Train Travel with a Friend

Train Travel with a Friend

Tibet, Tobruk. Tibet, Tobruk. The compartment is filling with flies but it’s too late to close the window now—better to hope some of them fly out again. You move your hands with the gestures of a martial artist as you usher them to the window. (Remember when your brother did this to an unseen spiderweb in the garden? You were watching him from the kitchen window; his arms were graceful and slow. You’d never seen him move like that, without purpose, it seemed. That memory in this moment gives you the feeling of observing yourself from beside the tracks, as the train speeds past the same point again and again. Only the stationary observer can sense the repetition. That man at the window… Did you see him? Looked as though he was signaling to us. He’s gone, and now here he comes again.)

There’s no one else in the compartment, except for Francis, who is singing hymns to the insects. Some of them stand or crawl in subdued circles in his palm. St Francis of the flies. He doesn’t look at you. You feel one touch the softness of the inside of your ear and your head jerks. You give yourself a fillip; everything vibrates as the fly buzzes and your fingernail hits the flesh. You try clapping and get a few that way. Francis looks annoyed. “No point doing that,” he says. “They’ll die of thirst eventually.” Is that how long we will be on this train, then? The time it takes a creature to know death? Tibet, Tobruk. Tibet, Tobruk—both places one might get trapped.