I raise my eyes from the paperback to watch her take the vacant seat across me. Too many bracelets, I notice. Metal nudges metal gently as she rearranges her orange-coloured skirt almost playfully. I hear a wind chime in some other time, some other space in my mind. Gypsy, I say to myself. The train jerks into life and starts a slow locomotion that begins to rhyme with my heartbeat. I watch her from behind the safety of the book. Safety from what? Before the question is formed in my head instinct takes over and makes the choice for me. The book rises an inch or two in my hand to hide my face from eyes downwards completely.
She sits still watching the concrete world outside blur into a pulsating mosaic as the train gathers speed. I try to look down at the page open before me. Each line takes three times the energy and time than before to read. Words suddenly seem lonely. Meaning disassociates itself from the dried ink on the pages and floats somewhere in a vacuous world between her and me. Ten minutes pass slowly, meaninglessly. With each minute comes a strange sense of foreboding that fills up my being. Damn gypsy, I say.
Some say that when faced with certain death on battle fields a soldier can display a delirious courage which isn’t courage at all but an irrational surrendering to the inevitability. I close my book and place it on the seat next to mine. The coach is largely empty. Her sitting across me cannot be an accident. I look down at my combat boots for a long while before I raise my eyes again to look at her. She looks straight back at me. I hold her gaze. Or does she hold mine? I find it hard to differentiate.
Two jet black irises from underneath long dark eyelashes blink once as if in warning. A tumultuous hurricane hangs in her eyes precariously, ready to be unleashed with abandon at the world – without remorse, without mercy. This is no goddess of the rainbow, something tells me; this is the goddess of stormy seas and sunken treasures. There is the ruthlessness of a killer in those eyes but they are not a killer’s eyes. I see a poignant emotion in them – a sparkling, victorious pain that a woman giving birth would have in her eyes. A pain that was pregnant with joy. She raises her right hand to smooth down an unruly strand of hair that doesn’t exist. Metal against metal again, the wind chimes begin to sound inside my head. I forget to be civil. I forget the courtesy of the smile. I stare at her. Without shame.
Then she smiles at me. There is a hint of understanding held between those lips. Can she read my mind, I wonder. Does she know the emotions crashing like giant waves on the seashore of my heart? As if to emphasize her well-defined gesture a train passes by our window in a thunderous roar, shaking the very earth under its many a hundred iron wheels. Time stops and space recedes into the far corners of the coach. I hear my heart beat from outside my body. The air between us fills up with a rhythmic beating of my throbbing heart. I open my mouth to speak. Something. Anything. A raspy ‘hi!’ escapes my throat and leaps towards her as if to possess her consciousness with its underlying meaning thereby making all further pleasantries unnecessary. ‘Hello!’ she says. Her voice breaks from her being like a large iceberg and falls into the cold sea of my soul. I am jolted back into life. The iceberg starts melting inside of me. I start to choke with a rising feeling of displacement. My thoughts are disappear into the void of nothingness. A certain blindness of mind overtakes my body. The moments become pure sensations. Touch, taste, smell, sight and sound. She looks at me as if in anticipation of my next move. A provoking playfulness gleams over her face.
My left hand fumbles in search of the book lying by my side. She is still looking straight at me with amusement growing on her face like a sunrise in winter. It lights up her eyes, her high cheek bones, her aquiline nose. The roar of the waves turns into a thunderstorm in my ears simultaneously. It’s too late for me to escape into the book. Or to the back of the coach. Or to the far end of the world. An unfamiliar kind of certainty places its iron clad fist around my heart. Do I wish to escape this joyous pain? This visceral delight veiled in the mystery of a world I have vaguely visited in my dreams? My heart answers in negative instantly and my mind is in a limbo to offer an alternative.
The coffee-boy slips into our world unnoticed. ‘Would you like some coffee, sir?’ I hear his voice though I hardly turn to see where it came from. ‘Two, please.’ I say without hesitation. I offer her a cup which she takes graciously, thanking me. The unnaturalness of our actions doesn’t go unnoticed in my head. But the sensation of familiarity, a familiarity that is hard to put a finger on but still lingers with the power of a trance, is overwhelming.
The train changes tracks with a deliberate jolt. I imagine the sparks flying as iron wheels slide over iron tracks. The grating noise of metal on metal reshapes my vision into a memory. A boy of ten stands on a platform reluctantly waving farewell to his family. His heart is heavy and eyes full. There is a stranger standing next to him whom he calls his ‘aunt’ but has ambivalent feelings about. He is afraid and lonely, and is trying to put up a brave face. As the train pulls out of the station slowly groaning he hears the faint sound of a wind chime from a faraway place. Or was he imagining it? The aunt tugs at his arm signalling its time to leave. He closes his eyes shut to the world outside of him. Two large tear drops slide down his cheeks slowly and hit the dusty platform floor as pounding drills that were meant to burn holes into the core of the earth so that the hot magma inside her heart could be released into the open wounds of his young soul. He turns around and walks behind his aunt into a world without his parents – into a world peopled with strangers who spoke in stranger tongues, observing him as a curiosity. With a single step he turns from a little child to a circus clown. And the drills pound the earth silently. Through the nights. Through the years. And as he lies in the dark of his room he remembers with gratitude a face in a school uniform smiling at him from across the table during lunch breaks. And he remembers the distance between then and now, he remembers the sneaking coldness that took over the future as present fumbled to find a sure-footing. He remembers a recurring dream that allowed a young boy to keep on believing in dreams. All this time was this where it was all leading him to? Sitting across a stranger who has laid claim to his consciousness as her inviolate right?
“You can talk to me, you know. That would make our journey interesting.” Her voice is reassuring, her tone pitched to an effortless command. It breaks off my reverie. I smile, for once, as one should – without effort, without the gesture overshadowed by feelings of obligation, and lean forward unknowingly. A faint smell of fresh lilies welcome me. “Of course, I can,” I reply. I am ready to take my first step out of my dreams. The crushing wheels of the train spin relentlessly taking her and me forward to some unfathomable future which at the moment holds no significance to me. For this moment is complete with her in it.