Joseph Riippi

In France, vacationing, I came to a place beyond Paris by train. This place was a platform, made of concretes and metals and woods. Elemental and plain. This station, old, built by no man or woman alive, existed long beforeI wandered to its window. I bought un bouteille du vin saying s'il vous-plait and merci and nodding.The sun rested high in the sky at this station, afternoon but barely, warm light falling triangularly on a bench. Dust floating, day stars. A clock much younger than this platformed place said I had an hour's rest before redeparture. The sun kept shining its sharpening shape and I looked left down the tracks and thought, I am in France, so this is passing through France. I wondered, Did someone ever die on this platform? Was it sunny? Were they killed? Was it dark and starred? A small hand clicked just then; someone small and speaking French held a cigarette at me and asked for fire. I gave it to him. Merci, he said, nodding too, smoke rising up in the sun. I started to feel sleepy then and so sat down on the bench, in the triangular sun, where it was warm, and I drank wine for a while and looked at the sky over France. I closed my eyes, the world turned, and from high above I watched the rectangle of a social studies map unfurl far below on the ground. France was a yellow patchwork on the floor before me, and I on the platform a red drop of wine at map's center. I traced a finger up, north some centimeters, then left to the blue ocean and my matte black home. I sat on the bench until the wine was drunk and I'd circled the globe several times. I became bored. By then the clock had spun almost all the way around and new passengers began to arrive. Women and men and children on their way farther beyond Paris. They spoke French as if panicked and I caught words like du lait and j'ai faim from the children, a few desperate mamans. In Italy, last week, it had been much the same. And in Frankfurt, Vienna, Antalya, Milan. On earth. I sat on the bench and watched the train go. How many trains? I wondered. How many children? And women and men and new children, new women, old men? Fingers pushing dirty dots in circles on a map. I bought un autre bouteille. I sat on the bench.The triangle narrowed, became a line, disappeared. It was cold, turned night. This was France or anywhere a man might take vacation, and exactly the same. The clock and bench shared their secrets while I slept.