“There you go, mate – company policy. Gotta wear these from now on.” A wiry little man in Rail-Line uniform handed the porter something and sauntered back up the aisle.
The porter dragged his glasses up to his eyes from their place around his neck. “Oh, for God’s sake …” He shook his head and looked around, then approached a thin man in a seat nearby. The man shrunk imperceptibly and felt in his pocket for his pass.
“Excuse me, sir, I’m sorry to trouble you but …”, the porter began.
“Uh, I’ve got a Premier Pass …” The passenger moved to free some more pocket and dug deeper.
“No, sir, it’s fine. I was just wondering if you could help me out?”
The man stopped his search and lowered himself back into the crevice of his seat. “Oh, … uh, OK, if I can …”
“It’s just that my eyes aren’t the best … nor the glasses … and I can’t quite make this out. Would you mind …?” He passed over the small metal badge in his hand.
The thin man cautiously examined it, then looked up with a slight shrug. “It just says ‘Clenville Rubasco, Assistant Porter’ … that’s it.” He rolled the badge back on to the porter’s outstretched palm.
The porter sighed. “Just my luck.” He shook his head. “They make these things so that all anyone can make out unless they’re an inch away is the initials. Take a look.” He held the badge up to his chest as if it were pinned onto his blazer.
The man looked. All he could see were the first letters of each word.
C …R …A …P. He wrinkled his brow sympathetically but there was a smile flickering at the corners of his mouth.
“Huh,” the porter snorted as his lips twisted into a wry, reluctant grin. “This kind of thing’s always happening to me. Born unlucky, my mother once told me. She was right.”
“It’s not that bad,” the passenger reassured. “I don’t reckon people look at stuff like that much. Too busy trying to find their ticket or a place to stow their bag. Bet no one notices.”
“Hope you’re right. … But I wouldn’t count on it. Thanks, anyway. … You taking the Northern far?”
“Not sure – prob’ly. I’ve got the pass so I can chop and change but I’ll stick with it for a while. See what happens.”
Clenville stuck out his hand. “I’m Clenville Rubasco – CRAP to my employers.”
The man slid his own hand stiffly into the waiting firm enveloping shake. “Vincent,” he muttered, and added in his head, ‘Crap to pretty much everyone else probably.’
Clenville smiled. “Good to meet you, Vincent. You keep my new title to yourself.”
To anyone that had travelled on the Northern Overland Express, Clenville Rubasco was like any other railway employee. Sometimes present, occasionally helpful, intermittently an obstacle. But nothing beyond the brief encounters on a one-off journey. People on a long train trip weren’t interested in the railway staff. They were focussed on other things and, with very few likely to take the same train with the same crew again, one porter would never enter their consciousness for longer than the time it took to show their ticket or enquire about the location of the bathroom. So Clenville was, at most, a uniform with an occasional function to punctuate their train trip.
Once, though, there was someone who sat alone through repeated legs of the long-distance train’s route. Someone who observed what was happening inside the carriage as well as outside. Someone whose mind wasn’t on his past or his future. And as he sat and watched, that person began to notice some unique qualities in the Assistant Porter.
Vincent Carmody, meandering through a timeless world on an open ticket, had taken the Northern because it was the next train at the platform. His life beyond the train wasn’t something that he wanted to contemplate – so he watched what his present had to offer. Tired long haul passengers wanting only to finally arrive. Salespeople who had car trouble and budgetary constraints, adolescents heading home from boarding school. And then there was Clenville Rubasco.
Vincent’s interest had begun to pique a few hours into his first leg on the Northern. The train had stopped at a deserted station miles from anywhere, one of the places where the sole purpose seemed to be for staff and passengers to get off the train to have a cigarette. So the smokers had all trouped out onto the gravelly platform, lighting up before they had both feet on the ground. The misguided few had joined the polluting masses for some ‘fresh air’ and Clenville had been positioned in the doorway to make sure that everyone got back onto the train before it set off again. And as he’d stood, squinting at the passenger list through his useless glasses, an old lady had approached him.
“Now, dear, you’re a regular in these parts, I’m sure. Tell me, what are those plants growing over there? The ones with round leaves that rattle when the wind comes through?”
Clenville had glanced up. “Well, that’s a Clatterbush,” he had stated promptly. “And those there” – he had pointed to a motley cluster beside the wooden shed – “are Dancing Whiskey, Platter Verdi, and that one over by the tree stump is Hermione or some say Winter Blanket.”
“My goodness, you are an expert, aren’t you?” The lady had been quite impressed.
And so had Vincent. But perhaps for a different reason.
His brother Donny had liked plants, and had mentioned quite a few by name as they had driven the miles of shrub-lined roads in their old van. Before the accident. And Vincent knew that he had never heard a mention of any of the names that the porter had come up with. That didn’t mean the man was lying or completely wrong – Vincent was certainly no botanist. But he did know that “Platter Verdi” may have looked quite like green plates but it was probably an Indian fig, and the “Dancing Whiskey” was more likely to be called something about whiskers with the curly strings that came from the tips of its leaves. And on top of that, it was clear that Clenville was almost blind without his glasses, and not much better with them. Still, the names were quite inspired. So Vincent had decided then to pay a little more attention when Clenville Rubasco, Assistant Porter, was around.
It had been a morning of landscapes. Open countryside. Endless fields and flatness that reached to the horizon. But as the train had ambled on towards the afternoon, it had begun to climb.
When he was queried, the Assistant Porter had explained that there was a range of mountains that had stretched too far to lay a track around their base. So the railroad builders had forged up and cut a way through that traced the edges of the hilltops and hung over little valleys before it emerged, still high above the fields, to view the eternity of even land below.
The climb was gradual. It was a looping trail that covered miles of earth and stone and grassy slopes, twisting in and out of shadowy overhangs of rock and along ridges that skirted knots of vegetation and sporadic patches of forest. At times the train was framed by walls of rock on either side – tan and peach coloured, puckered with deep scars. Then the track would find the foliage again and the landscape would be speckled with flowers, always purple and yellow, as they moved across the mountains.
“Mummy, they’re yellow. Yellow and purple. All the wild flowers are only those two colours … all the way up the mountain!” A little girl two seats in front of Vincent had noticed the colour limitations just at the time that he had.
“Ah, that’s because yellow flowers mean unrequited love and purple hyacinths – like those – mean sorrow.” Clenville Rubasco was on hand to explain the eye-catching phenomenon. “You see, the men that built this railway line had to spend months here without ever going home. They missed their loved ones – if they had them – or, stuck here, they never had the chance to fall in love. So all they could do is think of their childhood sweethearts and hope that they’d be waiting for them when they finally got home.”
“Did they plant the flowers, those men?” The girl looked up at Clenville but clearly didn’t want to miss the scenery outside the train. She took quick hiccuping glances back to her window as she listened to his answer.
“Oh no, no. They had no time for things like that. They were too busy working. Carrying loads up the hills, chopping, rivetting. They worked every hour of the day. People say those flowers just grew up all around them. Watered by the sweat of their lonely work and their tears as they lay down exhausted every night, thinking of what they couldn’t have. And so the flowers have bloomed here ever since. As a reminder.”
“That’s sad, isn’t it, Mummy. No happy flowers. Only colours that mean sad things.”
“What?” The woman sitting on the seat beside the girl looked up from her magazine. “Oh, Becky, get down from there. Sit on the seat, don’t kneel on it and, for heaven’s sake, don’t press your face against that dirty window!”
Clenville looked at the woman – who had gone back to her reading – with a look that some might see as neutral. But by then, Vincent had seen Clenville in enough situations to have an idea about what he might have been thinking. And floral tributes were unlikely to be featured.
Vincent turned back to the view and, as he did, the train moved around a sharp curve. Suddenly, the mountain fell away on one side. They were travelling along a stony lip that lined a steep drop down to a plateau below. And far beneath that, the flat land stretched off into the distance.
All the people in the carriage turned to look out across countryside, stretched out like a map. It was as if they were sitting on shelf cut into the side of the mountain. Small towns dotted the collage of fields and trees and roads in intermittent clusters. There were farms not far from the foot of the mountains and cities bristling on the remote horizon. And all the lines and colours and shapes connecting in between. Each face in the carriage was turned in the same direction.
He had seen fields and buildings and long winding roads. He’d seen cities and towns. And he’d seen them when they were more than just indistinct shapes. So Vincent was looking into the mountain at the things he’d never seen before.
Where the track had been laid through the mountains and the rocky slope had been carved to make a pathway, there were long straight ledges of blinding white rock laced with thick veins of pink and orange. And as the train moved along the carved expanse, Vincent looked ahead to where outcrops of thick protruding rectangular boulders had refused to be cut smooth in line with the rest of the wall. There, chunks had come away and left others jutting out, and as the train passed the hefty flanges of solid stone, Vincent found himself imagining a giant with jagged teeth taking a bite through a tasty mountain gateau.
A little further along, as the carriage followed the twisting train, the rock face was grey and smooth. Vincent took a hurried glimpse at the other passengers. And then he looked more openly at the looming mountain – a private viewing. None of them could see him now – the other passengers were all looking at as much as they could see. Greedily each face that bothered to look up from its personal preoccupation was swallowing the vastness of the land, the panorama in its enormity with everything that was strewn across it. And Vincent smiled as he took in not what was most, what he could never reach, but something unique and close by. He looked to where he was now. And then he looked up. He opened his shadowed face to the light streaming over the slope and suddenly he saw new patterns right above him. High up on the mountain face, long stripes of dark rock spread like strands of liquorice in a diagonal display. Long black blocks of stone criss-crossed like massive artwork hanging on the towering cliff. Vincent looked around for Clenville – he was sure the porter would have some nuggets of information about the rock formations, the history, the legends of the natural mural. But, strangely, he was nowhere to be seen.
So Vincent looked back. At the mountain’s pinks and blacks and greens. Its sheets of white, its designs and textures in their magnified proportions. And as he looked, he felt a kind of solitude that gave him the freedom to lose his public stillness. That let him turn his face back and forth with childlike wonder and lift his eyes up to the craggy boulders at the top.
The only thing that brought some of the other eyes back to the mountain was the small station. They passed it so quickly that most people missed it. Vincent had seen that they were approaching something when the tiny beds of flowers had suddenly appeared. And these weren’t just yellows and purples but all shades of pink and some blue and red as well. Careful little flowers in careful little rows – tiers of pretty decoration on the mountain face like icing on a cake. So dancing with colour it was as if they were making music. And as the train rumbled on, three little huts appeared – as ornate as doll’s houses or miniature Swiss chalets. The middle one was laced with window boxes that held blossoms in arrangements even more colourful than the carefully tended borders that lay meticulously beneath the little houses on the slope. And there truly was music. Vincent was sure of it. A soft piping theme for this tiny little village on the mountainside. He looked around inside the carriage but there were only people doing what they had done throughout the journey. The people that were entranced by the sweeping panorama didn’t look away and those that had chosen to forego the world outside the windows were absorbed by their own choices of books or sleep or chatter. There were no musicians. No visible musical appliances. Just the same passengers and the same stowed luggage and the scattered detritus of a long rail journey. And the loudspeaker that brought official announcements sat dormant above Vincent’s head. So he looked back. Just in time to notice that another tiny building was approaching – much closer to the tracks. A little hut with a tiled roof and a shuttered window. And alongside it, there was a sign. A railway station sign. But “Spring Bluff” station clearly wasn’t a stop on the Northern’s route. The train rattled past and left the scene behind so quickly that Vincent began to wonder if it had been a mirage. As soon as the manicured garden beds had ended, the music seemed to disappear and the wild countryside began again. Bedraggled trees and vines, rocky ground buried beneath long twisted grass. As if “Spring Bluff” was just a blink of the imagination.
“Mummy, mummy – did you see that? Did you see the little houses and the rows of flowers on the hill? And the music that played just for them!”
“What? … What houses? …” Her mother looked up distractedly and turned her gaze out to the blanket of fields. “… Oh, yes, down there, there’s a farm house and some sheds around it.”
“No, Mummy, not that. On the hill. Some little houses and flowers all in rows. And they had music all around them to match their prettiness.”
Becky’s mother gave a cursory glance back into the mountain where the straggling foliage was giving way to yet another wall of rock. “Becky, don’t be silly. There are no houses there. … And there’s no music.” She took another perfunctory look at the vista and frowned before returning to her magazine.
But Vincent had seen them. He had heard the music. And he had seen one or two other people notice the momentary aberration. But no one said anything. Not a word. During rail travel, it was acceptable to intrude with looks but not with words. And such an unusual experience seemed only to accentuate the unspoken rule.
Before long, the train was moving steadily down, weaving its winding path around the lower hills towards the bottom of the range. And the closer the flat land became, the more the passengers became the travelling selves they had been throughout the rest of the journey. The journey away from mountain ledges and escarpments laced with coloured rock and legends took them back to their insular entities. Fewer and fewer people looked out of the windows, more and more read mindless magazines and many found snacks in their luggage or exchanged muttered conversation with their nearby companions.
The carriage emptied three stops after the mountain range. Only Vincent and a man with a backpack were left in the compartment. So Vincent got up to stretch his legs and wandered through the carriages until he reached the dining car. He ordered a cup of coffee and then sat down to wait in the corner chair. He had been riding trains long enough by that time to know the layout of every train’s eating area – laminated benches, a long curtained galley and a lady with an apron who looked kind but overworked. Trains’ dining carriages might have different names – this one was called ‘The Scenic Café” – but everything else was a replica of any cross-country train he had been on.
Clenville appeared from the other end of the carriage. “Lilah, can you make me a bacon sandwich when you’ve got the chance. No hurry.” He paced on through the car. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
He was almost in line with Vincent when he noticed him. “Oh, I didn’t see you there.” The blind spot was one of the reasons Vincent always chose the lounge corner of a dining car. “Listen, the sleepers are going to be all empty tonight and tomorrow. You can bunk in one of them if you like.”
“Oh,” Vincent had never thought of being in a sleeper. And Clenville was being generous. “Sure, yeah. That’d be good. Thanks for that. … Only if it’s no trouble.”
“No, no, the laundry people never keep track of how many bags we give them. A few extra sheets won’t be a problem. … When you’ve finished here, just grab your stuff and you can take number 4 – it’s down this end of the sleeper car.”
“Thanks. Thanks for that.”
The lady swayed down the passageway with Vincent’s coffee.
“Lilah – did you hear me about the sandwich?” Clenville lifted his hand to the door handle as the lady put the cup down on the table near Vincent.
“’Course I did. You’ve got a voice that’d warn ships at sea. ‘Bacon sandwich, Bacon sandwich’ – that’s all I ever hear out of it, though, isn’t it?” Lilah smiled at Clenville who was smirking back.
“Aren’t you lucky, there’s some that would pay money to hear my dulcet tones.”
“I’d like to meet them,” she rejoined. “On second thought, maybe not. I’ve got enough drooling and babbling to deal with at home, with my one-year-old grandson!”
“Hilarious,” Clenville muttered. “Well, some of us have work to do.” And off he went.
Lilah rolled her eyes and turned to lurch back to the kitchen just as the train swung around a bend. She staggered into a table and the force of the turn pulled her across its length where she was compelled to wait for the carriage to right itself. Once the train had found its straighter path, she heaved herself upright and scuttled back into the galley.
Vincent never saw her again. Not that night. Not on the train, or any other train for that matter.
It was strange. Most staff were ever-present for a few days and then they were gone. A few came and went – seeming to be on duty for sometimes a day or two, then others would take over, then the regulars would appear again. There was only one porter who was always around. He wasn’t parading continually up and down one particular carriage or constantly in view, but Clenville seemed to be always there, on the train. Others worked only certain legs, took days off, had schedules, but not Assistant Porter, Clenville Rubasco. If Vincent hadn’t seen him for a while and had begun to wonder where he was, Clenville would suddenly appear. If someone had a question about botany or geography or the French aristocracy (not that that was a regular occurrence), there he was. Any passenger that had a query could be assured that Clenville would be available and armed to provide what was required.
After his coffee, Vincent fetched his things from the seating carriage and made his way to the sleeping berth. He felt a wave of relief as he closed the door behind him. The shower or the toilet room were private but his time in those tiny cubicles were very limited. And functional. Here he could just sit – or lie – and be alone. He looked around. There was a bench against the wall that Vincent guessed must fold out to become a bed. The opposite wall was blank. He sat down on the bench and turned to look out of the window. Outside was black so all he could see was the light that was hanging right above him, and the grey outlines of the room as he stood inside it. Vincent had to close his eyes. He had no wish to see even a ghostly outline of himself.
He opened his eyes and looked down to where his bag lay at his feet. He slid it into a corner and pulled the bed into position. He lay down. Flat. Horizontal for the first time since he’d stepped on the first train. And that was the way he stayed until the morning. When he’d closed his eyes, he had tried to think of simple things, recent innocuous events – the landscapes he had seen, the passengers that had shared a leg of his journey. But away from his immediate world, the past was determined to colour his thoughts. His brain had begun to fill with things he didn’t want to see again. Things he hadn’t wanted to see the first time. So he had lain awake futilely trying to replace the unwanted images with dark windows and train furniture. But he must have slept. Time had slid by and when the morning came, he blinked his way to full recognition of the day thinking of music. Whatever the pictures of his dreams had been, he knew that they had been accompanied by soft strings, gentle rhythms. And he was confused because he didn’t think that he had ever dreamt of sounds before.
He sat up. Outside, dark clouds hung across the sky. The train was just about to leave behind a crowning patch of blue and glide under a curtain of rain. And just as the first drops touched the window, Vincent heard it. Music. Again. This time it tiptoed and glided with the raindrops on his window. Dripping gently and happily through the air.
Vincent went to the door of the sleeping berth and opened it. The music was louder, coming from somewhere in the train. He swiped at his morning hair, pulled down his rolled up shirt and stepped into the corridor. And, like a cobra, hypnotised by the charms of the melody, he moved towards the source. When he opened the door to the seating carriage, at first it looked as it had on any other day. In fact, it was almost empty. There was only Clenville. But when Vincent looked again, it was not only Clenville. It was Clenville holding a cassette player that was sending out the raindrop song. He looked up towards Vincent and then back to the clouds outside the window.
“Debussy,” he said quietly. “I always play it for the rain.”
So Vincent sat where he was and let a feeling he’d forgotten sit gently inside him. In that moment, he was content. And while the pianos played, that was all he needed. No talking. Just listening. Listening and watching the music of the rain.
“How was the sleeper?”
Vincent had just finished showering and dressing and was emerging from the bathroom cubicle when he encountered Clenville cutting through the carriage towards the dini ng car. The porter was carrying his tape player.
“Oh, good … fine.” Vincent had appreciated the change, although it hadn’t made as much of a difference as Clenville had probably thought that it might. Vincent wasn’t used to a soft mattress every night or regular opportunities to stretch out under crisp clean sheets. He had spent more nights sleeping in the trailer behind his van than in motels in the years before the accident.
Clenville seemed to be waiting for him to say something more though, and Vincent wanted to repay him for his kindness.
“Nice to be somewhere private. And to lie down.”
Clenville smiled. “I thought you might appreciate that. We’re getting quite a few on tomorrow, but you have it until then. No one’ll mind.”
Vincent nodded. “Thanks. … That’ll be good.” His eyes lowered to the downcast mode that had become a habit and paused for a moment on the cassette player by Clenville’s side. Clenville noticed the direction of his glance.
“My trusty music machine. I know there’s better things around now but I wouldn’t know what to do with those. This’ll do me.”
Vincent nodded silently.
“Bacon sandwich!” The dining car lady – a new one Vincent hadn’t encountered – stuck her head through the dining car door and then went back inside. Clenville grinned and turned back to his path through the carriage. Vincent stood aside and allowed him to sway past with expertise before making his way back to the empty sleeper.
Later that morning, as Vincent gazed out at the nondescript backroads and scrubby clusters of bushes and trees outside the window, the music came again. But this time, it was jaunty and optimistic. It was about beginnings – the morning of a village festival, the preparation for a family wedding. Hopeful anticipation. Expected joy.
Vincent knew that it was Clenville but he didn’t move towards the door. He leant closer to the window so that he could find the real story that the music was telling. Not rain this time – the sky was a pale shade of blue and strands of wispy cloud hung directly above. Vincent looked further along the track, ahead. And after a minute or so, he could see a little station. It didn’t seem to be any different from all the other remote outposts that the train had visited for smoke stops along the way. It appeared to be just another platform nudging the track with a small building behind it and a dirt road behind that that must have led to somewhere – but nowhere close enough that it was visible from the train. Perhaps today was special day – some kind of local event. A competition, a celebration, an attempt to break a world record in baking or knitting? Vincent rubbed the fog of his breath from the window and peered to see if there was some clue as to w hy this place warranted its musical salute. There were no streamers or balloons that he could see. No banners announcing the local mayor’s birthday or the anniversary of some historical event. When nothing appeared, he stood up and walked to the door. In the corridor, he followed the music towards to neighbouring seating carriage and through the door, he saw Clenville standing.
The porter smiled and nodded his hello when Vincent entered. But he said nothing.
Vincent slid into a vacant seat next to the window. He watched the station approach. The train slid gracefully to a stop and Clenville’s music ended perfectly, exactly at the moment that the train was at a standstill.
The sound of some of the doors on other carriages hissed up the platform. Vincent waited for a visiting dignitary to step out and be welcomed before he or she was whisked off to open a nearby fête.
Some boots hit the platform, some matches flared and ignited waiting cigarettes. A porter and a couple of men in flannel workshirts scuffed the ground as they puffed.
A whistle blew.
The three men tossed their butts onto the ground and crushed them under the worn heels of their boots.
The doors hissed and clunked and the men climbed back onto the train.
And then, just as the train was starting to move, some strings began to play. It was a bittersweet farewell – the end of a glorious day, a tribute to an event whose memories would take an age to fade.
Vincent saw the little station shrink behind them as the melodious send-off lingered through the train. And just as the tiny building finally disappeared, the music ended.
Vincent sighed. He sat for a moment in the silence. Then he stood up. And though it wasn’t somet hing he consciously thought of doing, he found himself looking at Clenville. Not just a glance for once but a proper look at a man who was proving to be so much more than he might have seemed on the surface.
The porter looked up and met Vincent’s eyes. He shrugged almost imperceptibly. “Some places deserve a fanfare and never get one.” The uncharacteristic simplicity of his words matched the eloquence of his music. Clenville smiled.
And Vincent wandered back to his temporary room to lie down before the softness of the moment could fade totally away.
Clenville enhanced a journey. He did what he could to ensure that the passengers who were receptive got more than just from one station to another. Sometimes in ways that many didn’t notice but a few would remember for a long time afterwards. It wasn’t predictable or even frequent but, after enough time on the Northern, Vincent had seen – and heard – many of the unique embellishments and uncredited additions that were clearly beyond a porter’s job description provided by Clenville Rubasco to a select few of his Rail-Line guests. And Vincent felt lucky to be one of the chosen.
The music that Clenville played didn’t add anything to the view that wasn’t already there – what it did was bring things into sight, make them clearer. It heightened the impact of whatever scene was moving past the windows. People’s eyes could be drawn to the majesty of storm clouds, the intricacy of the patterns made by passing flocks of birds. They could suddenly see the power of the countryside. They noticed the elegance of rain. The music opened eyes and drew them to the things that might have been swallowed by the vastness of the view or the glaze that could cover jaded eyes.
Clenville’s music collection wasn’t endless. He told Vincent – with uncharacteristic brevity – that he had a good selection of pieces that he had put together over time. And he seemed to know where he could find each symphony, each prelude or sonata at the precise moment that the music was required to join the life that was sliding by outside the train.
There were strings for fields of long grass, Sibelius’ “Finlandia” for stormy evening skies. Sometimes the beginning of the Finnish composer’s “Symphony No 1 in E Minor” accompanied the dawn just as it was breaking through – the distant rumbling said goodbye to the night and the quiet clarinet let the morning light start to gently rise. Debussy, of course, for the rain, and Bach or Rossini for that festive celebration of those little places that often went unnoticed. Quite often Clenville would choose pieces that seemed incongruous. A triumphant concerto for an isolated stop with three broken down houses or an orchestra for a lone water bird finally achieving a successful take-off could have been misinterpreted as cynical, even condescending. But Vincent knew that Clenville’s motivation wasn’t derogatory or even ironic, but motivated with a kind of pride and admiration. For every detail of the world. Clenville was awarding the little town something for its soul or its intent, he was making the solitary bird important in its moment. He was giving the easily overlooked acknowledgment that each sight or scene or creature deserved.
Vincent came to revel in “The Champions” by George Henry Willcocks when it was dedicated to a stop in a small community that could have quite easily been overlooked as insignificant. The boisterous brass was full of cheerful pomp and timed to perfection by the man at the controls. Clenville would play the opening phrase as the train pulled in and leave the horns and drums to tell the story of the people ambling from the train. Vincent imagined that there were few who wouldn’t start their day at their chosen destination in an optimistic mood, whatever their business there might be, when they were sent on their way with that triumphal march. And those passengers that watched the others disembarking must have found that they were suddenly imagining all the events that would take place in that town during that day. In his mind, Vincent couldn’t help but see things being made, people in lively conversation. Or if it was a smaller isolated station, he envisaged seeds bursting through the earth, plants growing like beanstalks, horses galloping until the dark of night began to fall.
The weather could take on such majesty and pathos woven with Bartok’s String Quartets and a lonely scarecrow was animated by Mozart’s composition for a String Quartet in D Minor. Vincent saw stalks of wheat undulating in endless fields become the rhythmic members of a massive dance troupe performing their synchronised choreography to Telemann’s Gulliver Suite for the train as it rumbled by.
The world had richer colour. The bland had texture. And Vincent began to see beauty where before his eyes had been jaded or clouded by his own preoccupations.
One plain day, as the train meandered across the dry empty land that had surrounded it for hours, Vincent sipped at a cup of coffee and felt the time pass with the gentle cadence of the empty passenger car. And in the bright sun of the early afternoon, when the tracks traced a lonely paddock, he had caught sight of a horse standing under a tree. But it wasn’t until a plaintive cello had breathed its deep sigh through the peaceful carriages that Vincent had noticed that the horse was aching for its life. In a large dry enclosure, it perched with its hooves confined to one small space, almost touching one another – as if it were a circus elephant forced to balance precariously on a tiny drum much smaller than its body. The horse didn’t move, it didn’t even take up the space that its scrawny frame warranted. It hung its head and tried to be as small, as invisible, as it could be.
And as the sadness for the animal had caught in Vincent’s throat, he had heard the tape player click off and he had looked back.
Clenville was sitting in the shadow of the luggage rack with only his silhouette visible beyond the glare.
“Every moment is important,” the porter had said quietly.
Vincent had looked away, but as he’d turned, he had heard another murmur.
“Every thing you see, every place you are in each moment means something … and the most important moment is the one that’s right in front of you.”
* * *