by Iryna Byelyayeva
I get comfortable in the cramped train carriage. I put my bag under my seat and rest my feet on it, my knees against the edge of the awkwardly-positioned tabled. I’ve laid out my half-eaten pasta salad, my phone, bright, plum headphones and an e-reader open on Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, just in case I get bored. There’s a soft jolt and the train begins to move. To Prague. My head rests in my hand and I look out the window. We roll out of the station, out of the city, into the countryside. My eyes dart to the seat opposite me. My mum is slouched in the seat robotically swiping through the photos on her phone. She has this particular way of holding her hand above the phone and very slowly swiping the photo with a very outstretched index finger. I look back out the window. We enter the countryside, which makes me smile. I love this. I love watching field after field, feeling the train glide through. I love looking out for the random farms or cute houses and trying to imagine what the people who live there must be like. Each time I see one of those houses, in such a no-place, I like to see how far we go before we come across their neighbour, or the closest store, or a main road.
It doesn’t take me long to reach for my headphones. These trips will be the moments of calm on my trip and there’s no way I’m spending them listening to loud chatter and the humming of the engine. I have work to do. I have albums to listen to. I have artists to discover. I open the music app and force myself out of my habit of going straight for my stare-out-of-windows classics (Florence and the Machine, Fleetwood Mac etc). There are albums I took the time to download so I could discover something new. Press play and let it take me away.
She grabs hold of me instantly. Her music soars. It swoops and dips and climbs back up and holds me in open sky above a body of water, ready to drop at any moment. I want to tell someone about her. That niggling idea of starting a music website comes back. I plug my mum’s earphones into the jack in mine and make her listen with me. She listens for a minute before nodding and we both turn to look out of the window. I like it when music sounds like what looking at nature feels like.
I feel upset. I feel tired and upset and useless. I’ve just come back from class, exhausted, emotional after a frustrating class discussion and I know I have so much work to do but I just can’t. I love what I do and I’m happy to be doing it but sometimes your body gives in.
It’s okay—soon a cup of tea is steaming next to me, mandarins have been peeled and prepared. I turn on my computer and stare at the screen. I know what the date is, I know what I need to do. It’s one thing to know what to do and another to know how to do it. I’ve been planning this short story for years. I’ve tried writing it so many times, in so many forms with so many variations of the character. Every time it’s like it wants me to have a breakdown. My own story is against me. But tonight I feel too upset to let that stop me. Tonight I decide to stubbornly sit the hell down and punch the keys until what I want to come out will come out. After so many years, tonight is the night when my body and brain are tired enough to do it.
I finish my tea and relocate to a plush couch; a dim lamp sets the tone. I turn the album on, quiet enough to not let it control the tone of my story, but audible so it can calm me down while I write. Earlier that day I was sitting in a room, blushing, not knowing what to say or how to say it. The conversation had seemed to be going in such a strange, elitist direction and I was wearing a beret, so I would have felt stupid if I started to protest against the rest of the class. But now, the music calmed me. My heartbeat regulates, my headache softens. I can’t say I feel completely rejuvenated, but at least I feel more peaceful.
I type. Word after word for hours. I sift through all the old drafts, all the old variations when the descriptions were stage directions and she was a he and the soft drama was strange comedy. I pick the bits that I like and decide never to think about the bits I don’t like again. And just like that, I finish it. I write the thing. I instantly know what is wrong with the draft and what I’m going to change but this was the first time I ever genuinely feel like I have finished it.
It makes sense. This album made it make sense. It took all the best parts of my emotional state and spun them in its lyrics and allowed me to weave it back into my story. A woman sang, a woman wrote and another woman acted it out.
Finally happy, I click save, turn off my computer and go to sleep.
Iryna is a creative lady living in Melbourne, Australia. She is the Editor of The Wall Mag and gets published here and there. She can be followed on twitter @irynabyel