Train musings (haibun)

I hear trains from my room at night.

You hear them signalling, echoing, screeching to a shuddering halt; the noises bring to mind your own experiences aboard them. Travelling back from Shenzhen on a sleeper bed in a crowded, stifling carriage that reeks of cigarette smoke and the overpowering stench of binlang. Dimly, as a way of passing the time, you try to decide which smell is worse.

that terrible sweet smell

rotten flesh and fruit combined

could it be worse?

You almost roll off the bunk when the train grinds to a sloo-oo-ow stop beneath you in a way that shakes to your very bones, connecting your body to the train’s hulking mass in a metallic mimicry of the feeling of the tightening and relaxing of human bodies that have, in times past, embraced yours.

too long have I tarried away

how I long for home

and my own soft bed!

You are locked in the belly of this great metal beast, accompanied by hacking coughs and the sound of phlegm hitting the floor, as those around you engage in this cultural practice of evacuating the nostrils and throat that is so different to the diffident tissue-users back home.

could I ever convey exactly

the cold shivers down my spine

when that sound reaches my ears?

You lie in the darkness, praying for sleep to come, trying to ignore the old women gossiping loudly in their native tongue somewhere by your feet and attempting to ignore the sensation in your lower stomach that grimly informs you that you will, again, be obliged to frequent the p*** hole that passes for a toilet on this metal monster.

perhaps indeed that is

one cultural boundary

I shall never overcome

‘well some nights I wish that this all would end’ a voice in your earbuds croons as you turn once more, trying not to think about how clean, or not, the duvet is. At least I have a blanket, you reassure yourself, recalling with amazed horror the woman and child you encountered sifting through the rubbish bins of the station while men and women passed by in business suits.

how pitiful, how sad she was

barely raising her head for kindness

expecting none from fellow men

Awkwardly your lips frame a prayer, even as thoughts of a warm hot shower threaten to push her from your mind. You know she won’t leave though. She and the child in her arms will be one of your enduring memories of the city you have clattered away from several hours ago.  You’ll take that with you, an image of guilt and shame and the human cost of the development manifested in the efficient, if not smooth, train ride back to your place of work.

Isn’t it crazy how we humans do it?

we ignore the suffering ones for

a few years’ electronic pleasure


Oh, but I’m as guilty as you are,

we’re all part of the problem

(and of the solution?)