Tuesday, 1 August 2017
Sitting on a train
Sitting on a train, everybody’s reading whether it’s the latest best seller (a fat, bloated excuse for a novel released by a publisher who cares more for price than value) or a well thumbed classic where each page is so well read it becomes an extension of the reader and imbued with the very sweat and smell of its host body.
Newspapers are torn between the sickly sweet condescending tabloids playing to the bygone age of smutty sea-side Britain and the aloof and presumptuous broadsheets, opinionated but distant; like critics to the naked emperor - they’re too busy describing the water to realise that the ship has sunk.
Magazines are just as bad: gaudy and excessive covering a multitude of nothings; cars and fashion, both externalisations of the vacuum that lies within the readers souls. Then there are the health and lifestyle publications written by prophets of hypocrisy and the jizz ridden rags of celebrities and the terminally washed up –each one indistinguishable from the other.
The rest of the carriage, those that are not nose deep into a publication, are either reading each other, hoping to find familiarity in strangers; or the landscape, trying to discern what they can from the hills and woodland that passes them by so unashamedly, like remote phrenologists hoping to catch recognition from their reflection of the train windows.
I’m of the latter category, struggling to come to terms with a whole host of emotions – my whole psychic world having been turned upside-down. My motives for being here are no longer clear so I sit staring out the window trying to catch my reflection unawares.
I’m not sure whether I’ve actually accomplished anything, or whether the trip was a futile gesture on my part; only time will tell, for sure. (I hate futile gestures, they’re dishonest and often leave me drained and empty; forcing me to question my motives.) I know one thing; I’m on the return journey, in more ways than one, and I have the scars to prove it, though you would need to be a medium to feel them.
Conversation in the carriage ebbs and flows with the rhythm of the tracks, children fight to be heard: a compulsion to repeat vies with the adults repulsion to complete. I stay silent, content at this stage to try and soak it all in. I’m hoping that some of this small talk, the ability to spew forth cheap nothings as if they were pearls of insight and illumination, will avail itself to me via osmosis. But like a faulty mobile there must be bad network coverage because the signal is quickly lost; too much noise.
Everything is so banal to me, or is this the key to understanding it all. Is one person’s banality another person’s gossip? What about me? Am I gossip-worthy?
Somehow I doubt it. I keep to myself mostly, my world internalised; I’ve tried making small talk in the past but the words soon fail me. I want to find out what makes the other persons world turn; why they get up in the morning. This goes too deep for most people, especially strangers on a train and their body language soon changes from mild indifference to hostile blocking. From killing time to cornered animals, and even though they have not the place to cross their legs they will turn away from me and blank me that way, pretend that I no longer exist as if I had offended them.
On the times that I do get a sensible answer I’m often sorry I asked…
I forgot to bring my mp3 player with me. I can’t drown out this static. I also forgot to bring a book so there is to be no escapism for me at all, so I must endure. Luckily I’ve a window seat so I can lose myself in the view.
Damn it, we’re still in London. I thought we’d been on the train for at least an hour but that can’t be so, it must be only a matter of minutes still.
Someone is talking to me; a woman opposite and judging by her proverbial tone of voice and unashamed assumptions she must be family of some kind, but she is just another stranger to me at the moment. I reply, feigning interest at her observations and even manage to fake laughter at one of her absurd banalities. I reason that at this stage it would be better to remain on friendly ground until I can distance myself from this charade permanently. This is neither the time nor place to try.
The woman seems placated by my answers and smiles. I turn back to the window and the view outside and see only my own reflection, vague but understanding, staring back at me as we pass through a tunnel. I ask him a silent question and receive only a negative in reply, and like a solar flare we erupt into the hazy sunshine like a liberated mole.
Slowing, the pace of conversation changes gear to compensate. It’s almost like the end of a movement in an elaborate and disjointed symphony. Counter rhythms and contrapuntal melodies weave in and out as the passengers enter a frenzy to gather their belongings before they disembark. Even before the train draws to a halt there is a further flurry of activity as they sprint to form an orderly queue at the door.
I’m asked another question by my familiar companion and reply that there will be quiet a few stops more before we reach our destination. She sighs.
My own metaphysical destination is still unknown to me. For a while I was comfortable and I thought I knew where I wanted to be. I had, if not an actual goal, then at least a sense of general direction that I was travelling in. I was actually at haste when bit by bit it was taken away from me. I’m still not sure exactly what it was that happened or even if there was one defining moment that changed everything, but I woke up one morning (both figuratively and actually) no longer knowing my purpose or if there was a point to my travelling.
Was this journey my way of finding that? If so, I can’t have succeeded….
I am so lost in my own maze of supposition that I fail to notice the woman sitting in the empty seat next to my companion. We had been lucky enough to board a nearly empty train and I had hoped that it would last until our destination. Yet more piped dreams.
In retrospect I’m unsure whether I would actually have preferred her to sit next to me or not… On the one hand I would have had the, admitted, guilty pleasure of her physicality and warmth next to me but facing me… I could drink in her charm and heavenly beauty.
Please do not think of me as one of the trench-coat brigade. Admittedly I do own such a garment but it was due to a fondness of Film Noir and practicality. I am also far too easily embarrassed ever to try such a shameless pursuit of exposition.
No, it was nothing so scandalous… I simply spend too much time on my own and very rarely frequent places where I can be in close proximity to women. I am not perverted, nor desperate.. if one had to pin a label to my mannerisms it would be one of loneliness. I am not ashamed to admit it – it surely must be a brave man who can admit to his shortcomings.
Be that as it may, when she spoke to me my whole perception ratio was suddenly inverted. No longer was I focussing inward, reflecting on the days misgivings and grievances, I was now fully cognizant on the world around me, aware of her every movement and exhalation.
Believe me, and I know how this must sound, but let me make an analogy to explain my behaviour. A starving man will gorge himself on seeing food, almost to his ruination as will someone dying of thirst. I had been starved of seeing beauty for such a long time – isolating myself had obviously come at a price.
A description of her would be futile but I will try. Should my elaborations seem flat and insipid it is due to my own lack of a poetic soul rather than her divine beauty… Her recently washed, auburn hair hung limply but somehow seductively down across her shoulders; her bright and inquisitive eyes stole glances at me as she waited for my reply. She seemed to drink in the world around her, inquisitive like a child but with a knowing glint in her eye.
And the dress… oh, the dress that she wore was so alluring and draped over her body giving brief and tantalising glimpses of her pale, almost creamy skin, so tactile and inviting. I felt the temperature rise in the carriage and tried to stop my pupils from dilating against my will.
Part of me hoped that she would get off at the next stop so I could regain my composure. My sterile world was being rocked to its very foundations. Up until now I had lived by mediocrity; comforted myself with the familiar and now this blissful earthbound angel, innocent of what she was doing to me, had shown me that there was hope for something more in my life.
With a marked amount of effort on my behalf I returned my gaze to the window, hoping to catch her reflection –a much less threatening way to stare at someone, but somehow far more sinister.
And then she spoke to me again and I realised that I had ignored her previous question. I could hardly believe that I had been that rude. I answered quickly unaware exactly of what I had said. My mind was reeling with possibilities and computations like an overworked enigma decoding machine. The why’s and wherefores of this chance encounter could wait until later for if ever there was a reason to live in the present this was it!
My garbled answer must have pleased her for she laughed with bright abandon and I laughed in reciprocation. Her voice was bubbly and her body responded in kind. Animated, her dress flowed and coalesced and my heart raced with every crease and fold that unravelled. Her dress was knee length and left everything to the imagination, but she sat with her legs apart, her hands tugging and kneading at the fabric that lay gathered there. And sometimes I could see pale flesh ascend into such sweet darkness that I felt myself go light-headed to compensate.
We talked about nothings, the asinine noise that everyone else rambled on about suddenly took on new meanings for me. This was sublime! She made everything interesting that I almost hung myself on her questions and glided out on her sentences.
Even my companion felt encouraged to join in with our conversation, much to my regret. Typically she soon monopolised the conversation and actively ignored my attempts to steer it away from her. It was like trying plot a course away from a whirlpool or the event horizon of a black hole.
However, as we were nearing the next station my companion asked a fatal question, dashing my hopes forever. It is doubtful that anything could ever have come from this chance encounter anyway but all the time there is doubt there is also the capacity for hope.
The question was innocent enough; however, the answer was, for me, an equivalent of Icarus’ descent after flying too close to the sun –my hope was dashed against the train tracks. The light died in my eyes at that point and I scarcely acknowledged her leaving although I did see, with scorn and contempt, the hug that she gave my companion. I half-heartedly waved back as we passed her on our departure and as she disappeared from view all that I was left with was my own unanswered question.