Untitled haibun

by Melissa Thorne

Waiting for a train
To an unknown destination.
Travelling alone.

Enshrouded in concrete, metal boxes swish past. Attempts to find sustenance are futile, as the vending machine angrily chomps up our money and our purchases alike. Strangers wait together, compelled to share emptiness. The train grinds to a halt, and its panels separate to provide a previously inexistent walkway. The looming gap between concrete and transience is stepped over, avoiding horror.

Mountains all around.
The most spectacular ride.
Nature left untouched.

The railway courses through a valley between the Alps. There are sofas on the trains instead of seats. Three local boys try to persuade the inspector that their McDonalds vouchers are valid tickets, and they almost succeed. My bags sit beside me, hastily packed with necessities: sleeping bag, clothes, toothbrush and a limited amount of food and water. My expedition maps look hopelessly inadequate next to the thousands of seen and unseen crags in the mountain range we whizz past, footpaths enshrouded in forests and snow, each landform unlabelled and anonymous.

Stepping off the train,
Lone on an empty platform
Somewhere I don’t know.

My isolation allows me to better appreciate the awe-striking majesty of my new surroundings. I stand on a bridge over perfectly still water, with the mountain landscape extended in a perfect mirror. The rays of sunlight are twice visible, peeping through the clouds. Cars sweeping past do not understand my pedestrian contentment. Calls to the friends I am meant to be meeting are left unanswered. I do not know my final destination yet, but for now I am content to wander and wonder.

I reach a crossroads.
My choice: a wooded pathway
Or pathlessness.

The forest is more inviting. The dappled light dances around me as I delve into the undergrowth. I re-emerge in the midst of ceaseless fields, leaving the mountains behind. I stroll tranquilly. The first hint of a sunset trickles into the sky. My friends are still uncontactable. My supplies are dwindling. I check the map. I could be anywhere on any side of the mountains. I keep walking. Eventually, I reach a tiny hamlet. Some locals, sitting at an outside table, bemused by my presence, are addressed by my shaky French. I show them my map. They tell me that I am hours off course, and I have no choice but to go back the way I came.

“A taxi?” Their laughs
Echo around the empty
Fields. I start to walk.

A sense of calm enshrouds me. I have no choice but to walk, and accept the setting sun. I photograph my surroundings. A giant, red ‘stop’ sign designed for motorists squares up to me, but is ignored. Perfectly cut trees sit at the end of perfectly cut fields, glowing in the lilac haze of the dusk. Orange dazzles from electricity pylons. The forest’s clearing reopens. The pathless road screams its necessity. The sheer drop of a cliff ominously slides off its left side. Cars menacingly charge down its right. I run. The cars hoot, incredulously questioning my sanity. I pause on the hard shoulder, then run again, harder. Across the road, I run. I’m panting, clutching my necessities, running, running, until I reach the footpath beckoning the entrance to my target town. The delayed honks hang in the air.

Breathing slowly slows
Next to the water’s stillness.
Darkness still falling.

There is a wedding party next to the lake. The bride and groom are out of sight, but their guests gather, mingle, giggle and take photographs of themselves. They do not notice the lake, as they are concerned with the drape of their dresses, the stones which could make them trip in their heels and the time, which could make them late for dinner. They do not notice my redness. They do not notice me. Past this rabble, the town is dark, like the sky. Steps and cobbles wriggle their way through houses deemed advantageous for their view of the water. Thirstiness and hunger battle for superiority. The only place public and open is a bar, with a couple of comfortable regulars, ignoring the sugary delights on sale. I make a corner my home, replenished, and begin the accustomed desperate dial. The metallic phone tone pulses through my ears and body alone. Four times it beats. Until a familiar voice finally answers. I am now no longer alone.

Reassurance is
The presence of another,
Even in spirit.