“Waiting is also a place: it is wherever you wait.” The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
Noise is inevitable on trains. Quiet Zones are only an invitation to lesser noise. On an unusually warm summer night in Scotland, I was on what I’d like to call the noisiest train.
The Scotrail from Glasgow was filled with a heavy scent of beer. In front of me were the only two quiet people on the train – the only two asleep. Behind me were women laughing in snorts and squeaks to taunts by thick Scottish accents.
‘What did vodka say last night?’
‘Trust me, you can dance.’
‘Did she dance?’
‘Bugger off yeah.’
Standing near the toilet were a group of women bearing blow-ups of penises of different colours. One of them held a bottle of whiskey dearly alongside her blow-up fantasy. Out of the toilet came a woman dressed in a short red dress with a white veil down her blonde hair. ‘One last day,’ one of her friends shouted. The others followed suit. They did not move from swarming around the toilet. Instead, they sat themselves near it, easily sharing two foldable seats.
In the seats adjacent to mine were a group of older men wearing blue shirts. They were talking about the ‘Vote Yes’ campaign with such nationalistic fervour that reminded me of election campaigns back home.
Above all this noise, was the noise of my own head, my own voice pleading me to quit my journey. At Glasgow Central where I had earlier disembarked, I had met a man named Peter. Peter who wore a blue ‘Yes’ badge on his shirt insisted I stay in Glasgow and meet a couple of his friends. Even though I was humoured by the suggestion, it did not stop me from wondering if my journey was a lost cause. I was going to spend an extravagant number of days in an inconsequential little town which would not only take its toll on my finances but also do what it had already started to do – leave me alone with myself.
The River Clyde flowed in unison with the train towards its destination. Now and then, I lost it. And thought about those who had it in their vision and still did not see it. I breathed in and out, opening and closing my eyes to the noise of my own troubled breathing which seemed to circulate the pain of anxiety from my lower abdomen and ripple the terse fear surrounding the veins in my heart. I breathed in and out, opening and closing my eyes, hoping to see once again the silver glint of the River Clyde.
For the first time in a number of years, I was afraid of my loneliness. I was afraid of the decisions I’d make, the truths I’d discover. I was afraid I’d come to the conclusion that everything I did was in vain. And I was afraid that when my disheartening retreat was over, I’d become passive and do nothing at all.
The train was approaching Ardrossan South Beach station and those meant to disembark packed their things. But soon, alongside that piece of information, another was relayed – the train would not go any further. Those travelling past it to West Kilbride, Fairlie and Largs were to wait for a bus outside, near the beach which would take them to their destinations.
I made a polite phone call to my hostess at Largs and informed her of the delay and walked out to the darkened beach which did not allow me to distinguish between its waters and the sky that kissed it. The union made me feel the trespass I was inflicting on these two lovers who seemed to have waited all day for the night. But I stood watching the one body moving with the winds, moving in and out of each other as the others waited for the bus. I breathed in and out like the sky and the sea.
I waited for two hours there, stood still. The mass was at its darkest when the street lights came upon us. And realisation came upon me. In front of me was the Firth of Clyde where the sliver streams of the River Clyde emptied itself. There was an overwhelming silence which shook my knees and tried to buckle them. There was no noise no more.
When eventually the abandoned group realised there was no bus coming, we decided to share a cab to Largs and I was more than willing to go ahead.
Waiting in Ardrossan South Beach, I emptied my fear of the truths I’d discover in my loneliness. Waiting in Ardrosson, into the waters, I emptied my fear of the vanity of my deeds. Waiting in Ardrossan, I lost all my noise. I breathed in, breathed out and only the smell of the sea was in me.