All Stories, General Fiction

Trains, Edith Piaf and Schizophrenia by Rania Hellal

Trains, Edith Piaf and Schizophrenia

 A heavenly tune plays in my ears. Then follows the voice of Edith Piaf.
 « Non Rien de Rien. Non je ne Regrette Rien. »
One can almost hear the very birth of the french R on her vocal cords.
She rolls it in her throat and spits it out. It comes sharp as daggers and I wonder how it doesn’t tear her tongue to ribbons in its way.

Ni le bien qu’on ma fait. Ni le mal. Tout ça m’est égal.”

I sit with her words crowding my head, and  mark the spilling of seconds on my notebook while the train sways my body rhythmically.

That’s what I do; I write down the things that people don’t usually see.
The little details of life that don’t matter and that nobody will later care to remember.
Somebody has to remember them right?  
Somebody has to  glorify them.
Otherwise, how pointless will all of that be? We might as well not have lived them at all.

Winter’s icy fingers scratch the glass at my side.
The soft pitter patter of rain drowns and suffocates under Edith’s raspy voice.
The little drops of rain break on the window before the wind blows them away and turns them  to streaming rivers, to rushing tears.
Oh how I ache for the little drops!
Nobody seems to like them.
The sky spat them bitterly and soon they will shatter on the ground and people will step on their dead bodies carelessly. What life must that be !
One tainted only with pain and torture.

 « Non Rien de Rien. Non je ne Regrette Rien. »

I have a vision of Edith.  Leaning down over my shoulder and singing right into my ear in whispers.
I can almost smell the sourness of coffee and tobacco lingering in her breath as she opens wide her mouth and moves her thin, vibrant-red lips in an exaggerated, cartoony way. 

 I can almost see her hair, cropped short and uncared for. Her brows; two fine, curving lines, fixed above electric-blue eyes with a black marker.  

The shining beady eyes and the two brows drawn, a little too far upon them, cast an aura of shock on her face. As if she’s just received some terrible news and was put in a trance!

I wonder if she really doesn’t regret anything as she says.
I would definitely regret the brows.

I feel sad that I am all she has for audience.

I glance over the window and mark the things I see passing by;

-naked trees slapped by the wind.  Their branches rising up towards  the sky, like slender bony hands, pleading for the torture to end.
-Few lone scattered concrete buildings. Unlike the trees, those seem immune to the rage of winter. They stand proud and tall against the pouring of rain and the howling of wind.

Few seats before me, two girls engage in a deep conversation.
One of them, clad in a bright red bonnet and a matching scarf, moves her hands energetically as she talks.
The other wears a similar pink bonnet with a giant bobbing puff crowning it.
The puff wobbles when she nods her head at random intervals. Then, apparently too exhausted to bear the weight of it, she throws back her head against the glass and listens carefully.
The conversation quickens and climbs in crescendo and now the girl in red seems a little irritated and her hands cramp and move faster.
The other girl’s face contorts into a frown in response.
And Edith Piaf hisses like a snake in my ears. Her sharp Rs, like blades, start to sting.
 I don’t remember having her album saved on my play list. I never liked her.
The red bonnet, reaches every time to run a nervous hand over her hair and even it.
The hair is rather nice and has good volume to it; The straight, honey-brown locks slither from under the bonnet and hang right over her shoulders. There weren’t as much as one hair out of its place, but she still reaches every time to smooth it.

Another woman sits close, with a giant orange suitcase secured between her legs and scrolls on her phone obliviously.
At every station, the train staggers until it comes to a stop and its doors part open.
A frozen breeze creeps in and reaches inside like the cold fingers of death and tickles the back of my neck. A shudder awakens in me and travels through my body like a convulsion.
I imagine the rest of the passengers shuddering all the same as they stretch their necks to glare bitterly at the sliding doors.
The red bonnet’s gesturing hands grow rather stiff then fall limp on her lap. The two girls stop their conversation all at once, and turn mechanically at the same time to glare on their turn.

All the passengers look suddenly like moving dolls, hanging from fine invisible threads.
How queer!
It feels like I am stuck in the middle of a painting.
Or maybe staring at one from a distance, looking at the succession of the different emotions that played on the people’s faces.
Oh how queer!
How they all looked like bad actors, with exaggerated facial expressions!
One man has his leg resting on top of the other and his head thrown back on the chair.
A dribble of saliva spills down the corner of his lips while he dives in deep slumber.
Even him- Even him!- turns now to glare at the doors with wakeful angry eyes!

The painting, I see, is rather a subtle one. With lots of grays and dark colors.

But, then, I think I see a smudge on the canvas!

Totally at odds with the rest of the composition.

Oh Dear Lord!

It is me!
I see myself sitting there on the ugly blue seat, under my dull red coat, hunched over a piece of paper and scribbling on it energetically.
How come! How come for one to see oneself from a distance!
I look like a drop of red ink spilled there by accident.  Like a drop of blood from the painter’s finger left there to dry.
I look like something wrong and unplanned and regretted. 

“Avec tes souvenir, t’as allumé le feu…Tes chagrins tes plaisirs ”

Were those the words of the song?
I don’t remember.
The doors close and life crawls back inside the train.
The girls go back to their conversation, the suitcase woman to her scrolling and the sleeping man to his dreams.
The train controller walks down the aisle.
He stares at me as he passes by.
He studies me for a long time.
He knows, that I am writing about the passengers and about him.
He knows, that I didn’t turn to glare at the doors as I’m supposed to.
Oh he knows!  He knows! He knows!
He stands near my seat now. Right behind me.  Pretending to check the train ticket of an old lady.
But I know.
I know he is reading this.
I know.
I see you asshole!
He walks away and doesn’t say anything.
He will come again sometime later and do the same.
Till then, I won’t worry too much about him.
I keep watch on the slumbering man and count the number of times his chest rises and falls.
I have to make sure whether he is really sleeping or whether he is just pretending to.
He has his arms wrapped about him and his lips slightly parted open. His warm breath is seeping out like smoke.
And then, his eyelashes flatter ever so lightly, like a butterfly flapping its wings.
 One might not see it if one doesn’t really look hard.
And oh well, what a devil he must be!
Now, the man sitting beside him produces a phone out his pocket and holds it up before his face.
He pretends to scroll on the screen. But I don’t buy that. I know well the people his type.
Those people,  they form a whole specie on their own.
They think themselves too sharp and take the people around them for simpletons.
He might ruse the other passengers, but not me.
I know he is filming me. Maybe, thinking that his camera will catch a glimpse of my notebook and my words.
Just like the slumbering man thinks he might close his eyes and listen to the very beating of my heart.
What devils!
The corner of his lip curls slightly and I know he is laughing at me.
I bring down the hood of my coat over my face and shut him out and go back to my writing.
I only leave a little split, enough to see my paper and the wet blue tip of my pen sliding against it.
 And in the periphery of my vision; their shoes;
The dirty black sneakers of the man filming me. His laces rest in a loose, lazy knot.
Maybe he will stumble over them later. I hope he does. I hope he falls on his face and breaks his teeth.
I see the dusty black wheels of the woman’s suitcase.
Oh how many roads must she have crossed for the wheels to get this dirty!
I see the sporty sneakers of the slumbering man. A pair of knock-off Nikes.  As fake as the man wearing them.
 He has his jeans rolled up a little too high  for the cold weather, leaving a large patch of hairy naked ankle skin.
And of course, I see my own boots.
A thick stout pair with laces slithering like little snakes.
 They are so heavy and thick,  they seem to anchor me to the ground, like roots connecting me to the train.
I feel like my body is flowing down and spilling into the hard metal under my feet.
I fear that if I move one foot the whole train will shake.
Edith Piaf no longer sings in my ears. She started whispering some words in french.
As if confiding an extremely important secret to me. But, of course, I spoke as good of a french as an earthworm did a human language.
I look down again at my feet and feel my body and the metal skeleton of the train as one.
There are no limits where my body ends and the train begins.
I am the train.
I am the passengers inside.
I am the two conversing girls , the woman and the orange suitcase, the fake slumbering man and the snob man filming me.
I am the controller, the train driver. I am the ugly vibrant blue seats, the luggage , the windows the broken rain drops bleeding on the glass.
The red bonnet brings out a book, sinks in her seat and starts reading from it.
I imagine her reading the words I have written and feel the beads of sweat welling up on my forehead.
I think she lifts her eyes from the book and glares at me for a second then goes back to reading.
Oh God she is reading my entry!
Oh God what devilish thoughts must be playing in her mind now!
I grit on my teeth and twist on my seat in pain.

I glance at the painting that is the train and the red smudge hunched on the blue seat, seems like it’s starting to soften.

Edith’s voice is like needles in my ears. And the fact that I don’t understand the words makes her all the more irritated. And so her Rs grow sharper still.  I twitch harder in pain and reach finally for  my ears to pluck out my ear pods. I had enough of that bitch. I can’t stand her voice inside my head anymore.
But as I reach with my finger, I only touch skin and cartilage.
I reach deeper in my ear in case  the pods should’ve been sucked inside.
But, still, there is nothing.
I keep digging and digging inside . But her voice only grows louder and angrier.

I dig  too deep and feel  something thin and liquid against my skin then my finger comes out red. 

And Edith releases a sharp scream. This one feels like a stab. 

I grow dizzy and watch the world sway before my eyes and taste vomit in the base of my throat.

The red smudge on the painting is bleeding away now. Just like a miserable rain drop.

Soon it will disappear too, and the picture will be untroubled again.

Rania Hellal

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11 thoughts on “Trains, Edith Piaf and Schizophrenia by Rania Hellal”

  1. Rania

    Extremely impressed with this. The physical sensations going on in the mind, the certainty of “being the train” and that the girl knew what was being thought whisk this along beautifully.


  2. Hi Rania,
    There is so much in this but you keep the focus on the MC beautifully!
    You explain the MC’s traits through their observations and with what is known that ties into the title.
    Really clever and you relied on the story telling more than any explanation.
    This is excellent!
    Hope you have more for us soon.


  3. A well crafted descent (?) into madness proceeding through a series of sharp but increasingly disturbing observations. Nicely done!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I started reading this thinking it was Saturday. (That happens sometimes when you’re retired.) I thought this is a weird Saturday post. Then I realized it’s Friday and thought this is a weird and wonderful story. Quite a ride.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “Paranoia strikes deep. Into your life it will creep.” Buffalo Springfield 1966. Is the term for the narrator hyperconscious? Crazy? Observant? Narrator is way out on the end of the bell curve? I can’t judge, but that makes the story provactive in a good way.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The detail and the attention to detail in this are absolutely spot on. I love your rich descriptions. Superb writing that really gets under the skin – in a good way of course!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. When we’re in reality, it might be a good thing not to see and hear all the details, they could drive us mad! Maybe madness is too much imagination. The topic makes for some vivid and original description. The bit about the train is very well done.

    Liked by 1 person

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