I’m alone in my compartment as the train leaves Slovenia and enters the broad rolling fields of Hungary. The dark blue seat upholstery smells of dust, and the nautical gloss of the walls have faded to matte.
I see “Magyar” go past on a rusted sign, and I’m reminded of a stamp collecting album someone gave me as a child. It was filled with names like “GDR” and “Magyar Republic”, names I couldn’t find on a map. Names that sounded so strange. Now here it is outside my window. Did I ever imagine I would see such places? Or did I ever doubt that I wouldn’t?
Deeper into Hungary, the train to Budapest keeps changing directions. One minute we’re traveling forward, and half an hour later we’re going backwards. An hour later it will change again. It feels as though we’re tacking like a sailboat into the wind, approaching our destination obliquely. Or perhaps they just keep forgetting things and have to go back?
Hungary is a country where the people look just like the etchings on their money. I see that crazy looking guy from the 1000 forint note walk past my compartment again and again. I slip a few notes from my wallet to compare. He’s dressed in jeans and a black leather jacket, but otherwise the same.
There’s something about a train that never fails to fuel my writing. I don’t know if it’s the way a train snakes across vast open land, the metrical clack of the wheels or the grinding of the steel. It’s all right there before me in a gently rocking panorama, and all I have to do is take it all in.
The land as it unrolls like a film matches my thoughts, and I roll back through them, peeling away years to connect events into patterns and condense thoughts into notebook words.
I watch the rain bead on the glass and roll down the pale reflection of my face. As I stare through this transparent counterfeit of myself, I realize that I’ve always lived my life in compartments, with walls of various types and thicknesses, a variety of opacities and stained-glass stains. It began as an antidote to the fatigue that comes with always being the odd one out. But now I contain so many compartments it’s become difficult to recognize my core. Which one is truest? Are any of them real?
I uncovered that core once in Central America, and I managed to free it for a brief period of time. But now it feels like I’m living two types of life: the ideal sort of world that I would like to experience, the one I express in my writing. And the quieter, lonelier life I actually lead in between.
I begin to wonder if, the more I write and the better I get, if I’m putting the best of myself into my writing, and if what’s left over is what’s left for my day to day life?
These are the kinds of things I like to think about on trains.