What is it they say? Something about a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step? Something like that. And I suppose that’s true in its most basic sense. However, I believe that journeys begin someplace else and long before the feet are engaged for walking.
I never really saw the need to leave the city. I had lived here all my life and never wanted to go elsewhere. I guess that’s because it’s all I have ever really known. I have everything I need within walking or biking distance. Work, library, bar, restaurant, grocery store, friends. Seriously, what else is there? I also hate traveling. I find it dirty, exhausting and uncomfortable. So I guess you’ll understand when I tell you my friends thought I had lost my mind when I told them I was planning a trip to Canada and would be leaving at week’s end. Or maybe you won’t. It’s not like you’re that invested in what I do and what seems odd given my character. Just take my word for it; it was weird. But, I had a thing that needed to be done and so I packed my bag (one I had gotten years ago from my parents after I graduated-“Well, we’re done with educating you, perhaps it’s time to go”). For this particular journey, I had opted, in all my wisdom, to take a train.
I had this long-held romantic notion of what rail travel would be like. If you’ve ever seen that one Agatha Christie movie with the train, you would have a pretty good idea about how my fantasy train ride would look. It’s where all the men and women are rich and svelte and hoity toity and they travel with their small yappy dogs, which are named Bayard or Fluffy. Sprinkled in the mix of these hoi polloi are the kind of greasy, slightly sinister guys who are from some foreign country and tend to be on the swarthy side of melanin scale. Of course, those are the bad guys. Except when they’re not. Aha! They were simply a red herring and the really bad guy was . . . Mrs. Myra Elisabeth Smythe-Winters? But, she’s so lovely and why would she kill that poor girl? Anyway, yeah, not like that.
What I noticed first and foremost was the smell. Talk about your wretched refuse and there was I. Yearning to breathe free. Imagine the rancid odor of last week’s deep-fryer oil. It seemed everyone exuded that smell. Throw in a little rotting bacon and some lettuce that has given up on being completely solid. This lovely miasma swirled around me. Its origin was the collection of huddled masses who had, at best, questionable hygiene practices. I concentrated on breathing. Slowly. Through my mouth. This, as it turned out, was a spectacular failure. I quickly decided that the smells were preferable over the taste that seemed to have permanently taken up residence on my tongue. I quickly found my seat and looked out the window, praying that we would soon be off. The sooner off, the sooner home.
The windows were surprisingly clean, given the condition of the rest of the train. I fixed my gaze through the glass, hoping to send an obvious message to my fellow travelers that I was not particularly interested in starting up some lively intellectual conversation which always seemed to start with the obvious . . . “Going on some sort of journey, are ya?” No. Not really. I think to myself what sort of snappy answer I could come up with to quiet even the biggest of oafs, but nothing came to mind. Maybe I wouldn’t be verbally shanghaied and the snappy answer wouldn’t be necessary. Hope springs eternal, right?
The man who sat opposite me, barely gave me a glance as he sat down. He pulled out a book and began reading and completely ignored my existence. Good. I have learned to revel in even the smallest of miracles. As the train moved forward with a lurch, I settled into my seat and continued to look out the window. The largely empty platform slowly slid past and I was relieved to be on my way at last. Soon the city gave way to green expanses that I had only really seen in movies. Trees, wildflowers, tall grasses, fields all flew past my window until my eyes grew weary of the view and I moved my eyes forward again to the man seated across from me. He was on the younger side of middle age, no facial hair, horn-rimmed glasses and no watch. At least none that was obvious. He smelled of licorice and of pipe tobacco. Pleasant combination. My eyes drifted towards his book; something by Chekov, but I couldn’t tell what it was. He continued to completely ignore me, so I let my eyelids begin to droop and let the sway of the train lull me to sleep.
When I awakened, the landscape had changed dramatically and was now flat and unremarkable. Across from me, the man was no longer reading, but studying me closely. I was at first amused and then uncomfortable by the fact that he didn’t try to hide his examination from me. He was blatantly staring at me. I didn’t flatter myself that he found me attractive; I knew better than that, but I was nonetheless the object of his rapt attention. I cleared my throat and was about ready to say something when his eyes locked with mine. He pursed his lips and laid his index finger across them. The international sign for “shhhh.” (to be continued)