This excerpt of “Travel with a French Writer” immediately follows the opening passage, “Shelter”, originally published on The Relationship Blogger. We hope you enjoy the continuation of this rich story on love, writing and travel.
Through a thin white mist, the midnight train enters the station. We make our way through the dark train, all the people sleeping in their bunks. We find our seats and, as soon as we settle, the train starts. Suzanne smokes opposite me and says, “Hope you are not planning to sleep.”
“Perhaps not, if a beautiful lady like you stays awake with me.”
“Good. I am certainly awake. I love to see the night world.”
“Same as do I.”
The train is moving already at a good speed, and the outside hills, plateaus and blinking tower lights of a broken fort can be seen. It all looks mysterious or. . . adventurous would be the right word.
“What does a train journey mean to you?” Suzanne asks after a while.
I don’t have any answer right away. I keep on thinking. Then suddenly a flash comes in my mind. “That one Hemingway story,” I say.
“Right now, I cannot remember the name.”
“Tell me the story.”
I take a deep breath, then say, “Hemingway and his wife, Paula were returning from Pamplona after the bull fight festival. They managed two seats in a crowded train. They both knew something had broken and something was going to be over. That was their marriage.
“Hemingway looked outside and saw a farm house burning, a door opening, a shadow of a woman standing alone at the door, a tractor standing on the grazing field, smoke rising from a chimney, and a farmer staring at the sky in the orange sun. It was a brilliant description of a train journey between a perished relationship.
“When the train reached Paris, they came out of the station and both took two different ways. Hemingway didn’t even get back to his home. Paula was left alone in their home, and Hemingway moved to a friend’s house and never came back to the old house. That is how their divorce started. Of their first marriage.”
I stop. Suzanne keeps silent. Meanwhile, the clattering sound of the train fills up the vacuum. After a while, a station arrives. I get up. I get down. In the terribly chilled station of Rajasthan, I call a chai wala and sip the pleasant cup of clay.
“One for me.” Suzanne is at the door. We both sip chai and she says to me, ‘It is a strange story. I have read it before. But listening to you within a train is something different, something born out of the blue darkness of people sleeping all around while we remain awake.”
“It is one of my favorite stories, Suzanne.”
“I think. . . I am not able to tell you exactly what I want to say.” She touches my palm and takes it between her two soft hands. The train whistles.
“It’s fine,” I tell her. “I can understand what you want to say.”
I step back on the train. Then, holding her hand, I pull Suzanne closer to me.
The clock strikes ten and I know that I have to leave her. Now the train will depart and she walks toward the station, her red skirt flowing in the air, her golden hair flying, and a smile painted on her lips. I kiss her a little, then walk with her towards the train and settle her comfortably in her compartment. The evening light falls on her and she looks glorious. From somewhere music floats in the air, a strange tune of a forgotten Indian film. I slowly draw from my bag a Murakami novel and gift it to her. Within it, I have secretly kept my letter.
But still now, I feel restless. I open my lips and words do not come out. Suzanne stands at the door, her lips, too, half open. She stretches her hand. Her hands meet mine.
At that moment the linesman blows the whistle, the wheels move, and her eyes become deep and watery. I hold her hand and as the train moves away, then watch until she is out of sight. I walk back come out of the station and take a cab, return home.
I am unable to sleep that night. Only the face of Suzanne standing at the door of the train comes back to me. Her half open lips. Was she trying to say anything?
I know that I always wanted to tell her many things but at that moment I forgot everything. My mind went blank. I lost the moment.
Will Suzanne ever reply to my letter? What will she say?!
I feel that sending her a letter is the greatest foolish thing I have done. I feel like slapping myself. But now I cannot do anything. Even her number is switched off. I can do nothing at this moment but be a victim of restlessness.
I sip the last wine of the bottle and throw myself on the bed and close my eyes.
One week passes.
Then a month.
Then two months.
No reply comes from Suzanne.
Subhadip Majumdar is a writer and poet from India. He studied Creative Writing at the University of Iowa. He also edited a reputed Bengali poetry journal, wrote a short novel as Tumbleweed writer in Shakespeare and Company, Paris. He has two published books of poetry and stories published internationally. Subhadip is currently in the process of publishing his first novel.