Door opens, door closes. I find myself a seat next to the window, facing the same direction as the direction in which the train travels, sit down, take out a pen and paper from my cotton tote bag, and start scribbling.
The rhythm of a train is a wondrous thing. No matter where you travel in this world, if you hop onto a train or a subway, you will always be able to find yourself exposed to a familiar rhythm. Though the rhythm may vary, I find the consistent existence of a rhythmic sound comforting. It bespeaks to me a universality more compelling than the universality proposed by the French Revolution. Everywhere you go in the world where there are trains, regardless of your class, gender, race, or sexual orientation, trains all over the world hum the same song.
It is a song of the nameless masses, who goes in and out of work at the same hours every day. It is an anthem to the working day. If Coke to Andy Warhol is a pictorial reflection of the un-belonging immigrants, the rhythm of trains will be a musical representation of the waged vagabonds of the city. “All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good.” Drinking Coke puts the janitors and the coal miner among the company of presidents and movie stars. Taking a train and being engrossed in the train musical puts all who don’t drive a limousine or fly a helicopter in the same class. The working class, the 9-to-5 class.
I google on my phone why all trains in the world make the same rhythmic sound. On a random encyclopedia page, it reads,
"The rails are of standard length, and wheels of the coaches are fitted at standard places underneath the coaches. When the coaches are on the move the wheels transit from one rail to the next one and because of a small gap between the rails the sound is produced."
So there is a small gap between the rails. What if the gaps are closed? Would all the trains then become silent? I continue reading the online encyclopedia entry, it reads,
"Indian Railways are experimenting with the rails that have their ends cut at 45 degrees angles. In this when the coach is on the move from one rail to the other there is no sound since the wheel is already on the next rail, before leaving the earlier one."
Interesting. So the Indians are trying to get rid of the rhythmic railway sound. What we think binds the world is not desirable everywhere in the world, and the bond can be easily lost, in a purely technical manner, without much emotions towards the vision of a universal humanity attached to it. It is the power of the engineer. It was, however, once in the power of the engineer to instill a universal rhythm to the everyday life of the nameless masses. But it is in the hands of the artist to sing the worker's song.
A young lady who carries a pot of sunflower enters our cart. The blossoming sunflower brightens her otherwise somber facial features. She looks exceptionally proud of her sunflower. The pot that holds her sunflower is made of grey clay, so is mine.
Actually I’ve been ruminating on my sunflower for as long as I’ve had it. It started to show signs of what can be comparable to “life-weariness” in a human being, shortly after a week I received it as a gift from Echo. There are certain hours of the day when I am occupied by the grim thought of it being a sign of the ephemeral nature of things in this world. Nothing will last forever. Flowers die. Leaves yellow. We all grow life-weary in certain vulnerable moments in life. There are other hours of the days in which I would think, “oh, there is a peculiar beauty to the decaying.” The rest of the hours I spent playing with the idea that maybe if I keep watering the plant, one day new buds will start to grow. The cycle of life, and I don’t know what to do with it.
The lady with a sunflower in her arms reaches her stop. “Nächste Station: Beusselstraße. Aussteigen, bitte!” Is she going home? Or is she going to the airport to welcome her lover home, the sunflower being her gift? Does her day consist of fluctuating emotions like mine these days? But at the end, does she let the plethora of her emotions be overcome by the singular joy of a returned lover? I recalled how Patti Smith prays for her dead husband’s return in M Train, “You’ve been gone long enough. Just come back. I will stop traveling; I will wash your clothes.” Just come back. I will stop riding the Ring Bahn. I will give you a sunflower.
Door opens, door closes. And then, the eternal, intermittent humming of the train picks up again. It never stops fascinating me how small universalities seem to be magically introduced into our world, almost inadvertently, like how our eyelashes flutter. The rhythm of train rides, the eternal sunshine of a sunflower, the yearning for a loved one, homesickness… In the Chinese language, sunflower is also “sun flower”, as in literally the flower that faces the sun.
And yet, our pragmatic world is so ignorant of these little synchronicities or beautiful unifying moments in our daily life. It insists to take them away from us. Like Indian Railways. Like me who was tempted to cut the drying sunflower from its stem, for I am used to the idea that beauty should be pristine. The cold pragmatism of this world has stopped trains from singing. The cold pragmatism of this world has killed my sunflower.