….or shall I call you Fellow Passenger, as nothing strikes me as ‘strange’ about you any more. How long have we been travelling on this train together? Days? Weeks? Months? Feels like years, does it not. Forgive me if I am vague; for I have lost track of time. The journey has been long and rough; my mind is tired out.
May I remind you that thanks to you I found myself hurled into a dank, dark carriage, where light was so scant for the longest time I could not tell day from night. In the interminable darkness, I wept constantly. No one heard; you, least of all.
I should have jumped right then.
I contemplated the jump, even braced myself for the impact of the fall. But…oh hello dear Stranger, we meet again… Was it you I collided into when there was that jolt, the one that pushed me head first into the carriage of hell? Can you even begin to imagine how terrified I was I would never surface again.
But surface I did. And, in my confusion, I broke my vows of silence, forgot my thirst for vengeance. Was I hallucinating or was my vision distorted by the evil in your spell? The very beast that caused my fall transmuted into an angel of light, how ironic is that. I followed the light out of the tunnel.
I am sorry, you said. I said nothing.
Do you know where this train is bound for, I asked you. You said dunno. You said do you, I said no.
We talked, at times with words, at times in code, at times in silence but we talked…rather a lot. I said this is madness, we don’t even know where the train will take us, I said surely every train has a destination. We should get off, we agreed, as there is no sense or logic in this journey, not like this, together.
You first, I said. No, you, you said. This is awkward.
I can’t, I said, can you…first? I can’t, you said. I…don’t…want to… Do you want to…? I can’t, I said, again, do you want me to. But we must, I said. Do we have to decide this moment, you said. Guess not, I said, calmly, screaming inside. Sh sh sh…
Have I told you…my latest joke, you said. Stop it, I said. This is no joke.
We return to our seats and feel the rattling of the train in our bones. Isn’t there a friggin’ conductor on this train?! Someone must be able to tell us where it’s going.
We reconvene. Okay, this is preposterous. Do you know what will happen if we stay on this train? It may take us somewhere we will loathe; what if the breaks don’t work, what if it crashes against a wall; we will hurt, we may die. Train crashes happen all the time, you know. Yes, we say.
We go away to think again. Of getting off, of cutting the journey short.
You now have the distant look of one about to bid farewell, leave the country, emigrate. Your facial muscles are stiff, your eyes no longer smile. You never smile much anyway though I’d have gladly taught you to.
I put my arms around you for a last embrace. For the road. Courage, I say, although courage is what I need. But you don’t hug me back. An unfeeling monster is what you have turned to? You will do it at last, good. You hate me, don’t you, I dare you: hate me and jump. Adieu and farewell dear Stranger. No one should be on board a train with an unnamed destination. Go, go, GO!
I turn my back on you so I don’t see you jump. I turn off the lights so I can obliterate the memory of the unsmiling face I am beginning to hate. Sh sh sh sh…
God how I hate you.
I retreat into another carriage, certain I am now the only passenger left on board. My turn, I murmur, under my breath. I open the door and observe the gravel below and the stretch of ground where I should hope to land. Sh sh sh, the train carries on. I close my eyes and hold my breath….my heartbeat pounding in my ears. Sh…
“Hi!”, says a voice I recognise. I open my eyes and see you peeking in. Smiling, the cheek! I jump. Not off the train; off my seat.
What da…? What in the name of Christ the Lord are you doing here? Thought you had jumped? Thought you had, you say. No, I say…. We are pathetic. Hmm, you say.
We sit in our carriage, silent you and I, staring blankly into the distance as the train travels on; the landscape changes, the weather turns, day follows night, sun follows moon, the stations speed past, one after another. Sh sh, we hear.
Sometimes you even…smile…a little; oh, you are learning to smile?
Hey, fancy a game of Scrabble? you say. You mad?! I shout. Are you out of your f***ing mind?!
I notice you are sitting close to me, like before….before you became aloof and hateful and you looked like you were really going to do it. You look smaller in this light but it is not you that has diminished. It is my anger which has abated, run out of steam. Is it possible I have become bigger than you, and in that space there is room even for tiny you?
You should really jump, I say. Or I. We have come so far, too far. We should have jumped long ago, one of us. Only one of us needs to jump.
You say nothing.
Why do you say nothing?!
You say nothing.
Together? Jump together? One-two-three, go? I say. In Japanese it’s called ‘shinjū‘ when a man and a woman make a pact to die together. But shinjū is always romantic, it means they are in love but they can’t live out their love so they die. But this? This is…just…a woeful comedy. Isn’t this a tragi-comedy? Huh? Why are you not laughing?! We don’t want to be travelling together. What is the point in living or dying with you. You are pathetic. Don’t you think you’re pathetic?
You say nothing.
I say no more. I feel…pathetic.
The train carries on, sh sh sh sh.
Dear Stranger, I was travelling alone. I travel everywhere on my own, I’m like that. But you boarded my train, you walked into my carriage and picked me for a stupid game of Scrabble. You know I like words. Making words with you gave me a reason to dream. Completing words where you had left off, completing what was incomplete. Learning…new words. Sometimes the words are obscure, weird, sometimes wonderfully weird, and we grin from ear to ear like naughty kids celebrating our discovery. We are like that.
Now bound together on a train with an unknown destination, we struggle. And the more we struggle the more tightly bound we are in a pact of death we cannot escape.
Not long before we talk about jumping again. This is our new game: who first?
“Hey, whose song was it that goes ‘I really don’t know life at all'”?
“Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now”, I hear you answer, though not a word has been spoken. Because I haven’t asked you. But, had I…asked, you’d have known, as you always do. It would have made me smile as your answers mostly do.
“I love that song.”
“What?” you say. “Nothing,” I say.
I take your hand in both of mine and place it close to my chest, but in my mind only so as not to distress. I don’t want you to think I want you to stay. Because I don’t.
“You can stay”, I whisper, too hoarse to scream. “For today.” I look away.
Don’t, don’t look at me now.
Just a moment longer, just another game, just another stop, I think but don’t say.
I never say, you never say. We are like that.
Trapped on a train with an unnamed destination, turning corners that may be our last, we face each other saying nothing, playing Scrabble, making words we no longer need.
Dear dear you.
Sh sh sh sh…
NOTE: This blog was my first experiment with an unconventional style of writing, blending a Pinteresque style of dialogue with steam of consciousness and a semi-poetic approach to rhythm. The train journey is obviously metaphorical, as are many other elements in this piece, but it is based on real situations and real characters. I would heartily welcome any comments you may have on either the content or the writing style. If you would rather email me privately, please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org