by John Holmes
Night at a lonely railway station where we encounter beauty and macabre figures
I stood alone at the old railway station, it was late in the evening and I was waiting for the last train. The station was dived into a strange orange light from the lamps shining high above me. There were only a few of them and yet I was happy that they were here with me.
My look wandered along the platform. No other passengers, no lost soul or shadow was stirring in a corner. The night was empty of any other living soul, the air was enjoyingly fresh, high above in the sky the darkness had sent its shining followers and glittering guardian. The wind had decided not to disturb this silent evening so the grasses were motionless and the trees only moved when they had chosen to do so for themselves.
I did not know how long I had already been waiting and yet somehow this did not seem to be a great concern to me. My eyes wandered up towards the flaming light of the lamps, for a moment I observed the strange shine in those orange lines, then I closed my eyes. And as I did, an odd and yet pleasing sounding music started to sing in my ears.
It was a rather mysterious melody but still it carried the unexplaining beauty of this day's night. I turned round and saw behind me a young man playing on his violin. His trousers and the white shirt he wore looked as though they had been in his possession for a longer time already. At his waistcoat he had fastened a silver fob-watch which he had tugged into the right pocket. In front of him lay a slightly dirty bowler hat. The violin on his left shoulder, he moved the bow gently over the strings with his right hand. And although he did not look his best, he had his eyes closed with a warm, dreamy smile playing around his mouth.
I stepped closer to listen to his music and watch him play. When he noticed, he did not stop but opened his eyes to look at me. He bowed slightly towards me while he moved the bow eloquently in his hand. Neither did I say a word nor did I do anything and still the violin man seemed to guess my thoughts for he now gave me a chuckling smile and started playing a suite which was faster than the piece he had played before but still as elegant. In the bowler in front of him only lay a few coins from which he maybe could have bought new paper to write his music on but nothing more. I reached into my pockets and put all the money I still had left into his hat. The man bowed politely without ever stopping his pretty little tune.
I kept standing where I was, listening to the music of his violin. He had again closed his eyes and seemed to lose himself entirely in his playing. The fingers of his left hand darted skilfully over the instrument's neck while he moved the bow swiftly and yet so lovingly over the strings. I began to lose myself in the melody as well and as I was just about to close my eyes again the violin, almost unnoticeable, switched into a new tune, a waltz. Next to me I believed to feel a sudden chill from a gust of wind, so I turned.
A beautiful woman clothed in the most wonderful dress was dancing in the hands of a young gentleman whose handsome smiling face was crowned by an elegant black top hat.
Never before had I seen a couple so beautiful, both of them seemed to exist only for the other one, together nothing else in the world mattered but the dance of these two souls. They were looking in each other's eyes, never breaking the loving looks between them while their feet moved them swiftly over the ground, almost as if they were only hovering above it. The man was leading her with a strong self-assurance but left her free enough in his hands so she could spin and glide in the motion of her own will. With a look so intense and full of admiration, the man observed his partner while he held her hand; it was only too clear that he would love her forevermore and never want this dance to end. She saw up to him with a smile of innocence and calmness because she knew that she could always feel safe in his arms and never had to fear that he would let her go. They danced on the platform as if they were unconscious of their surrounding and me observing their elegant movements in silent awe.
Behind me I heard that the violin player was bringing the waltz to an end as a crescendo built itself up and the last long sounding notes were played. The couple turned round and round in great strides and when the last note was played, he spun her round once more. At the last tone he caught her from her spin and back in each other's arms they had ended their dance right in front of me and were now both smiling warmly. The top hat on the man's head seemed not to have moved one inch and the woman's beautiful dress had stood still the immediate second they had closed their final step.
I was not smiling like the two in front of me. I stared at them with shining eyes, my mouth slightly open. Behind me I heard how the violin player already prepared himself for the next melody. As he started playing, I looked back at the couple and now both of them were offering me their hand for this next dance. Again, as perplexed as I already was, I looked into their faces. The woman had a heart-warming smile which could make every crying child laugh again; the man's expression spoke of a sure trust and certainty as if he wanted to reassure me. For the moment I hesitated but when I heard the violin in my ear a strange feeling overcame me and I reached for one of the hands. And as I did so, the man and the woman became one when it pulled me into its arms.
I had only danced once or twice before in my life but this felt like as if I had never done anything else. Around my legs I believed to feel the marge of the woman's dress but when I looked up I could still see the man's top hat resting on its head. I was whirled over the platform and yet it felt like I was leading my partner as well. We were sailing in the night, only the sound of the violin playing man in our ears; nothing else filled this night except our steps and the music we were following. The night had been lonely and empty but now it was painted with the sounds of simple beauty. Our dance was slowly coming to an end; a strange sensation inside me told me so. My partner seemed to know as well since it gave me a reassuring look as we spun round once, twice and after the third time we parted and with a final posture our dance ended.
And it was this exact moment when I saw a man standing, with his head bowed, a few feet away on the edge of the platform. The music had stopped, my partner and the violin man had gone. Now my gaze rested upon the young man who did not dare to look up when I came closer. As I did, I could see that he was only sixteen or seventeen years of age. The hair short and sleekly combed to the right side matched his rather serious appearance for he was dressed in military clothing. He looked very neat, that had to be said, but the expression he bore on his face spoke of something very different. Next to him stood an old brown suitcase as fully packed as possible.
He did neither speak nor did he look at me. His eyes were fixed upon a single photograph which he held carefully in both hands. I stepped slowly next to the boy so I could see the image he was beholding so deep in thought: A woman in an old-fashioned dress and a man who had his arm wrapped around her were standing in front of a house. To the adult's feet sat two children: a boy who was perhaps ten or twelve years old and was grinning wildly; next to him was his sister who was about the age of fifteen and holding the boy's hand while she looked into the camera.
I looked into the soldier's face, there I saw an expression of the deepest sadness, confusion and fear I had never seen before in another person. Off to war he would go now, leaving his family behind, not knowing if he would return to see them safely back in their old home. Angrily and full of despair he was clutching the photograph in his hands, his eyes now closed because he tried so hard to keep the tears inside.
Softly, almost hesitantly, I rested a hand on his shoulder because I did not know how else to comfort him. The boy must have felt my hand but still he did not look at me. I was tightening my grip and tried to move in front of him but then the picture fell from his hands. The soldier looked after it with his eyes opened wide but luckily I was able to catch the photograph before it landed in the gutter. For a moment I looked at this happy family then I stepped up to the boy who was watching me with an empty face but tears in his eyes. I did not put the picture back into his hands, I pressed it gently against his torso, the exact spot where his heart was beating for his mother, his father and for his sister. Not knowing what to say, the soldier looked at me and then finally held the photograph himself with his left hand, keeping it where I had placed it. I myself was smiling gently at the boy's puzzled expression until I held out my hand towards him. Now, a happier look also started to brighten the soldier's face as he grabbed my hand and shook it with a last nod. As I let go he beheld me for a second longer then he clicked his heels and saluted me. At the sound of his heels, as his hand touched his brow, the lights went out.
Immediately my hands were reaching for the soldier to reassure myself that I was not alone but he had gone. Without any idea of what was happening or where exactly I stood I was turning round desperately, looking for any form of light that could show me a way.
And there the light was, coming from the railway tracks. Small and shiny the warm glow of a lantern shone up to me.
When I looked down I could see that it was held by a little girl whose face now popped up from behind the light. With a beaming smile and shining eyes she looked at me so I could not help myself but to smile as well. Out of the shadows, behind the girl now stepped an old woman who was not grinning as wildly as the girl but still bore a calm and peaceful expression on her face. First she was looking gently at the girl then her eyes wandered up to me without ever changing their lovely presence. The very moment I had seen the girl and the old woman, an unexplainable feeling of safety and secureness overcame me like I had known and trusted these two since I was a little child. Slowly I stepped closer to the edge of the platform while I still smiled in the utmost perplexity I found myself in. And yet I could not help it but to look into the eyes of the girl who was slightly waving her lamp and of the elderly woman whose look rested upon me and now nodded.
She and the girl turned away when I eventually sprang from the edge onto the tracks. I followed them with my eyes then the girl turned round once more and I saw again that she was still smiling happily. She turned back and they continued walking along the tracks, almost strolling. I started going after them, always keeping an eye on the little lantern the girl was holding to lead the way.
I do not know how far or how long we went, I was not really paying attention to anything at this point. My gaze was fixed upon the girl's light which now slowly seemed to gain size and brightness. The orange light of the lamp was shining again and I was smiling gently as it steadily came towards me with increasing glow.