Lisa was sitting staring at Jason while he cradled a guitar in his hands. They were strangers to me and I asked them if I could sit and listen for a minute. Lisa wore tight jeans and a low-cut t-shirt that showed off all her curves. It was her eyes that always made you look twice. They were jade green. The intensity of that stare made everyone turn their heads. Jason had flecks of grey in his beard. He kept strumming the guitar lightly and started to hum. When he sang he had a delicate and clear voice that seemed at odds with his large build. He didn’t need to force his voice to make it louder. I had never heard the song before. The lyrics were unusual. It’s hard to recall the exact words but I remember the overall meaning. It was about a man who is dying. Jason told me he had written it himself. I was impressed. I could tell from the way he played that he obviously knew a lot about music.
I started to talk to Lisa while she rolled a joint. I understood now why she had that distant look in her eyes all the time. She passed the joint to me and I muttered my thanks before inhaling. The joint went around twice. We sat there looking at each other and not saying much. We were all feeling a bit stoned and I said, “Do any of us know each other?” Then we all started to laugh. I sat there thinking hard about what I had just said but the words drifted away like the smoke from the joint that was going around. I inhaled deeply and coughed while exhaling. It was a good joint but a little stronger than what I was used to. Jason told me he had traveled a lot around Europe and had decided to visit Australia. We asked him to play some more but he just smiled and said, “In time...in good time...” I wasn't sure exactly what he meant but we stopped pestering him. Lisa was rolling another joint. It was too much. The smell of it made me feel ill. I left muttering that I needed to get some sleep. I could feel their gaze on my back as I walked out of the cabin.
As I walked back to my seat I tripped over someone’s feet and woke up an elderly woman. She almost rolled out of her chair in fright. She took in a sudden breath and began to scream. I ran the rest of the way down that carriage. People were shouting and panicking. Someone was yelling out “Fire…Fire!” I stopped and looked back once I was in the next carriage. All hell was breaking loose in the carriage ahead but I could only hear muffled shouts and screams. The glass carriage doors blocked out most of the sound. I was sweating. It was a scene of complete chaos. I crept to the back of the train. Eventually I found my seat. After I sat down I went to sleep instantly.
I woke up to the sound of people moving around. The sunlight pierced through the windows of the train and outside was the red desert sand. I closed my eyes again but it was no use there was too much noise and movement going on around me. I groaned and then stretched my arms above my head. An uneasy and nervous sensation spread through me. I knew it was from smoking the joint. Nothing looked real. The train and everyone on it looked like it had been cut out of cardboard. I knew the drugs were doing me no good and I swore to never touch them again. But I had promised myself that many times. I began to sweat then my hands shook slightly, and I felt like I was trapped. People were talking around me and I couldn't stand it. I got my phone out of my bag and turned up the volume. I sat there for some time with my eyes shut and my headphones plugged in. Eventually I felt calmer and less paranoid. When I opened my eyes, the train was empty. I looked out the window and we had stopped at a remote station. Everyone was walking around outside stretching their legs. I checked the train timetable. We would stop at Alice Springs within a couple of hours.
The paranoia had been replaced by a dizzy, nauseous feeling. My mouth was dry, and I felt thirsty. I drank some bottled water and then went and bought a coffee from the snack bar. I felt slightly better. I knew that the anxiety and paranoia could come back at any time. It was like being stuck in a fragile shell that could be cracked open at any moment. I went back to my seat and stared ahead of me as people began to get back on board the train. I tried not to look anyone in the eye. Sometimes after smoking weed people’s faces looked distorted and their smiles became sinister. I knew I needed to see a doctor, but I kept putting it off.
I had decided to leave Melbourne suddenly. Nothing seemed to be working out and I needed a break from the crowds and the constant rush of the city. So here I was on a train heading toward a town surrounded by desert. It was about as remote as it got and yet I had managed to get myself in a situation where drugs were available. I could have said no but I took the easy option and now I was regretting it. People were more relaxed around me and there were several conversations going on at once, laughter rang out. It should have been an enjoyable experience. The laughter seemed hollow and the loud conversations crowded my mind. Certain words seemed to stand out and repeat up and down the carriage. I looked up and caught the eye of an old couple. The corners of their mouths twisted up slightly as they stared at me. Their movements were in perfect unison. It was like watching a horror movie. I shut my eyes again. I stayed like that until we reached Alice Springs.
I got off the train and kept my eyes focused on the ground in front of me. I looked up briefly. There weren't many people inside the train station. Then I saw Jason and Lisa waving at me. Lisa ran up and gave me a hug. They said they had been worried about me and wondered what had happened to me. I lied and said I was fine and that I just needed some time to catch up on some sleep. We picked up our luggage inside the train station. I asked them where they were headed. They were looking for a back-packer hostel. Without saying anything we all walked towards the information desk and got directions to the nearest backpackers. It was only a couple of blocks away. It must have been almost thirty degrees outside. We decided not to catch a taxi. Jason and Lisa didn’t have much luggage. I had a huge bag and it slowed me down. After one block I was sweating and swearing under my breath. Eventually we made it to the backpackers. Inside, the rooms were small and consisted of two bunk beds. Despite the window being open there was a combined odor of stale sweat and nicotine that had become absorbed into the paint on the walls and ceiling. We dumped our luggage on the bunks and then walked around the building trying to find a place where we could talk and have a drink.
There was a bar attached to the backpacker’s hostel. We all ordered beers and sat there sweating while a cool breeze started to drift through the building as the evening set in. We finished our beers and Jason went to get some more. Lisa and I sat there in silence. I felt so relaxed in her company and I couldn't stop smiling. The paranoia was gone and I breathed out and in slowly enjoying the satisfaction of everyday normality. She mumbled something that I couldn't quite hear. I nodded hesitantly.
She looked at me with tears in her eyes.
"Is it that obvious then?"
"What's that?" I asked.
"Do you think age difference matters? I mean...I love Jason but he won't let me get...intimate...with him. He says I'm too young....Just a kid...and it makes me so angry." Lisa quickly looked away from me and wiped her eyes with a napkin from the table.
"I wouldn't be wiping your eyes with that...you might go blind..." I said jokingly.
"Yeah well anyway..." She replied. Her smile was forced and I didn't know what else to say.
When Jason came back with the beer Lisa had already left. I was sitting there by myself wondering what I should do.
"Where did she go?"
"She was upset said she needed to take a walk to calm down."
Jason shrugged his shoulders but I could tell he was upset as well. Then he looked at me and said, "She'll be back. Me and her are good friends but there's a lot of complicated history there."