I walk down into the Underground later than usual. The first train is full, the seats are taken. It has been a bad start to the day and I am dejected. I had carried a book with me, in hope that it might lift my spirits. Midway down the train there is a seat alongside a labouring type.
I turn to my book.

Gaito Gazdanov
The Spectre of Alexander Wolf

There is a Russian soldier and a horse on the cover. I find my mark and return to the protagonist – alone in a restaurant. His isolation all the more apparent in the cold carriage. I am confronted by the feeling that we; he and I, and everyone inside this carriage, we are all alone.

The man alongside me stirs and I turn. He looks at me with a smile on his heavy face.

-Can I ask you what this book is?

His accent is foreign, the expression is articulate, sharp and accurate. Each letter is shaped, and felt. Perhaps he is a Russian? I am certain that he is from somewhere in Eastern Europe, his clothes are the clothes of a worker, but of good quality, and well cared for. His face is worn and creased, with a thick stubble that looks as if it must always be there. There’s vitality and clearness in his eyes.

I name the book. And he has not heard of the author. I tell him that the author was a white Russian living in Paris, and he drove a taxi.

-A taxi driver.

-Yes, a taxi driver.

-Can I see the back? Can you read it? I do not have my spectacles.

I do, and end with a reference quoting Maxim Gorky.

-Maxim Gorky! And he was a communist and this man a Russian émigré! That is acclaim. He must be good.

-Yes, he must.

-On this train many people read books. I see all of England reading books but they do not read books like this.

-The Russians were great writers.

-The Russians wrote about the heart and the soul. I respect their culture. Here people read to be entertained. A book like this, it will be read by one in a hundred. No, not one in a hundred, two people in this whole train, two in a thousand will read this book. We are the two. (he laughs).

– Perhaps you are Russian?

-No. Are you?

-No. Romanian. I am an engineer, I come here to work in the spring. I will go home.

-But in Romania you are more exposed to Russian culture?

-In Romania the Russians aren’t welcome. 1948. 1962.

He names these unknown dates as if in explanation.

-But the literature is read.

-Dostoyevski, Tolstoy, Chekhov… Solzhenitsyn. I respect the culture.

The train grinds on the track, and my station approaches. I look as if I am about to move.

The stranger smiles.

-Your stop?

-Yes.

– Go, he gestures.

I stretch out my hand. Standing by the door I wonder if I should turn, having shattered the illusion of being alone. Turning back the Romanian is watching and waving warmly. The train goes, the platform is empty, and I open my book and wait for another train.

 

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Tadhg Muller
Tadhg Muller is a London based expat Tasmanian. Hailing from somewhere in the ether between the two locations, Muller’s fiction has been published in Skive Australia, Griffith Review Australia, Island, Stoneslide Corrective USA, Crack The Spine USA, and recently in Transportation Press’ Islands and Cities and.the Open Pen Anthology. Muller has featured as a guest poet for the London Based Homeless Literary Magazine Rough Diamonds.

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