Train Of Thought
On a train. 11:46 pm.
Isn't it strange? This thin, metal can of movement. This snick of a slick of a snake with a bellyful of humans.
It is night (it is the ocean of night that we are speeding through) and the world is so large on either side. If the universe is endless and centre less then we might as well be the centre of it all as we carve a frail line of light through the nothing.
"There is as much above as below- because in space there is no up or down." Someone told me this once, and I think about it often. I think of the stars, as much below us as they are above us (through the earth and out the other side you see?) Under the fiery tracks of this train, down, down so deep beneath are the stars. Burning, burning, burning.
The slap of the train on the tracks.
My little brother is curled asleep on his bag of hastily packed possessions, his mouth is open, his face is sticky with dried tears. My sister has her headphones in, she is listening to Lady Gaga songs on my Mother’s phone. She has her eyes closed. But I can tell that she is not asleep, she is just trying to be.
I glance at my mother. She sits opposite me, next to a stranger. A man. And the flat cap he wears, almost moulding with sweat and overuse at the edges: this brings to me my grandfather.
My grandfather who wore his cap so often that it was a part of him. That day- all of us, the cousins...I don’t remember which cousins, there are so many of us... (perhaps it was the Kiev cousins, the ones we are going to live with now, the ones this train will take us to. They used to visit in the summers and Vera taught me to turn cartwheels on the grass outside the church until the priest told us to move along and clapped at us with his hands)...But whichever cousins it was, there we were, we were young, walking behind our Grandfather, and all of a sudden his cap caught on a branch and was yanked rudely off his head. He seemed so horribly naked without it, his un-brushed white hair sat straight upwards for a second and seemed to stare at us like a cat caught in the headlights. It would have been comical if it hadn’t been somehow humiliating. No-one laughed as he sandwiched the grimy hat back onto his skull. He wore it to his grave, that cap.
The slap of the train on the tracks the speckling of rain on the windows.
Well, rest in peace grandfather. It was better that you didn’t live to see all this. You would be horrified to watch us fleeing like this. Would you ever have left? Could he ever have left? No, no, I don't think so, he would have stayed until the last- home was everything to him. But to see our houses destroyed, to see our country start to crumble like this, his strength would have failed.
His funeral: the gentle patter of earth on the coffin had sounded comforting. Comforting like rain: when you wake in your bed, and it’s warm, and you are on the cusp of sleep, and the sound of the rain is like an extra blanket of safety. Rain is different on the windows of trains at night. It looks like drops of fake gold in the orange light of the stations, slithery and lonely and sad. You can imagine the cold of it on your skin. Isn’t it funny, how rain looks sharp in the air but is soft on your skin... But the cold prickles you before too long… What am I...? What am I talking about? Thinking about, what am I thinking about? Why do I feel this blank? Perhaps I have been worn out of feelings- perhaps I will be empty forever more- is that possible? Do my eyes look hollow and sad like they feel they do? Perhaps I am just too tired. But I won’t sleep. Not yet. Not yet.
Just keep telling yourself that you exist. That you are not only this moment. That you were before. And you will be again. Then was as real as now is. The future is realer still.
The old man with the cap is asleep. He is probably fleeing too. He has that look- that haphazard look. His bags are packed with desperation. So many on this train are like us. Crowds of the lost, the displaced. We are all humans of course. Yet even so, strangers are strangers and strange they are indeed. Why is it that there is nothing in their faces to tell a story? It is hard to really believe that they did not spring to life as they are, but that they exist too, with a fully formed past and future just like us. They seem to be like nothing more than a background noise to our story. A low, sad hum which amplifies the loneliness. They seem like scenery. Perhaps to them we are scenery too. Yet, I cannot believe that. I feel that we are the only transparent ones here. That everyone can see right through us.
Although. Remember that day after after exams when we all went to the river. Viktor, ripping grass with his fingers , looking me right in the eyes and blurting out: “I never know what you’re thinking!” Remember that I smiled. I felt almost proud. Can that really have been four years ago? What became of him? What became of all the other classmates who I lost touch with? And what will become of them now?
I see their faces in the patterns glass makes when it shatters. I hear them in the silence of the deserted places.
The shudder of the train. The shudder of us all.
My mother. Her face flickers in the train light and as the light catches her in different ways her face has angles that I've never seen before. It's like those plastic birthday cards I used to love, like a hologram, shifting as you tilt it back and forth. One moment she is herself, she is my mother whose face I know so well, whose nose I have inherited. The next moment her face belongs to someone else, it is the face of a refugee. A refugee woman travelling with her three children: tired and alone and brave; but brave because she doesn’t have a choice not to be. In those moments she looks so different that I don’t know if I even know her, and it scares me.
Does she also see different angles when she looks at me? And why is it that I can see her only as either a refugee or as my mother? Why is it that I can’t bear to see her as both?
The slap of the train on the tracks. The speckling of rain on the window. The shudder of the train. The shudder of us all.
This is what it means to flee.
My train of thoughts has lead me here. I breathe. I try to calm the buzzing of my mind and glance at my watch.
Midnight. It is a new day.
sleepers pass underneath
and we are rocked by the rails
towards afternoon naps
sun is setting low behind
the houses –
windows light up as we travel
further away from my problems;
sharp screech of wheels against rails
stops me wandering too far into dreams
at each platform the doors vomit and gulp:
i watch reunions and tearful goodbyes,
and wish against the impossible;
i hold my bag tightly on my knee and
i wish for someone waiting for me, but
nobody knows i have gone:
surrounded as i am by strangers,
moving through the night
with each other
as we pass over
points and switches.
Looking out of the train window he thinks,
that only you and he know you’re there,
where the buildings end, in an attic
sky climbing, on your own, except
for your plant that called to him
like a siren or Rapunzel’s hair.
All his life he’s travelled
this same tube, same route, rutted
into the ordinariness of day,
clutching at his sandwich, his job
to move things around, and then again,
move them on from node to node.
Missed the last train he could have run on
needs squeezed like teenage spots, to dry
out like thoughts, he used to waste on craving
something better than he could afford,
something above, beyond the dull
sorting into sensible self.
With your Yukka in a golden pot, you stood
looking sadly down as he gazed,
up to your lonely window,
yearned to fit himself in and fill you,
he was pulled tight as cotton through
the needle’s eye, thought you might be
on the other side of ordinary -
his ticket out, his transportation.