Carried Away

Frederike Frei
Carried Away
I have found a vacant compartment, close the thin, gray German train curtains to block out the excited luggage carriers in the corridor and take a seat at the window.
The opposing train on the tracks next to ours cast a shadow on my compartment, but that will soon change. Opposite me, a man is waiting to leave in the other direction. His train wants to enter into the train station; mine wants to depart. We both cast a short look at each other knowing that we are going to immediately lose sight of one another.

Since both trains did not move, I look closely first at the window pane and then at the frame while he examines first the window frame and then the pane. Both of us want the other to slide by as soon as possible in order to have a clear view. The man is as blond as I am. Once upon a time there were two Kings' children... I have never understood what the nun wants in that song. If only we could start moving.

What do you do when you are constantly being stared at, but you really do not want to look back? You turn your back to the world and repack your suitcase. A splendid bunch of grapes appear, as though from a sumptuous buffet, and we are still in the station. Certainly his eyes will gape when I place them on the window sill. And they should. Now I have a private compartment, but still I am not alone. Or are we already moving? I glance directly up to see his eyes look away.

I look at him more closely. A notable profile. I like him now that he is not looking at me. A reserved expression, an open collar. Two sleeves hang over his shoulders as though his sweater wants to embrace him. The window irons out his belly, yet there remains a slight bulge. His entire figure is finely filled. It is dukes, usually, who stand outdoors in such a way; looking into the distance, behind them mountains, lakes, Scottish castles... I suddenly think of Tischbein's watercolour Goethe at the Window. This view of Goethe's back on the cover of our reading book at school always attracted me in a magical way. Relaxed, Goethe leant on the mullion window frame in his Roman apartment on Corso, and I had been simply waiting for the poet to turn around for once. Here now I finally see for the first time such a casually forward-leaning out-of-the-window-looker from the front. The man has what Goethe would describe as a fortune-blessed facial appearance.

Why is he no longer looking this way? After all, I'm standing here ready to travel in my Sunday best Viennese Wetterfleck, a paletot for bad weather with style and contrasting edging. Brand Lodenfrey or Trachtengruber, that should mean something. But he stares at the wall behind me and looks so utterly concentrated at some spot behind me, as if he was a knife thrower calculating an exact trajectory line. Or does my cosmic aura blind him? I might just make him feel uncomfortable. And if so, then very much so. He is actually not that handsome, just handsomely alone in his compartment. I imagine what it would be like if I were to suddenly enter his compartment from the corridor now when he 100% is not expecting it. Would he recognize me? Would he jump as though he had seen a ghost?

Instead of answering, he looks at his wrist watch. Perhaps a taxi is waiting for him, the same one that brought me to the station and now in the taxi line rolls exactly to him. Possibly he has an appointment in my own street? In my house? How is one to know. Only this once our paths shall cross one another and then separate forever.

Would we greet another if we should ever meet? How would I remember his nose for example, the thin nostrils or the fine curve of the bridge? I am just about to measure with complete calmness the approximate angle between his forehead and nose as he suddenly looks right at me.

Naturally I look away as quickly as possible. But as I covertly peek over again, his eyes dart away this time as well. And now I try - as fast as I can before he looks at me again - to memorize every square centimeter of his face and neck region. Just as our Math teacher used to reclothe old familiar calculation problems in new situations to test our knowledge, I ponder how this man would look with a different haircut and glasses so that I could recognize him at the end of the world or, possibly – to increase the difficulty even more – in an Arabian bazaar?

The trains do not budge a millimeter.
Our eyes wander erratically here and there, everywhere except for those bright, oval facial features in the upper half of the face. A magnet sits there, in a stranger's look. Woman and Man, Watercolour and Oil Painting. Oiled ham... just don't smirk now. I stare in front of me and feel more and more uncomfortable. Two people who are glued to one another. Unpleasant. They will soon separate us though, and this thought calms me. Soon we will dive back into our own worlds. What does his look like? In my thoughts I see it meandering through countries and decades. I find him under an oxygen tent, in front of an altar, in a cable car over the Alps and larch woods. Already I see him as a corpse, and myself as well, already having arrived at the end of our days, who knows where, bogged down in moist, crumbly earth like the one I took out of the balcony planters this morning getting everything ready for winter before my trip. The pale flower roots were already decomposing; I had to scrub my fingernails thoroughly.

Suddenly, at the same time, our eyes meet and lock. Neither of us moves a single muscle or eyelid.
My God, two dead people!

Suddenly, the train -
Finally it begins to move and as it slowly but surely gains momentum, our veins begin to beat faster and faster and yet before we have been separated towards different destinations, I notice that one of corners of his mouth has begun to smile at me. Immediately my lips, which seem to have been waiting all this time to move, spread into a full smile. He laughs, nodding; I laugh and wave; he raises a hand, I stretch out an arm, he …. I … But we do not hold up the train, do not stop it we see each other no more. Carried away, we are and have been carried away.

Translated from German by Shan Wardell
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