I was not asleep. I was on a train. We were not moving. I grabbed my pen from my bag and made copious notes. I am not sleeping. I remind myself to remain wary of translators, to speak plainly. This crazy tubular transport, these faces, the few of them. Our trains are running. How can this be? There are eight cars, yet no more than three or four people in each. I get on board to escape myself, yet I am still with me. It would be good to talk to the other riders. But which one and for how long? And why must it always be I conceding to reach? I get angry, clinching my fist, but remain smiling. I want to talk. If it is my role to build this bridge, why am I constantly failing—
—“Gurantai,” it finally penetrates my fog.
—“A ’rantai, my cousin,” I quietly return. I consider this person who has spoken to me. “Where is this train going?” And for some reason add, “Do you think,” as if nothing is any longer certain.
—“It says it’s an Hilalyi-bound train.” The stranger slides into the seat next to me. “But if everyone gets off at Lzcsebá, I doubt the conductor will go farther. Do you know where you want to go?”
—“People still disembark there?”
—“Lzcsebá? Of course…to go to the fruit market, when it was lively, to shop for leather when there was a surplus, to navigate the docks…” I do not know if she is aware that she is not speaking presently. We are both quiet. I can see she is working up to say something.
—“Are you Dis Amini?”
—“I am Dis ’A.”
After more silence, feeling that I need to add more, I say, “It has been many days since I spoke my name.” She looks at me encouragingly, as if now I will recite the whole thing with all the traditional bows and squeaks. I cannot though, too much has happened. It is not only that the edges that define this city are curling up and inward but also that the air with which to speak is lessening. I think it would make me sick to say more than a few words, ever, to do more than hold my body straight, ever. It is obvious that she wants more from me. That in being Dis ’A I should be more.
I refuse parais or it refuses me. I do not try very hard—not with my body—but I open a corner of my mind, diffidently. If she touched me, that would make it easier. But in Ravicka it is too confusing for strangers to touch without that initial deep bow to elevate it.
—“What is your name?” Returning my eyes to her face. “What do they call you?”*
Then everything that is proper to say becomes unutterable. For my part, the words simply will not come. I shape my mouth around the impulse and even add breath; no sound comes. I stop trying. I tap my pen against the window. I think maybe I have not observed this woman enough. Elan seems held up by fear. She thinks I am someone and she is alone with me. What does she do with this opportunity? All the while, the train runs locally on the east side of the city. And eventually will run out of stops. Soon, I will have to get off and make my way back in the direction of Vonzy.
—“Zaoter Limici is reading tonight. Did you know that?” I am able to say. It is shocking to appear so ordinary. When everything I feel is much larger than this space. When I am on this train because of what I feel. Yet the screen does not translate. It is supposed to read “murky,” but I am concerned it does not. That she perhaps thinks me just an old woman lost.
Little has been said about Ravicka’s future, in whose hands it rests. If the adage is correct, then it should be with our young. But what allows one to grow old is stability and recognition. We have not had those things. So is anybody old?
I have to close my eyes after thinking this.
Elan is saying something. I do not wish to open them anymore.
Is it true that her palm is now flattened against my chest, but she is silent? Has the train’s engine been cut? Will it reverse its course? Before or after it is purged of its content? Soon, no matter my debilitations, will I be standing outside of this train? An arrival?
The hand lifts from my chest. I think. Something lands in my lap. It weighs very little so I remain. In a lightless refusal, except that there is always light.
—“Dis Amini,” Elan comes. “You don’t have to go.”
You say those words to persons you think are about to flee, as a way to stall their defection. But they are so inlaid in the puzzle of the situation that they cannot hear you. They nod and look down at the package in their laps, perhaps even with their eyes glistening. The gesture is not an invitation to convince them. “You don’t have to go” even bears weight politically. Sometimes people say these words and they mean the opposite: if you are smart you will go. Go means leave, vacate, but it also means journey, attend. [Luswage Amini nods and says “I know” and Elan Zôtovichzy squeezes her hand].
Even though I did not set out to close down the conversation this was the result. I failed in my reach. How long, I wonder, will it take for the next person to show up, out of that number of persons wading through time toward me? That group I mentioned earlier, one of which we all have. And am I in your group?
* It is impossible to render this question accurately in English. Amini wrote, “Djeya tel brocar te ylls?” which literally means, “How has your district met you?” A customary sentence used to acknowledge the Ravickian attachment to a sense of place.
Renee Gladman is the author of four books, most recently Newcomer Can't Swim, prose installations published by Kelsey St. Press in 2007. A new work, Toaf, is forthcoming from Atelos this fall. Gladman is editor and publisher of Leon Works, an independent press for experimental prose and other thought projects based in the sentence, and teaches fiction in the Program in Literary Arts at Brown University. She lives in Jamaica Plain.