"He clutched his chest with both hands, in an attempt to quieten his heart. But you cannot muzzle a heart as you would a hound. And even a hound muzzled with two hands - to prevent it from barking unbearably - can still be heard growling."
— Gaston Leroux.

Those thoughts of a young traveler, which went unsuited for the diary and for conversation, instead settling firmly within the chasms of the heart.


1. I. En-route


The train rattled loudly as it advanced ceaselessly through the European landscape, which flickered past with an intensity that made me feel ill. I had not slept, nor mostly eaten, and I saw my gaunt and worried face gaze back from the glass, making me swallow bile and clutch my modest suitcase tighter. I probably looked close to a child, pressed against the window, hugging my suitcase, staring out the window in complete silence and with care to move as little as possible. 

I was alone. I had been alone for hours now, and it had been harrowing. It was not the same as when I ran underneath the skies on my own. There was no sense of freedom here in this clattering box full of people and their eyes, their ears and their voices, which were piercing through the rattle of the train itself, rising to an awful cacophony of languages known and unknown.

There was nothing beautiful about this, there seemed to be nothing I could derive from this except a great and persistent sense of sudden involuntary isolation, drowned in foreignness. There was never a question of fitting in at home; an impossibility sans a well-manicured facade, but now there had been a hope of opportunity waiting far beyond where I had ever seen before. Places of enlightenment, inspiration, compassion even, could be waiting. Not in here, I had to contend, and dearly hope, with here being a temporary evil, the cross to bear before I was freed.

Shaking hands released the suitcase. Careful hands lowered it, opened it and took out a sketchbook and some graphite, closed it and put it away on the floor of the train car. I felt exposed, but at the same time stupidly confident in having let my anchor go. However I was supposed to continue this journey once the train reached its destination, was highly uncertain. For now I would try to assuage my mind through my work.

But while the hands were willing, as it often was, the heart was not. I managed no less than a few aimless and ugly lines on paper, before giving up and letting my tools stay unused on the table whilst I continued to stare out at the landscapes beyond. I was alone in this vast world. Despite the mass of people around me, I was separate from them, perhaps by some inherent design, perhaps by coincidence. Though, as my mind had started to calm itself ever so slightly, I was starting to feel observed.

The girl looked at me, seeing not the dark circles underneath my eyes, nor the haunted look above them, the implicit prayer that any unease should slip through, that any should know what laid beneath. She looked at me as I was; gazing out, arm propped up against the window, the other upon my pastoral sketches, graphite in hand. She looked at me, I felt, and saw all matter of wonder, of poets, of artists; phantasmal romantics who could show her the beauty in nature, the song in her heart.

The grip on my graphite tightened. She must have been young, naïve, I reasoned, what other girl would dare stare so openly at a young man traveling alone, when she herself seemed without a chaperone for the moment? Someone who either knew nothing or knew too much, feeling the thing that was inexpressible. The thing that rendered me a threat, perhaps to everyone but girls like her. 

It was not her fault. It was never their fault. Whose fault was it? It was my fault, the fault of my parents, of God's will, of nature. Blame was the one thing that fell freely and in all directions. I was young still, young enough to evade fatal questions and to play at being a man of suitably wavering attentions, of regular lack of commitment. But time continued onward, just as the train did effortlessly along its cold iron tracks, pounding out clouds of black smoke which curled themselves up towards the otherwise pristine blue sky.

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