Ever since I started reading Murakami, I believed that surrealism is a very effective instrument in despair. It manifests in sudden mild dissociations, like a curtain on a sunny day yanked by a gust of wind, slowly falling into rest. It not only allows one to detach from reality, but it also allows one to examine it. Surrealism is a sextant — allowing one to measure the fuzzy edges where warm air meets cold on a winter night. It’s a crystal ball that makes one wonder whether the touch of sand in a sandbox on her friends’ backyard is any different than the sand on the beach. It is also a delicate instrument, requiring care and attention. Unhinged, it’s like standing right in between two speeding trains. Among the whirlwind — that might suck you into one of those speeding trains — one has to stand just right, calmly.
If you ever had a chance to stand too close to a speeding train in the dark — you don’t get to see the ends of the train, but just the windows; Across your vision, there’ll nothing but a long line of bright windows wheezing by. And in those fleeting windows, you witness a little glimpse of people sitting on the train; Like a lot of photographs being taken in quick succession.
A lot of train crossings across suburban India are woefully like streets without a walking signal; One simply waits for the train to pass. And sometimes, one gets to stand right between two passing trains traveling in opposite directions.
I was crossing the train tracks till I heard a shout, “TRAIN!”. At the edge of my right eye, I saw the yellow glow of the train light — I had just seen another glow on my left moments ago. I froze. The distinct Doppler-shifted sound of both the trains came moments later and with that, surprisingly gusty wind. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared for a moment. I was worried if the gust would knock me on a train — like a wet leaf hitting the windshield of speeding an Audi on a German autobahn. After the initial gust, I looked up.
Like when a film projector slows down, revealing the underlying frames, I saw the windows wheezing by, across my vision. I saw the bright fluorescent light shining through the windows, like a yarn, stretched across space by some twisted gravitational anomaly.
I was looking at the bright windows on the train I realized I wasn’t sure where I was. It was almost as if I woke up from a dream. I remember leaving the house for a walk, and then it was blank. The disorientation was mildly alarming. I was standing on one among Hamburg’s numerous bridges, looking out onto a canal; but I wasn’t sure where exactly I was. I refrained from pulling my phone out to look at my location; I wanted to be lost.
I could feel the excess taste of cigarettes in my mouth; It wasn’t a pleasant sensation. I felt the cold on my legs where the denim was touching my skin. I saw a goose swimming leisurely on the canal, unfazed by the loud train that went over the canal every few minutes. I looked at the darkness of the sky; The sky is never truly dark in the city. There’s always light.
I was getting anxious about my state of mind, fearful of what might become of me; It’s never pleasant being alone in the dark. I was afraid my mind would become a mopey mush of misguided thoughts, like unhinged mustangs breaking out of a stable. The complete lack of control over my situation was making me angry. I was hurt, sad and helpless. I needed someone to catch me. I was spinning away, like a hatchback with summer tires on a winter night.
I noticed the Shocking Blue song, “Before loneliness will break my heart send me a postcard, darling”. It was playing in a bar at the far end of the bridge, somebody had opened the bar door and the sound spilled over onto the bridge. I looked at the dark canal and wondered if I would drown painlessly in the cold water of the canal. “I suppose my friends would miss me, but it would be fun to haze the cheeky goose for a moment!”, I almost laughed out loud.
I heard a girl sobbing on the other side of the bridge. Curious, I crossed the road. “Is everything alright?”, I asked.
“Not really!”, she said almost sarcastically.
“Okay... Do you need anything?”
”Do you have a tissue?”
”Yeah, I do. But what’s wrong?”, I asked her while handing her a tissue paper.
”My boyfriend left me, and I am pregnant!”
“What an asshole!”, I said.
“Yeah!”, she replied.
“You know what, keep the whole pack”, I handed her the whole pack of tissues. “Thanks”, she said while wiping her tears. I stood there, and then realized it was getting awkward & impolite, and I was feeling hungry so I pulled out my phone. The heavenly blue light of the phone dazzled my eyes for a moment. Squinting, I figured out where I was. I nodded at her and started walking home.
“A meal eaten alone and in silence is no pleasure. So I fell into the habit of reading while I ate. In that way I can lose myself completely for a time. The days I don’t read I feel like a barbarian brooding over a chunk of meat” - Richard E. Byrd, Alone.
I remembered the quote suddenly when I realized I have gotten into the habit of eating in the kitchen, over the sink, gobbling up sandwiches and hastily made curries breathlessly. I was just finishing my turkey sandwich. German black bread is usually very tasty, but all I was tasting was dry mush, all the tomatoes and cheese barely registered. I got concerned with the numbness of it all. I wondered if I had become Byrd’s barbarian.
Civil societies take solace in leisurely activities, like watching theatre, going for a walk, etc. I was doing all of these, but with no pleasure. Everything was dry like the sandwich, a chore, that I knew I had to do to keep me sane. It was no secret Northern winters can be tough, but this was the first time that reality drilled into my bones. The unavailability of human warmth dug deep into my psyche like an open-pit mine peeling flesh off Mother Earth. I was bleeding, figuratively.
I fell on the bed; The pillow was cold. I noticed the faint lullaby from Olafur Arnalds’ new album that was playing on the stereo. My feet were cold. I closed my teary eyes.
I was looking at a fjord. It was foggy. My feet were cold. I looked down and saw myself barefoot, in my pajamas. My feet were cracked and bleeding as if I had walked miles in this rocky terrain without shoes. Someone was playing violin in the distance, it was a sweet sound. I took a step towards the cliff and looked down. The water was calm and milky white. Then I heard my mother calling me. I turned around and saw my mother looking at me, cautiously. I saw my father, taking a photograph of me on his old analog camera. “Let’s go home”, my Mother called out, “It’s cold out here.”
I woke up.