An intrusive tug on my foot rouses me from sleep. I’m momentarily blindsided as I transition dopily from dreams back to the reality of the top bunk of our sleeping compartment in a ViaRail train. It’s 3am and we’re snaking slowly through the Canadian Rockies. Clickety click ….. clickety click. My lover, Sofia, has been awake in her bunk and watching the world pass by as we wend our way upwards and eastwards.
It is our intention to cross Canada by rail. From Pacific to Atlantic in eight weeks, our journey will be broken into a smorgasbord of interesting asides. The “bon voyage” champagnes after tonight’s late Vancouver departure have lubricated our sense of adventure and facilitated my sleep. But Sofia’s sense of awe in the wee hours bubbles over. It must be shared, hence the petulant tug on my foot.
We’d only arrived in Vancouver by ferry this morning prior to Sofia’s pre-arranged lunchtime meeting with her first-cousin Nicolae Radu. They’d never previously met as Nicolae’s family had emigrated to Canada from a village outside Târgu Mures in Romania in the 1960s and Sofia’s family left the same Romanian village bound for Sydney, Australia two years later. They quickly broke down barriers of unfamiliarity, and connected easily through multiple family tales, a long lunch and white wine. Nicolae captured our attention with his exuberant laughter and infectious enthusiasm for life experiences. True to his emails, he’d booked the compartment next door to ours, and is now accompanying us from Vancouver, across the Rockies before alighting in Saskatoon, his home city. Sofia and I will continue eastwards to Toronto.
ViaRail’s train “The Canadian” traverses from Vancouver, British Columbia to Toronto in Ontario over a total of four nights and three days. Sofia and I have a sleeper compartment which converts to two armchairs during the day. A lounge and upstairs observation car sits at the rear of the train and there’s a dining car where chefs prepare three meals a day. At the risk of sounding bourgeois, Sofia and I are wildly excited to be embarking on our trans-Canadian journey with this standard of travel. And what of the peasants at the other end of the train? Ah, let them eat cake!
The glow of full moon at 3am floods over the Fraser River far below us, creating a black and white effect. The river is a ribbon of light inlaid into the blackness of deep valleys in which our rail track is carved. Soaring snow-capped peaks appear as a curtain draped below the night sky. Twinkles of starlight leak through a myriad of tiny pinpricks in the mantle of the night. We sit in a silent reverie oooohing and aaaahing inaudibly for an hour. Occasionally the moonlight on the river shatters into a kaleidoscope of shards when the river strikes rapids. Lights of small settlements, clinging precariously to valley walls, wink coquettishly at the procession of carriages as we pass by; they’re possibly the cabins of forest workers. From the warmth of our cocoon, we watch this black and white movie to the entrancing rhythmic soundtrack of steel wheels against steel rails.
Sofia eventually drifts back to sleep in the lower bunk, but I need to drink in more of these stunning vignettes. I want to capture them in my head and take them home to Australia. I quietly descend from my top bunk, taking care not to awaken Sofia. From the doorway, I trace the silhouette of her face in the air with my index finger, blow a kiss, then gently slide open and re-close our compartment door. The rhythmic sound from the rails masks my exit. The carriage behind ours is the observation car with its glass roof, and I spend an extra 30 minutes in there alone, in visual awe of the Rockies. It is a religious experience.
Re-entering our compartment I stoop to admire my partner, my lover, my Sofia. She sleeps with the tiniest smile on her lips. The light of the full moon causes her face to appear silver, almost white. I study the curl of lips which I’ve tasted so many times. Her brunette hair, which I often playfully run my fingers through, splays across the pillow. Her neck, that soft creamy-white skin, tantalises, teases, taunts. Yes, I am enamoured with Sofia; like a spring, she wells within me and I am thankful every day for her magic, her selflessness, her love, her being.
I prepare to climb the small ladder to the top bunk, when our train begins to wind gracefully around a long bend and the full moon again illuminates and highlights Sofia’s facial features. Her skin is eerily pale in this light. I suck a brief inhalation of concern and thrust my face closer to hers. There is no ebb or flow of air from her nose or mouth. Panic overwhelms me and I grip that whitewashed face between my trembling hands and bawl out her name. My eyes scan downwards to the base of her stark white neck. Within a large patch of moist saliva, two puncture marks ooze thin trickles of congealing blood. My brain freezes with incomprehension and I gag.
“No! Sofia! Sofia!” I wail, shaking her lifeless body.
Frantically sliding open our door, I scream for cousin Nicolae in the next compartment. But Nicolae Radu’s door is also wide open and he is not there.
Then once again we are plunged into the blackness of a long cold tunnel, deep inside the Canadian Rockies. And my utter desolation and disbelief is underscored by a haunting rhythmic soundtrack of steel wheels against steel rails.
Clickety click ….. clickety click.
Sleep well my lovelies....