I sit in my corner seat, gazing out of the window. The wheels of the train continue their interminable conversation with the rails; the clackety-clack drowning the hum of my fellow passengers as they go about their own business, feeding babies, reading papers, flirting with strangers. But I pay no attention; I am thinking about the Journey
Connections and arrival times juggle in my mind. My eyes follow the sweep and swoop of the telegraph wires as they dip and rise between the rushing poles. I am half oblivious of the fields and homesteads we pass. Too late I realise that a child was waving from a garden. My impulse to wave back dies stillborn. Too Late!
I think back to earlier stages of the journey: the balloon trip across the mountains; the camels in the desert. There have been other contrasts.
I remember the bustling markets of Bombay, the mass of humanity, too great for comprehension, blending into impersonal anonymity, leaving a loneliness not even equalled by my solo journey across the silent steppes. It is strange, that! Alone and by myself I am less alone than in a crowd.
I reach into my pocket for my timetables but they are in my case, up on the rack. Never mind, I have learned them carefully, and I repeat them silently to myself like a young child saying his tables. There is something safe and certain in the orderly array of dates and times. And Destinations, let us not forget destinations.
But I limit myself to local goals. It is too unnerving to consider the ultimate end, the final place where the journey will cease, and where I will find rest. It would weaken my resolve. And so I sit in my noisy speeding train as it eats up the miles to… To where? To the place I catch the transcontinental bus which will carry me on through the night.
I will not sleep much. I seldom do, on the bus. I will sit there wide awake, but still, and I will listen to the snores of my fellow passengers, and the giggles and scuffles of the inevitable young couple who monopolise the rear seat. Doesn’t bother me though. I prefer to sit near the front where I can see the road ahead and look across at the driver as he steers the big vehicle through the night. I watch the gleaming safety reflectors at the side of the road, as they leap into life at the touch of the headlights. Occasionally, the eyes of an animal will glow a brilliant green as it is transfixed by our high beam. I wonder about that, and why, in my endless flash photographs, the eyes of humans glow red. Red for danger, and I am reminded to glance at the dashboard in front of the driver, looking for telltale warning lights.
I sit in front in the bus; but in the canoe I sat at the back. Idly, I watched the bare backs of the native crew, their muscles rippling in unison as they dug the broad paddles into the muddy waters. I would like to have trailed my hand over the side, but I haven’t got to this stage of my journey without learning caution. There could be crocodiles, or piranha fish, or something nasty, leeches perhaps; the water was too murky to take chances. That was a long trip, and I was almost lulled to sleep by the rhythmic chanting of the crew.
To keep myself awake, I recalled the paddle steamer. There was one other passenger, but fortunately he too was a solitary. Beyond a polite “Good Day” we exchanged no other words, and stood at opposite corners of the broad deck as the little ship chugged along the winding river.
Not so on the liner. They call them cruise ships nowadays but it is still possible to use them to get from A to B. The large ship was simply crawling with strangers. I employed my usual tactic, ‘Take no notice and they’ll go away”. After the first day they have all formed into cliques and one is safe enough.
During my musings, the farm lets and fields have been replaced by sheds and factories. These give way to suburbs, and I know my train is nearing its destination. Lucky Train! I am far from mine. In my mind, I consider taking a taxi from the railway to the bus station. It will save time and I might have a chance to rest for a minute. Before I continue The Journey.
THE END
(c) Copyright H.St.V.Beechey, 1994