Thursday, 26 May 2011

the old man with the green bag on the train

The French high speed train stops at the station. The door opens. An old man steps in with a groan, carrying a large, worn rectangular canvas green bag. He's wearing shorts and a fluorescent sleeveless jacket. His skin is burnt a cherry red brown. There's an ugly whiff of old sweat, unwashed skin. He barks his destination at me. I answer and when he replies - in English- "Excellent", we get talking. He has a strange dent in his forehead, the size of a bullet, bloodshot red eyes. We chat about Spain, where he lives part of each year and France, where I live for all of each year.
"It's a cruel world now", he says, "There's no empathy, no kindness".
"I like your bag", I say, "Did you make it?"
He explains that he's had the green canvas bag for over twenty years. It contains his bike, a sleeping bag, a small tent and a change of shoes. "I'm in my late seventies", he says, "Every year I cycle the 800 miles between my house in Spain and a French port, to get the boat back to England. I've been on the road since March, but it got too hot, so I took the train". He wheezes, wipes bloodshot eyes with a crumpled checked handkerchief.
He describes how he cycles through the mountains, uses the pass where the pilgrims walk, "los peligrinos", he says in Spanish. "Saint Jacques de Compostelle", I say in French. He's been riding along the same mountain pass for over twenty-five years,
"I've met so many strange folk on that road. Last time, there were two Dutch women from Holland. They were pulling a cart by hand. I told them it's sixteen miles up that mountain. They just laughed. Sturdy they were".
When we arrive at the station, we get off together. "I'll just wind my way up to a campsite"he says with a smile. In the hazy brilliant orange light, I drive home, thinking of the old man and his rectangular green canvas bag.


Marjojo said...

Your writing as ever exquisite. I love your openness to encounters, exchanges of stories. The photographs beautiful, heightened awareness made manifest, and even a glimpse of you!

lasuza said...

Thank-you Marion. I was bowled over by your last poem, stunning writing. I love the complexity of your sentences, the said unsaid words.
I am glad you are enjoying these encounters; these meetings with strangers are pearly moments on my grimy long journeys.
I keep wanting to write more about your work. I feel such a strong resonation with your foundlings. Hopefully I will find time soon to share my thoughts.

Susan Kruse said...

Hey you. I hope you are getting sun, sea, love and hugs, good food, a plenty of sleep! And thank you for thinking about me when I way not blogging. Put a big smile on my face that day.

Marjojo said...

I'm so glad my changelings resonate with you. Would love to read what they evoke in you, one day. Just now they are in Leeds and Lithuania, the house feels strangely deserted without them. They are inanimate but somehow inhabited, and I miss their presence. And thanks for your comments on my last poem. Not sure where it came from, it wasn't a fledgeling that found wings in constant rewriting, but emerged almost fully formed.