Thoughts on a Train

Today we caught a train. Morning fog is lifting off the rice paddies growing lime green with life, smothered in the humidity. The warm soft belly of a small boy, still plump with residual baby fat, presses against my knee as he reaches out for spare change. Greg does not ignore him. The boy is happy to play and giggle even if he has been trained to only accept blind eyes and pocket change. I feel awkward and unsure of how to interact with a beggar so small- being continually told by the nameless not to encourage them. But the innocence of a child beckons and tugs on my heartstrings.

A passing train screams by. We are rocking gently in the balmy air, fresh out of the city. Turning upside down and leaning over is a man pouring cha (chai) from a kettle, miraculously, into a tiny cup without spilling as the rickety train blathers on. I can’t not spill my cha even on a flat, stable surface. But our bodies adjust to the rhythmic clacking as the dogged wheels roll. The land is sliding over the open windows. Green swamps, stagnant and eternally murky, give way to incipient change; the fields becoming brown, consecrated with uplifted boundaries to fit the topography. The square rice paddies now fade into the evaporating mist of a morning once present, now gone.

A tractor in the distance. Cows adorned with flower necklaces wandering like aimless priests, left to wonder why and who chose them for this special privilege. Banana trees and straw huts. Palms and bamboo scaffolding. No more city sky-rise. The garbage, discarded and scattered, is taken in and swallowed by the earth and her insatiable yearning to grow.

The gaze is always on; I feel it. A stranger. I don’t mind since I do the same. We’re both struck curious by all of this unfamiliarity; this shotgun spray of globalization shredding through the air. We all get hit. Another passing train- blue. The paint of such colors is always fading and chipping down its layers, scorned by the sun. The skin that is left absorbs all flavors and bursts of dirt and trash, splashed here and kicked there. 

I want to take photographs of everything- especially everyone. I want to tell them they are beautiful- truly beautiful- but I fear only they will only be ashamed by such an inhuman device as the lens that masquerades my face. I want them to know that life has surely touched them- passed through them and they have been changed. They have surely lived. Meanwhile, in the Western first world, I feel many of us have only grown pale and smooth with a dull luster, lacking the experience of having actually walked on this chaotic and filthy earth of toil. Our very home is foreign to us. Our isolation leaves us ghastly and loathsome, eager to move from thing to thing like an ever-passing phantom. Having outsmarted ourselves we’ve become caged and unhappy. Desperate.

I am left wondering how to spend a life? How should we spend this one precious ticking life? Where do we place our moments? In what direction do we move? To what end and for what purpose?

One thought on “Thoughts on a Train

  • Beautifully written. The last two paragraphs, say what I’ve wanted to say for so long. Feeling the same, right here in Waupun, Wi. Thank you for your posts.

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