walk alongside the train’s windows, hoping to sell their crafts to the passengers.

The focus soon is on a young woman (the wife) leaning out a corridor window asking to see a lion, beautifully carved by a vendor. The lion is described minutely, its detail revealing the care and love of the artisan. The young husband joins his wife as she admires the lion. The wife considers the price, three shillings and sixpence, to be too high and decides not to buy it. When the husband asks if she is sure she does not want the lion, she tells him to leave it.

She returns to her train compartment still thinking about the lovely lion with the real fur mane and the black tongue. (It seems the lion is too expensive only when considering the many other carved figures she has already purchased.) However, she also has more serious thoughts. It becomes apparent that the wife is newly married, and the train ride seems to be the end of her honeymoon journey. Her trip to all the foreign places seems unreal to her. She wonders what she will do with all the craft items she has bought on her journey; she wonders how the memories and memorabilia will fit in with her new life. Most significant, she realizes that her young husband is not merely part of her temporary journey, but will be a very real part of her new life.

As the train leaves the station, the young husband enters the compartment proudly displaying the lion. He enthusiastically tells his wife how he bargained with the vendor for fun; at the last moment, with the train moving, the vendor offered him the lion for one and six, instead of three and six. The husband threw down the coins as the train moved, and the vendor flung up the lion.

The wife is upset rather than appreciative. She tosses the lion aside and asks how he could have bargained instead of paying full price if he wanted the lion. The story ends with the train pulling out of the station, the husband looking without understanding at his wife, and the wife feeling empty and sick looking out the train window.

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