I sit in the sun to the far reaches down the binario to get away from people wearing clothes that make the ennui worse. Just above hover electric lines, most of which vanish into the off-white suburban Milan daylight. It’s only the caked-on dirt, semaphores (usually red) and numbers and letters posted in combinations I don’t understand that make an already desolate ceiling of a sky look even grosser. A freighter passes loaded with rusted iron cars followed by empty ones at the tail. That was something to do, I think, watching it drag its ass away. But then a high speed bullet! Even with noise canceling headphones and the projectile totally out of site, its shorthorn pierces my head. Even if you had no idea what that frightening-as-hell sound just was, you know it’s coming because everyone takes a few steps back from the edge of the platform in flash mob unison just before it whips through.
I lost track of time, thank god. My train finally shunted up. After about five minutes that felt like forever, it opened its doors. I lugged my stuff on and went about the routine of setting up my own space like a small animal in its burrow. As soon as I sat, the lights dimmed and then went out, and just when I thought that made it quieter, it got quieter still. The train had seemed alive, breathing some low frequency vibration that shut off just after the lights went off. There was no greeting, no boarding welcome, no people. It wasn’t like one of those airport trams that talks you through everything as you’re doing it. This train was old. I could smell the engine. And there was no one there with me. Did I just get on a train that pulled into its own grave? I owled my head back and forth. Nobody.
I had lost track of time days earlier, somewhere in Holland. Time seemed irrelevant to me at this point. I had nowhere to go and was coming from places that were nowhere to go. And I had no where to go with that thought but my seat. I went for a guide book in my bag and flipped to the only paragraph in the book on the place I was going. And just then the train’s car door opened loudly, a short, bald, tanned, muscular man hobbling through with a bucket and a poker, looking in every berth, sticking his poker into loose litter. He seemed to glide as he hobbled, serious but uncritical. Barely noticed me. Just a grunt of a sound before he was gone.
I dozed off in a big way. Coma-like. When I came to, we were moving along. Even alone, it felt like we. And then they started coming. Sometimes people walk through car after car until they find whatever it is they think will make for a less miserable ride. I guess I looked promising.
Trains. On trains, everyone looks out the window in the same way. One unmoving gaze at continuously passing scenery. Its reflection distinguishes itself like no other face. It’s staring, but staring at a continually changing scenery. It’s similar to the way we stare out of windows even when we aren’t on trains, but when we’re losing our train of thought, daydreaming on a cold Sunday.
You’ll also focus back and forth between that passing world, and the reflection of people opposite you. No matter how closely you’re looking, even if it’s at night, when the window might as well be a mirror, there’s no way anyone can be sure what you’re looking at, because you’re facing a window. It’s private, but not very. Sometimes your mind plays its tricks and shifts between the worlds inside and out. You can do this intentionally, but it happens on its own.
I played with one particular childlike daydream. The world outside the train is the thing on the move. The platforms and the people on them wiz past, the ground rolls on by, buildings are in transit. Trees are on the move.
Later that day, on another binario in some further flung northern Italian twilight zone of a town, I watch people’s faces behind me and next to me reflected off a fast passing train’s windows. They’re each doing the same. Nothing else makes for quite the same effect, and I’ll risk ruining this satisfactory description to add that it’s an unsettling feeling, and a possibly singular way to observe something about us we don’t like to talk about.