North Station - Excerpt
His mind is taken over by the memory of a city one summer in the 1970s, when the scent of seltzer was strong in the air and the hot, humid streets swam when he looked down on them from the balcony. The memory of the rattan bed and its thin blanket, the tiled bathtub, and the enormous rusted tap shaped like a cross. The woman’s address was all he knew of her; and the woman lived in that city. When she had first handed him the scrap of paper onto which she had written her address, at the time when their fate—which would eventually leave them each remembered by the other as no more than an address—had just been set in motion, he felt the memory of that city, which he’d thought he had long forgotten, rise up inside him as a damp rainbow, accompanied by a single cry. Like an aged peacock winging wearily up above the treetops, some early morning in India. When he spent a week lodging on an unfamiliar balcony, battling clouds of mosquitos and sleep thin yet sticky as a swamp, the footsteps of the woman as a young child might have passed through the alley directly below him. Had she appeared again after all this time, here in this place, waiting for the last train? It was barely a day since his first sight of her, and confusion still gripped him; still, he was tormented by the illusion of having been pursuing her all this time without knowing it, and of the various cities he’d since traveled through—ever since the one he hadn’t at the time known was hers—having been for ages in this long pursuit, as he fumbled after the footprints of the woman he had unknowingly left behind.
Now the backdrop that frames the woman’s head and shoulders is a night festooned with spiderwebs, a corner of this world knitted from disordered electric wires, awaiting the train’s departure. The train ticket in the woman’s pocket gives wordless testament to this world. Externally, it is the world of the platform’s information board, where the train times flash up, of the enormous round clock whose minute hand inches forward with a click, of billboards for beer and french fries, and of the lit balconies lining the rail tracks. That world, patient as the hunched elderly. A world of pipes, ducts, and conduits. A world of pipes that grope their way forward in the darkness, electric wires and water pipes and measuring instruments and fiber-optic cables and transmitters, existing for the sake of drainage, ventilation, and the night strolls of ladybugs, a place for a pigeons to roost or a guiding device for the blind. But upon closer inspection it revealed its connection to the world of the bathhouse’s mini radio, which had played Telemann in the mornings, of the glasses and wallets and pen nibs he’d lost, the various addresses that had been given him, the cities and countless streets to which those addresses had silently pointed, the secret alleys and neighbors whose faces he hadn’t known. Now, this hour, fragments of all the trivial worlds, all the scenes of his life he’d swept past with such indifference, captured his consciousness, invading his memory in one great rush. As everything that makes up life and lifestyle, they were the origin of all the countless memories, thoughts, and impressions he’d ever jotted down, casually, even unconsciously, the secret museum of every inspiration his life had ever known. They were the eyes of the innumerable totality of objects simultaneously fixing him with their stares. And, at the same time, it was an incredibly simple action, formed from a single melody, nothing other than the sleep of the world. From a single melody where both the eyes and the mind are closed. Closing one’s eyes, an action of surrendering oneself to the world, and the peacock shade beneath shuttered eyelids. The act of sleeping, the conscious awareness of it, came so close to something pure and absolute as to provoke an internal cry: “For god’s sake stay like this!” Just as he, looking up at the platform clock this very moment, longed to command time to stop in its tracks.
The woman has her cold, firm hand resting on the platform bench, and his own palm presses gently down on it. Rigid in these positions, they both face the direction from which the train will come. How he’d longed for a single night’s worth of sleep on the woman’s balcony. Once again, he recalls the rattan bed. The depth and warmth of that night of mosquitos, that night of fog, that sour smell hanging low over the ground . . . He was lying down. Drinking in the soft snuffle of the woman’s breathing, with his face, his own sleep, buried in the nape of her neck. Each gust of wind produced a furious crackling from the tarp stretched over the balcony. He thinks he can hear rain. He is lying down on the fold-up bed beneath the tarp with his clasped hands resting on his stomach, his senses half-open to the foreign language drifting up like the low hum of insects, the clamor of the market and the smoke from the mosquito coil, the strong warmth of unfamiliar spices rising from the kitchen. If he could somehow find himself back there again, perhaps he would fall asleep after shouting “stay like this!” out loud. Sleeping, he will fly through the distant streets as he clings to the woman’s bosom, and her eyelids and the night will tickle his sleeping toes.