Tuesday, June 04, 2002

Night train.

There's a train that I hear at night when the quiet darkness allows far away sounds to drift through my bedroom window. Around two in the morning, I hear the faint throaty howl of the whistle and the muffled sound of machinery pumping steel wheels along the iron rail. I have no idea where the train tracks are. There are none that I have passed by that I can remember. For now, they are in an imagined place. When I hear the whistle wail, I imagine shiny black steel reflecting blue light under the moonlight, the churning pistons in the engine pulling car after car behind it, a train on the run underneath the stars, racing through the desert plains as dew collects on its metal casing.

I remember hearing night trains when I'd visit my grandparents' house as a kid in Little Rock, Arkansas. They had no air conditioning, so the nights were filled with the lonely sounds of singing crickets and an occasional passing car. Usually, I'd lie in bed lonely for the comforts of my room and familiarity. A single street light shined into the room, surrounded by a swirling circle of June bugs, mosquitoes and gnats. As I avoided its glare, I tossed and turned underneath hot covers and stirred every time the house settled. I was restless, the only one awake in a motionless house.

And then, I'd hear it. The faint sound of the whistle in the distance, the swelling volume of the engine, rhythmic like a marching cavalry off in the distance. My feelings of isolation turned into comfort and my restlessness subdued. As still as the night was, the night train still sped through town, fast on a mission and very much awake. The whistle would blow again, this time closer and much louder. It was like a sage letting me know that I wasn't the only one stirring in the night. I'd sit up and listen to it pass, wondering where it was going and what it was carrying. I pictured the conductor at the helm as the darkness raced past him, in control of the monstrous machine and captain of his destiny. He wasn't confined in an uncomfortable and sticky bed that creaked when he moved. He was free, and racing through the night on a steel behemoth. And, he was also restless.

Night trains stirred the thoughts in me that there was a very grown up world out there that I had yet to explore. A world of people who stayed up past nine and had places to go. And that some day if I wanted to, I could go on my own trek. The night train represented freedom, possibility, and the unknown that was so much bigger than anything I'd experienced. It prodded the dreamer in me and enticed me to look past that singular light or the cramped old room that I slept in at my grandparents' house. And I think that's why it brought me comfort.

When I hear night trains, like the one I just heard when I got up to write this, I still react in the same way. The first time I heard it in this room it brought back those feelings of wonderment and reminded me that once I find the right track, the chance to be the conductor of my own boundless train, still awaits me.

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