It was clear. The woman on the train who sat in the row opposite me had long passed the honeymoon stage in her relationship with inspiration. I could tell by the furious look she gave anyone who passed her, making her move her position, tearing her away from the laptop screen where her one true love resided.
She had set up a makeshift studio inside the packed train carriage. She’d tucked herself in among her suitcases, each rivaling her own tiny build, and propped her laptop on her knees, grinding her teeth at anyone who looked like they might want to distract her. She’d come through several bumps in her relationship with inspiration and was now facing another.
While flying to Heathrow back from a photo shoot, she’d arranged a date with inspiration. They agreed to meet on the train from London Paddington to Bristol to look at the photos together. But inspiration liked to mix things up, to keep their relationship exciting. She hadn’t told the little, strong woman that the train would be too packed for them to have any quiet time together. Now she had to make it romantic any way she could.
She moved her feet forwards and back, making sure her love was comfortable, sat on her knees. She ran her fingers through her greasy hair, cocked her head to one side and tensed, a haunted look in her eye every time someone squeezed past her, separating her from her work.
She’d find a new position to be closer to her love – head cocked to the other side now, she looked through the photos, slashing away a line here, or cropping a corner there, inch by inch, her full attention on those pictures, pleading inspiration: ‘Talk to me, baby, please…’
She’d already seen the perfect version in her head – inspiration had already whispered to her what each photograph was designed to look like, from the beginning of time. Inspiration saw the final result even before she’d looked at each photo; before she’d met the model; before she’d conceived the idea of setting the photo shoot in Sweden.
I stole glances of their date while pretending to read a book, one hand holding it up, the other holding onto my own suitcases while the train swayed. I recognised her madness. The woman’s face was worn like she didn’t care for sleep or food, or anything that sustained her, other than her one true love. I saw her getting off the train, wheeling her two suitcases, like an army cadet with ‘guns’ or a mother with twins, each screaming and pulling her hand in the opposite direction.
Perhaps before they got married, she didn’t know what it would be like – what sacrifices she’d have to carry out and how she’d lose her identity and merge with her lover whenever it called. The desires of her love always became those of her own. And she loved it. She lived for those moments.
In her world, there was only her and her inspiration, bound forever, and that mad look in her eyes – like the world contained only her and her laptop, which contained her work. She wanted them to be bound like that forever, but she could never be quite sure when inspiration would act like a whore and leave her to go off and play her games with someone else.
All ideas, already conceived, already executed, floated in the air between us, at the grasp of our fingertips. I saw this tale unravel before my eyes while I caught glimpses of the woman, and, like her, I too begged my inspiration to stop.
I didn’t have the means to write it all down. Surely, she couldn’t ask this of me now!
There were no empty seats on the train, my phone battery was dead and I couldn’t write in my notebook with the train swaying as it did – I’d fall on that nice American couple who sat on their suitcases next to me. And even if I survived the fall, the scribbles would be illegible, they’d make no sense… no sense at all…
But inspiration didn’t stop. It kept demanding. It reminded me that we were bound forever, of the promise I’d made on the day I chose to pursue it. If I wanted to stay near it, I was afraid of losing it, so I always reciprocated its madness. She asked much of me. She demanded that I look like a fool in other people’s eyes. But they were the fools because they had no idea how thrilling, how exhilarating a date with inspiration could be.
And so the ideas kept coming.
The story I relate now, several days later, is not the same story I saw in that hour, in the train cart that had no more seats available.
It’s silly – I know that there are bigger tragedies in life – but I weep for that.