♥ Scroll 11
I fell asleep immediately, rocked by the swaying of the train, and lulled by an old woman's cry, vending salad, cheese and vodka.
When I woke up it was already noon, and the train had been stopped for several minutes. I grabbed my coat, for the cold and snow
outside, and dashed out of the car. I remembered that I had to call my friend at exactly noon but it was already a few minutes
past noon and there was no phone in sight. The train would wait only 20 minutes, so I rushed frantically in every direction,
looking for a telephone booth. Then I realized the train had been moving eastward for 5 days and my watch making steady time
regardless of the time difference, and importantly, that she was on the other side of the earth cutting bits of black paper into
triangles and pasting them onto the walls.
To disturb her at this time would be treason so, instead, I talked to a woman in a red dress. I had seen her get on the train at the starting station, carrying an old-fashioned hat box, and humming a song quietly as she ascended to the sleeper cars. Now I found myself next to her on the platform, and to my surprise, nobody was there except us. I tried to shoo off stray dogs that had gathered around us but they were interested in the hat box and clearly smelled something inside it. They circled the box, whining and yipping, until finally the woman lifted up the lid of the box. I expected a white smoke would rise, but instead saw that there was a small supply of food inside—various cheeses wrapped in cloth, a rough loaf of bread, dark chocolate in brown paper.
She broke off a piece of the cheese, and tossed it into the crowd of dogs, who jumped at it and swallowed it. She tossed another piece, and the same dog, the biggest one, took it in its teeth and ran off—jumping off the platform and disappearing around a building. I looked at her, with doglike eyes, because I was as hungry as the dogs. She beckoned me over and, with a slight accent which I determined to be perhaps Russian or Eastern European, asked me if I would like to share a bit of cheese and bread. Then her face turned white as that of someone who had just seen a ghost. I wondered what she was looking at behind my back and turned around, but there was only another dog, disappearing around the corner. I took a bite of the bread and cheese and just at that moment I heard a slow, rumbling sound, and my face went pale.
Our train was moving at a fair speed, leaving us behind on the platform and heading west. Taken completely by surprise we started running after the departing train, shouting, stop, stop. We ran frantically, and finally I grabbed at a handrail at the entrance of a car, pulled her to me and shoved her inside the car, but my hand at the handrail gave out before I could hop on the train, and I fell backwards, tumbling into the dust as the train gathered speed and then disappeared. I looked back at the crowd that had gathered at the end of the platform, and headed in the other direction—down the tracks—towards the building where a dog had disappeared. A pale moon was rising before me and there was a faint smell of diesel fuel hovering in the air. I thought of the woman in the red dress, now speeding down the tracks towards a western land we had departed from.
I decided to stay overnight and wait for the next train bound east, and walked towards town in the dark. I didn't know the town well, and the cobblestone streets seemed to lead nowhere. As I walked on, a rickshaw pulled up to me from behind and the driver rang the small silver bell on the handlebar three times. I jumped at the sound, and turned around to find a stranger waving at me on the rickshaw. I wondered who it was and why he seemed to be beckoning me so earnestly. "Yes?" I asked, looking over the stranger's clothes, which seemed to be glowing in the moonlight. I couldn't resist his invitation to sit beside him and soon found myself speeding recklessly through the dark streets. The stranger beside me did not speak at first, preferring to the comfort of silence. After a while I dared to ask him, "Where are we going?" He said, smiling, "I'm taking you home, my son."
(Photo by James C. Hopkins: Mongolia)