• Dian Loh

There Was A Woman On The Train.

Because I do what I want, when I want, in despondence and solitude, with failed elegance; my actions entirely born from desperation and the conflicting need to be both seen and not.

I think I might be going insane. I see visions. And I exist only in these temporary places. I live in the spaces where the mountains meet the trees, where the skies mirror the seas, where the air is cold and there is thinking — where there is only ever thinking.

There are so many different versions of me and they come alive in the misty slips of time we’re so sparsely allowed. They are whole in their own right, and yet not so. A singular woman split into a thousand interconnected ways. These unraveled threads are tied to multiple points in history, to separate decades, to their own distinct, hypothetical lifetimes. But there is the same melancholic gaze in all my characters. The divergent paths my mind takes still seem to bring me back to the core of who I am. A little sad, sometimes quiet, and always looking into the distance with escapist dreams of something yet to come.

A single thread of mine gathers itself into a woodland creature, with sunlight for hair and golden spools for eyes. The fae bathes herself in lush greenery, in shimmering pools carved into the cliffside, all emerald sea foam and forest wonder. Her blood and bones are like porous aquifers, a vessel filled to the brim. She moves with slow, unhurried sorrow.

Slivers of myself are braided and intertwined, knitted together in the image of a girl on the brink of adulthood. Swathed in common cotton and youthful fervour, she braves the wintry winds and stands upon a rocky precipice in the northern highlands. The maiden opens her mouth to scream at the boundless blue sky, at the vast moors and tawny heaths, but it is only bottomless anger and inexplicable grief that comes pouring out.

A thick, silken belt of my being is an elderly lady on a train, an enduring relic of tired, old-world opulence. Each night, she wears all her jewelry and sits in the furthermost corner of the first-class dining car, where the metal of the steam engine barely grazes the trees. The old lady stays seated there, unmoving, her only accompaniment being a tattered novel, a single olive and a chilled spritzer in a chipped crystal glass. She spends the entire night watching the faint outline of the mountains in the window beside her, stopping every now and then to read a couple of lines from her book and flip its spotted pages. Her lips are painted a slick, dark red and her jewels hang from her body like fresh diamonds on the tarnished brass frame of an antique chandelier. Each sway of the carriage has them glinting in the light and the glow they cast upon her face makes one wonder about the life she used to have, about the woman she used to be, about how she must’ve belonged to a grand ballroom filled with gilded people and golden pockets, velvet smiles and porcelain teeth and not here. Not hidden away under furs and wistful, jaded reminiscence. She ups and glides out before the first passenger arrives for breakfast, her presence a gift for the nocturnal and a myth for those who prefer to dwell in the light.

These women are both a culmination and a caricature: of all that I wish I was, of all that I am, of all that I suppose I will soon become. I could not have dreamt them up without the lessons from my past, nor fleshed out their persons without my present; all their kaleidoscopic futures are mine. In their being an extension of my existence, it should also be understood that these women are theoretical, fantastical manifestations of my psyche. I play hide-and-seek with the world, putting forth all these carefully curated lives as a means of shielding and protecting my own. Yes, I am them. Yes, they are me. But like a writer in the dark, the entirety of my form remains unseen. And like a writer in the dark, there is so much more that lies beneath. All that you will get are these colourful kites, and you will see no one pulling their strings.

There are more, of course. So many more of these focused, niche characters. And when my mind manages to discover them, they shall be brought to the light, named and made known. Infinite facets of a sovereign gem. Pieces of my soul made whole. There will always be an eternal struggle between one’s private and perceived selves — both immortal and inevitable. I think I’ve managed to create, in my head, these women that exist as a sanctuary for both.

Writer’s Note: This piece was an attempt to understand and make sense of the ongoing war in my head, between the human need to feel and be seen, and the contrasting, unexplained anxiety at the thought of such a prospect. I know that the debilitating fear of being perceived is a fear that many share, and I hope that what I’ve written here can serve as a respite, a comfort, a gentle reminder that this feeling is valid. My work here is dedicated to a man who wants not his existence be known. I hope as he’s reading this, he knows that he is never alone. X

Header image by Nic Y-C @themcny