In the middle of Thailand, north heading south, our train rolls slowly through the dusk. The orange sun sinks below the horizon leaving a milky pink haze hanging thick in the warm air. Windows open to our waists, we hang out.
As flat brown farms give way to softly undulating foothills, the train makes lazy esses, a thick, fat snake.
In the distance the hills grow into mountains, their rosey outlines fading into the dusk like the shadows of ghosts.
Night creeps in with a heaviness you can feel before you see it. An orchestra of insects warms up in the pit outside, blurring into a symphony as we pass.
A sharp crackling cuts through the air.
A hillside is ablaze just metres from the track. Bright orange tongues the last of the pink sky, blackness stretching itself around it. There is no sense of creation or destruction. No human hands interfering, igniting or extinguishing. The heat and the air and the earth and some unseen magic have combusted here on this small, fleeting stretch of the journey. I look around, but it has passed unseen.
And this is like that. Electric. Ephemeral. A flickering awareness. There is only here. There is only now. There is only me. There is only this.
I am thinking of the fire, on the hillside and of this moment, when we are sucked into the cool, damp vacuum of a tunnel. Night falls early, and when we emerge, actually. Purple tops the trees, their branches tracing lacy silhouettes against the dreamy opium cloud of the smoke hazed sky.
The faded mint walls of the train rock us, a palpable lullaby. Eyelids drift to meet, books slide down chests, heads loll. I am wide awake, eyes fixed out the window.
A thin crescent of orange cuts through the midnight sky, punctuated by the steadfast sparkling of a star, or maybe a planet. Their presence recollects a place too far from this moment to comprehend. I blink my eyes, and don’t.
We roll to a stop in the middle of barren stretch of track. Sleeping bodies shift around me. The horizon has blackened into an imperceptible darkness. And it happens again. Mid-air the sky sparks to life. Flickers of light dot the darkness. Fireflies.
Their light, their movement is electric against the black. And there it is again – the tangible present. For once, and for the second time this night, I am only here.
Outside the window blackness hangs like a cloak, transfixing in its impossible depth. We could be rolling through space. I feel at once small and infinite. I let my eyes unfocus, am sinking into a blank unity with the limitless expanse when a bright orange streaks across the opaque canvas outside the window – a fire tracing the outline of a mountain ridge.
Its light and smoke rise up to meet the moon, singeing its edges, beaming from it an orange glow like a satellite.
Every sentiment that rises through me sinks with a beautiful weight, tugged to the bottom of my heart with an anchor of sincerity. Everything up to now has been right, and this is the proof.