On the Night Train to Jerusalem

Saturday night. The late train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is sparsely filled and comfortable. Passengers sit and read and stare out at the darkness. They travel in private cocoons of quiet. The small world of the carriage snuggles into the bedtime dark. Children, slumped against parent bodies, rocked and clickclacked, fall asleep.

Tel Aviv, Lod, Ramle. The train climbs, winds, climbs again. Stations materialize in the unsuspecting dark. Doors open, passengers melt away, doors close and the dark swallows all.

A brief stop at Ramle, now the train resumes its smooth motion. A sudden hubbub. Fast footfalls tripping along the corridor, a young woman, fair, slight, twentyish, races, crying, protesting, her voice shrill. She comes to a stop before the closed carriage door. Indignantly, she demands the train go back to Ramle. She missed her stop.
Others follow her – mothers with children, one pushing a pram. All protest, all join in the demand that the train retrace its path. Remorselessly the train picks up speed.

A new arrival, a tall young woman, dark haired, wearing black, makes her voice heard. It is an impressive voice, strong, pitched a little lower than the others’, a voice that rings. Like the others, this woman is unhappy, like them indignant. The younger blonde lady is eclipsed, she and her group are anaemic in comparison; they lack her force, her intensity, her perseverance.

The collector arrives, a small man in a grey jacket, slight, inoffensive. The women batter him with their clamour, their remonstrances. He explains that it is impossible to return, unsafe.
The young woman in black assumes leadership. Decibelling her anger, she details the group’s grievances: the doors in their compartment failed to open; the women and their children were unable to disembark. It was not their fault but the railways’; they had paid for their tickets, there were small children who needed their beds, the night was cold, the train would dump them at Beth Shemesh, leaving them stranded.
The collector offers no defence. He melts away.

The train climbs towards Beth Shemesh where it will arrive in fourteen minutes. The leading lady performs through the fullness of this time. Her face is strong, passionate, her dark lipstick an exclamation mark, her muscular features mobile with the pulse and rhythm of her thundering.

She maintains her rage, augmenting it minute by minute, until it reaches a pitch where violence can be its only resolution. Roaring now, she silences her party members. Nessun dorma: all in the train attend or pretend not to attend to the woman and await a climax that must immediately follow.

The train slows. Women corral their young, hoist their luggage, prepare their escape. The train stops, the carriage door duly opens and the unwilling visitors to Beth Shemesh debouch into the dark.

Their leader makes her final address to the invisible collector, to the entire railway system. Continuing travellers brace themselves for her final explosion. With withering sarcasm she delivers her line: Thank you for kindly opening the door –
Last of all to exit, she stops in the doorway, turns back to face the interior and screams – Darling!

Copyright, Howard Goldenberg, 29 March, 2013.

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