This is one of my favourite times of the day. When darkness takes the edges off troubles, when your sphere of knowledge is limited by the pale glow of light, and the rest is left to your imagination. Reality is less real, less harsh, contrasts are not so striking. The night is romance, intrigue, and dream.
It is the time when signalmen sit outside their tiny dwellings and nurse a cup of tea, when engine drivers snooze in their cabs waiting for the clock to work its leisurely way, and when even the “for immediate return” written with the station name on the side of the freight containers seem more like a distant hope than a peremptory command.
I like the isolation of this time of day. The restricted vision lets my mind’s eye do the looking. My other senses, accustomed to relying on my eyes by day, are more acute. Feel the warmth of a balmy siberian night. Listen to the sound of the tracks sliding along underneath the train, the clack clack of a switch, the echoes as we cross a bridge. The sounds of this compartment. The gentle breathing of my room mates, the slosh of the water bottle and the ocassional tinkle as the knife and spoon dance together on the table, their romance invisible to sleeping eyes.
I like the fact that no one else is awake. In fact, it would be more truthful to say “few others”, but then that would have not nearly the same romanticism. And precision is the enemy of romanticism precisely because imagination is so much more powerful than observation. That is why there is the strongest light in places that have least room for imagination (like dentists), and not in places where your mind is supposed to wander (like tarot card readers).
The journey to Irkutsk is just over 5,000kms, which is the equivalent of Wellington to Auckland and back about 4 times. It takes this train 77 hours, with a few stops en route. Today we left Europe for Asia. There are white obelisks on either side of the tracks to makr the distance from Moscow. 1,777km.
It is not yet starting to get light, so I can not see where we are at the moment. Maybe we have changed course, and are headed for the moon or for Egypt. The other passengers are likely to be rather pissed off if we are. I guess I will need a visa or a spacesuit, depending.
I am not sure what time it is. It is very hard to figure out because we cross so many time zones on this trip. I do know that we arrive at a very inhospitable 3:30am local time. Still, I have cast my lot with the other homeless people at Irkutsk station before, and doubtless I can do it again without too much trouble.
We just cross another Siberian river. I do not know its name, but I am sure it has one. I mean, what explorer worth his salt would not take the opportunity to name some raging torrent, having been the first to see it, chart it, or cross it? It’s the equivalent of graffitti really. “I was here. First.”