Different Trains

The toilet in a Polish train flushes right onto the tracks.
It’s a seat with a hole: a Middle Age luxury, a Soviet utility. I must say, there’s something very thrilling about sitting right above one of these holes, and looking down (honestly, you can’t help but look down) as each segment of track disappears before you can even focus on it. And, if you’re looking for exciting new ways to leave behind biological reminders that I lived on this planet, damnit, there’s hardly a better way than slowly peeing in a Polish train.

Performing some brief calculations (Note 1), I determined that, having peed four times on Polish trains, I drew various lines across the country’s railway system that altogether would be equivalent to a straight line with a length of 2897.78 meters. This is not even to mention the other treasures that I left behind, between Sopot and Gydnia, and just outside of Szczecin. But enough…

My compartment-mates on this leg of the journey are a Polish mother and her five year old son.

They live in Leipzig now, because her husband is German. He works for an oil company, and spends eleven months out of the year in Serbia. Of his one month vacation, two weeks are spent with the mother and son, two weeks privately. She doesn’t say why. The son and I play memory, he teaches me a few Polish words, the mother praises my German ability.

The boy takes out the travel edition of Battleship and explains the rules to me. They’re not the real rules, but I’m willing to play anyway. Every time I fire a missile that would’ve hit him, he moves his ship and says “You hit water!” I just keep firing anyway. Meanwhile, he sinks my lonely submarine, which I had hidden down at J8-J10. The mother wants to know more about my girlfriend.

“She lives in New York and works as a volunteer. I hope she comes to visit in February.”

The conversation steers back toward things to do in Poland: the quality of the clubs, the bars, the…

“Girls here in Poland are excellent. Very beautiful, and you’ll find a lot of them will like you. Intellectual, you know. Your type is very popular in Poland.”

My type is very popular in Poland. But… I don’t care. I talk to the Polish woman about how Lily and I sometimes talk about cities we may live in, sometimes disagree. The ocean calls her, I pretend that I want nothing to do with it.

“Sometimes these things just don’t work out,” she tells me.

She says those words! When someone actually says those words, it sounds like they’re quoting a television show whose writer lazily quoted something they heard someone say in a train, but of course that person was quoting a television show… and on, and on, and…

“We’re getting off here,” she says, “if you’re ever in Leipzig, maybe we’ll see you.”

“Bye,” the kid says, and then in English, “you are very sunny.”

And who knows where his dad was then, what he was doing, who he was talking to, how he felt to be away, what he knew about his son, how many pairs of shoes he had, when the last time he’d spoken with his wife was, what he likes to eat for breakfast, if he likes to fall asleep to music or silence, or the television set, or a human voice.

And Lily’s a million miles away, or three thousand, or four thousand (…five?), and the ocean’s calling us, and I’m calling her, and I’m writing her a letter, and I’m tweeting and e-mailing and skyping and facetiming and she’s doing all of those things too, and neither of us are in Serbia, and how hard it must be to never see your dad, and what does he do with those other two weeks, and sometimes these things do work out.

There’s a man smoking in the train bathroom.

I’d normally be upset and reaching for my inhaler, but this is exciting: a police officer is waiting around the corner for the guy to come out, and he’s got his hand on a baton. I’m not quite sure where to go, because my stop is next and I’ve got all my luggage, but I’m standing right by the bathroom door and there’s smoke coming from under the door and if I spoke more Polish (and was totally ripped) I’d look over at the policeman and say, “Let’s break this door down and mercilessly attack that low-life with your baton.” But I step out of the train, the criminal stays aboard (or perhaps sneaks out through the hole…), and another history is recorded without an end.

  1. I’m assuming 160 km/h for the speed, as this is the fastest I’ve seen published for Polish trains. In addition, I’m meticulously self-aware, so I know that the average amount of time I spent peeing was 16.3 seconds, factoring in, of course, water intake, anxiety, and the care that one has to take while being throw about wildly by decades-old trains. So 160 / 60 / 60 (speed of train in seconds) x 65.2 seconds (total seconds spent urinating) x 1000 (convert kilometers to meters) = 2897.78 meters. ↩