As the train departs, we get separated. With the various seats filled from the train’s last stop, we had to sit separately. This separation is not necessarily unwanted, at least by me, but is uncomfortable. The train has an eerie air of silence over it. This is not helped by the reason my traveling companion and I sat separately: the isolation of the other passengers. Every row had two seats, almost every row had one passenger, each making use of both seats, as if discouraging others from joining them. That no one spoke made this isolation more potent. Trapped in a moving, metal, confined space meant that we were islands existing next to each other, protected by our own personal iron curtains.
My companion, a shy man who asked to only be referred to as El, sat in the row ahead of me. Him asking a fellow passenger for a seat was a sight to behold, mostly due to how meek and quietly he did it. He asked after I asked the woman in the row behind if I could sit next to her. And so we took our seats and departed with the train, each isolated from our neighbor.
As the train moves, the speed fluctuates, which created moments of jerkiness in movement. We look out the windows from our aisle seats to see the sights of Westchester County and, later Manhatten, pass us by. To me, the ideal image of train imagery is the grassy plains and mountains, which we do not get just because we depart through the city. The imagery is very grey, which does not present good omens for the coming trip.
Between our entrance and the train’s second stop, the woman sitting next to me receives a call. Her ringtone, a generic bluegrass ditty with violins and banjos blasting, goes off, breaking the silence. She answers it, but then quickly ends the call. This was partially because it was just a friend checking in on her, but also seemed to be because the train’s spell of silence was to strong to really break. This wasn’t helped by no one else in the car reacting to the call, as if no one heard it.
She got off at the next stop and I invited El to sit with me. He agreed and moved back one row. Once arriving, he began to take out his laptop, at which point I stopped him.
“What are you doing?,” he asked as I lowered the laptop back into his bag.
“Nothing. Just don’t feel like watching stuff right now.,” I responded, in a concerning tone. I knew he wanted to finally get me to watch the end of Parks and Recreation, but the silent spell of the train overcame my desire to laugh.
And so, the train departed. The silent spell again fell over the passengers. I couldn’t find a good conversation to have with El following that exchange, so we sat in silence. He took out his phone to begin listening to music, while I just sat there, doing nothing but letting my mind wander. The journey continued, with the imagery outside changing from grey to small splotches of green attempting, but ultimately failing, to show through the grey.
After fifteen minutes, however, I couldn’t notice El. He finally faded into the background, another faceless mass within the car. This was disconcerting. I know El, his dyed-green hair, thick rimmed glasses, hockey shirt, and messenger bag proudly proclaiming every life choice he has ever made. Yet, as he sat next to me, I couldn’t recognize him. This train car had a very powerful curse, I was sure of it.
As we passed the Trenton stop, the small amount of green that I hoped to see gave way entirely, once again, to grey. The train still remained quiet. After a while, I began to stop hearing my own thoughts. What was at first the spell of external silence became internal. I feel like I might have been going insane.
The train continued along the tracks. As the trip continues, the silence becomes heavier, like a funeral. The trip continues to feel supernatural. I expected a sorcerer to be responsible. I’d say someone on the train looked like they could’ve been one, but I could not tell who was on the train, as not even El looked familiar to me. I begin to close my eyes, letting the silent spell fall over all of my senses.
And then the train arrives at Philadelphia. At once, all sound returns. El gestures and shoves me, letting me know we’ve arrived at our stop. I can’t say why the trip seemed so silent, but exiting the train returned sound into the world. The islands never met, but now we leave the train car into a more familiar space.