Catching the Train to Czestochowa
for Monika Pisniak
1. Warsaw Fredric Chopin International Airport
I land at the Warsaw Fredric Chopin International Airport on a Summer afternoon. The hour hand on my wristwatch says 2 and the minute hand, 35—on the 7th day of June, 2017 C.E. "It’s really hot today," the immigration officer whinges to me. "But it’s only 22 C," I point her to the digital meteorometer. "Where I come from, the average temperatures are 40 C during this time of the year across the Southern region of the country," I part the news to her. "You’ll enjoy this weather then," she wishes me a pleasant stay. Of course, this is not my virgin trip to Europe, but only to Poland. But of course, I’ve brought my wardrobe of warm clothes, too.
You don’t come to give me a reception at the airport, ‘cause I told you not to. Because I wanted us to save the 35 – 40 Euros for the visits to other cities and towns that we had been planning for months—especially, The Tatras and The Jasna Gora Monastery. "Hello, I’m here. The train to Czestochowa will depart in 50 minutes. I’ll see you soon," I keep the phone call deliberately short. "OK," you answer the mobile phone even before the first ring completes its course. "They’ve increased the toll tax again on making calls via public telephone booths here," I take a mental note, "or is this how it is here in Poland?" My dark-brown suitcase appears on the conveyer belt, at last. Next stop: tend to my addictions of caffeine and nicotine. "Now, THIS IS HOW THE CAPPUCCINO IS MEANT TO TASTE LIKE," as I take the first few sips from my (large) first cup of coffee, I draw comparisons between the quality of life in Pakistan and Europe, and remind myself of the life that I once had had the privilege of living only nine odd years ago or so. The first few puffs of a cigarette (Marlboro Gold) make me feel guilty, "… but it was the first puff in the Summer of ’08 C.E. that was the culprit … ." And I make a resolution, "I WILL QUIT SMOKING THIS YEAR, COME WHAT MAY!"
2. The Train
I, rather prudently, place my (medium) second cup of coffee (Latte, this time) on the table, and take a window seat in a booth with a seating arrangement for four people—reliving my preferences for the mode of commuting (i.e. train), beverage and seat from when I used to make journeys during my (almost a) decade long stay in the UK. After two and a half hours, I am still the only person occupying the booth. "Should I be surprised though," I think to myself? Anyway, I take the liberty of putting my black Fedora hat and dark-grey corduroy jacket on the adjacent seat. "‘Czestochowa’ means a place with a mountain on one side and river on the other side," you told me during our etymology related discussions some time ago. As I pull out 'Love Poems from God' by D. Ladinsky from my tan leather postman bag to keep me company for the next hour or so, I take another look at the souvenir (mosaic—assorted colourful glass pieces) to reassure myself that it’s still in one piece.
By now, it has been > three and a half hours since my last cigarette. To my relief, the announcement is made: "the service will make a short stop of three minutes at the next station." "Do they allow smoking on the platforms here though?" This is the only thought that carries any value for me at this stage.
A group of locals (of four lads and two girls) have gathered that I’m not from around the town. The skin tone, colour of hair, attire—it’s the whole package that has given my foreign presence away, obviously. They are intrigued and want to make an acquaintance as they approach me with "broken English” (as we put in colloquial terminology in Pakistan). But they are mostly interested in showing off their English (language) skills, I know. "I’m here to visit my girlfriend," I unreluctantly disclose the purpose of my visit. And immediately, I’m offered the Cytrynowka (lemon Polish vodka) and we all raise a toast. "This (Polish Vodka), I ought to have more of," I make a serious mental note.
In the middle of reading ‘The Moment’s Depth’ by Rabia of Basra from the anthology, I can see you blushing madly, when we hug and kiss in < 30 minutes.
And I give birth to this prose poem on the milky-white plain pages of my black leather (hardback) journal—with < half a dozen sips left in my third (small) cup of coffee (Mocha, this time).
3. The Premonition
That was the dream, I saw the other night—two weeks prior to the intended trip, to be precise. And it stayed a dream. But perhaps, the events would’ve unfolded in the same sequence, too, had the premonition been granted a chance to materialise.
Click here to read an interview with Saad Ali about his book, Owl of Pines.
Click here to hear the ekphrastic podcast with Brian A. Salmons, featuring Saad Ali.
Saad Ali (b. 1980 C.E. in Okara, Pakistan) has been brought up in the UK and Pakistan. He holds a BSc and an MSc in Management from the University of Leicester, UK. He is an (existential) philosopher, poet, and translator. Ali has authored five collections of poetry. His new collection of poems is titled Owl Of Pines: Sunyata (AuthorHouse, 2021). He is a regular contributor to The Ekphrastic Review. By profession, he is a Lecturer, Management Consultant, and Trainer/Mentor. Some of his influences include: Vyasa, Homer, Ovid, Attar, Rumi, Nietzsche, and Tagore. He is fond of the Persian, Chinese, and Greek cuisines. He likes learning different languages, travelling by train, and exploring cities on foot. To learn more about his work, please visit www.saadalipoetry.com, or his Facebook Author Page at www.facebook.com/owlofpines.
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