Sunday, 12 December 2010

Elephant Rags

I am tired and my train does not stop. The desert rolls past, and I peer through the dust that clouds the windows, looking for the cities I have been told they build of dried mud out here. I see none, and it doesn't take me long to get more tired still and to stop looking.
The higher-ups tell me my work out here is important. I am carrying civilization. I think, but do not say to them, that if a single man can carry it, there mustn't be much to civilization at all. I keep quiet and nod sagely and act in a manner befitting a man proud to be entrusted with such a thing. Empire-building is the art of selling an idea, and, in order to do that, one must first seem as though one has been fully sold on it oneself.
My eyes must close for a while, because I am woken later by a native who tells me I have just missed the most majestic caravan train. There is a disappointment in me now, the origin of which I cannot completely explain. I long to be part of such a caravan, perhaps. I long to be free from this colonial express, with all its wooden panelling and doors with gold-plated handles. I assume they are gold-plated, but they may just as easily be well-polished brass. I am not such a fine judge of metals as to be entirely certain of the difference.
At one point in the track, the train swings from side to side on the rails like an elephant I rode once when I was younger. The wood panelling is suddenly scorched the colour of the blankets that beast bore beneath the box upon its back, bright red, green, a lemon shade. Just for a moment this lasts, and then it is a plain mahogany again, and the will within me to sleep through the journey returns. I have forgotten the name of the train's destination. It holds too many letters, and, doubtless, too many faces that I do not know.

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