5. Three Men Along the Rails

Emerging from a forest, Kino and Hermes are glad to see that there is relatively easy going up ahead, thanks to the presence of an old railroad. As they ride along the tracks, Hermes is more than a little worried that they might run into a train, but Kino tells him not to worry. The rails are old and rusted, and there is grass growing along the tracks- no train has been along here in a long time.

However, at one point along the railroad, the tracks suddenly become shiny and well kept again, thanks to an old man who is busy polishing them. As Kino stops off to share lunch with him, the old man explains that the railroad company sent him out fifty years ago to start cleaning the track. Since he has never been told to stop, he has kept at his task for all these years- his wife and child need the money. He will keep going until he reaches the end of the line.

When the man asks Kino for a story, she is happy to oblige, telling him of a land she once visited where the people do not have to work. Machines carry out all the hard work; there are even flatbed conveyors to take pedestrians from one place to another!

During their stay, however, Kino and Hermes discovered that the people of this country do still work, even though it is completely unnecessary. Every day, people head to their offices to work on ‘recalculations’, going over old account books and calculations already completed by the machines, and trying to make sure that their answers match; it is soul-destroying work, and many of those who do it feel depressed and suicidal. They still persevere, however, for this country has decided that humans need work in order to avoid becoming lazy, and those who take on the most stressful jobs are given the most resources. It may seem pointless to an outsider, but to the people of this country, it is just the way things are done.

The old man cannot understand why anyone would volunteer to carry out such pointless tasks, but as Kino is about to discover, his work is equally meaningless. Continuing on their way, Kino and Hermes make good time on the polished tracks, until they come to a point where no track remains at all! Another man is pulling up the tracks, and as Kino stops to talk to him, he explains that some fifty years ago, the railroad company sent him to pull up this old, unused track. Since his younger brothers need the money, the man has kept at his task since it was first assigned to him.

This man also asks Kino for a story, and as she stops for another break, she once again relates the tale of the land where people do not have to work. Laughing, the man declares that nothing would incite him to work if it wasn’t necessary, before going back to his own tasks. Before she leaves, Kino cannot help asking if the man has ever wondered just why this old, unused track is so well-kept and shiny, but the man merely replies that it has always been this way- which makes it all the easier for him to take it up!

With no track, the next leg of the journey is much harder going for Kino and Hermes, but they continue onwards nonetheless, until they come to a point where the track reappears! A third man is laying down the track once more- a job he was sent to do around fifty years ago. Like the first two men, he is completely unaware that there is anyone working on the rails, and he too has been diligently carrying out his task for the last five decades so that the money he earns can be sent back to his family.

This man also asks Kino for a story, but she no longer has the energy to relate a tale, instead claiming that she has nothing interesting to tell. Moving on once again, Kino leaves the third man behind.

In due time, Kino reaches the next country, only to discover that it is a desolate and deserted place. After three days of searching, Kino finally locates an unkempt and only half-rational man, the last survivor of this country. Glad of the company, the man tells Kino about the fate of his country. In the past, it was a monarchy, but the actions of their cruel and irrational king finally caused the people to revolt. After executing him, a new system was instigated in which every person had an equal vote, and policy was decided by the majority decision.

At first, the system worked well, but in time, people began to have dissenting opinions, forming factions who opposed the majority. Soon after, that same majority decided to remove those discordant voices- by passing a motion that made them eligible for the death penalty.

From that time on, things only got worse. Any time anyone spoke out on even the most trivial of issues, the majority would vote to give them the death penalty. Thousands upon thousands were killed, until finally, only three people remained. One of them wanted to leave, but the others voted against it- and gave him the death penalty.

Concluding his tale, the man explains that he and his wife were alone after that, until finally she fell ill from a cold. With no doctors or medicines available to treat, she died shortly after that, leaving the man alone, as he has now been for the last six months. Despite this horrific experience, however, the man still believes in the values of his country, even insisting that Kino stays and helps him to rebuild. When Kino goes to leave, he tries to stop her by drawing a gun, but when Kino and Hermes suggest that, as a majority, they pass a motion to give him the death penalty, he is undone by his own system and forced to let them go. As they drive away through the empty streets however, they hear the unmistakeable sound of gunshots behind them- the man is enacting one final death penalty.

Continuing on their way, Kino and Hermes come to an unexpected fork in the road- and whilst Kino opts to go right, Hermes suggests going left. Kino gives in with surprising ease, telling Hermes that they will go his way- after all, if they make a mistake, they can always go back. However, as they come to the fork, Kino steers Hermes in the direction she wanted to go in the first place! Breaking into a good natured argument, Kino and Hermes continue on their way…