eleza on the train
Written February 14, 2008 in the Netherlands…
I am on a train from Eindhoven to Amsterdam when I meet Eleza. We are sitting facing each other. We do not look at each other, do not speak to each other for the first 45 minutes that we are on the train. Then, I go to use the toilet. When I return to my seat, I look at her, smile, and then continue looking out the window. Then she says something to me in Dutch.
I say, “I’m sorry, my Dutch isn’t very good.”
“Oh! I was just saying how, when you are on a train, you never know what to do. So you look out the window on the left, and then you look out the window on the right, but you can’t see anything out there when it’s as dark as it is now. So maybe you fall asleep or you read.”
“Haha. I know what you mean,” I say.
“I noticed that you were writing earlier.”
“Yeah, but I’m just not in the headspace to write now. I feel like I should, because I’m on a train and I don’t have anything else to do. But I just can’t right now.”
“It’s true, you can’t force writing. It’s better just to let it come to you.”
I ask her if she writes. She says that she has been writing for her entire life and that she is a poet. Haikus are her favourite. She used to write several every day. She’d be walking down the street, thinking up haikus, tapping her fingers on her leg to count the syllables. But she doesn’t write anymore.
I ask her what she used to write about.
She laughs, clasps her hands in her lap and says, “My life.”
I laugh. Then I ask her what motivates her to write.
“I write to heal.”
And then I ask a stupid question. “Like, physically heal?”
She laughs again. “No, not that kind of healing.”
I tell her that I would really like to hear a poem of hers. She says that her haikus are in Dutch but that she will translate one for me. She thinks for a moment and then recites this haiku:
Night sky with stars
white flies a bird
between heaven and earth
She says, “I was outside the Amsterdam Central train station when I wrote that. It was night and I was looking across the canal at St Nichol’s church. And then a white bird flew past.”
I ask her why she doesn’t write anymore.
“Because I’ve already written so much.”
She asks me if I am a Pisces. I tell her that I am not. She says that I remind her of a friend of hers who is a Pisces.
I begin to ask her why but she has begun to put her scarf and coat on. This is her stop, she says.
I quickly take my camera out of my bag and ask if I may photograph her. She smiles and says yes. And then I take her photograph.
She stands up out of her seat and walks into the aisle. “My name is Eleza.”
“How do you spell that?”
She’s walking away from me now, trying to catch the doors before they close. She yells back to me, “E-L-E-Z-A.”
The door closes behind her and the train continues on.