The landscape whizzes by the window as the sun sets beyond the pale blue, dusky mountains in the distance. The smell of strong tea wafts from a samovar on a cart down the corridor and is accompanied by the squeak of wheels and clink of silverware and china.
There is a soft knock as a door slides open along its rail and the hushed, polite chatter from the beautiful attendant follows. The mother tongue is deep and rich. The words are substantial and occupy the mouth fully, the tongue wraps around each syllable, tasting it.
I poke my head out of the compartment and am met with the lush carpeting and décor of a train from days when travel was luxurious. The lights are dim as we settle into the night and the earth sleepily blinks her eyes shut.
Turning to my companion, a Turkish gentleman who settled in my compartment a few stops east of Moscow, I mime sipping a cup of tea with my two hands. He is a delicately built man who wears a large mustache and a fez. I am thrilled he’s joined me. That funny little red hat has captured my heart since spying one in an old movie as a child. To me, it is a symbol of a certain type of mystique I’ve sought after my entire life. Whether the regard is well placed is to be determined, but thus far, it seems to be.
You see, I find myself here at the cusp of my 33rd year on a solo trip, fulfilling a dream of mine to ride the entire Trans-Siberian Railroad. This swath of land stretching from Europe across Asia pulls me into dreams of lost princesses, enigmatic mystics, poets and writers sunk deep into themselves in winter depressions, and a storied history of the rise and fall and rise of the Russian empire through the ages. This land makes me believe in magic curated in the yearning depths of the heart.
We’ve exchanged but a few words tonight before the churning of the wheels perceivably slows, easing into a stop. We’ve arrived at Novosibirsk.
Wisps of hot steam curl from the mouths and nostrils of passengers waiting at the platform. The snow drops ever so delicately like fragile, fleeting ornaments as blustery winds pick up the ends of long wool coats and slap innocent cheeks red.
Passengers depart the train while others board. The flow and exchange of people never ceases to interest me and my face presses up against the window.
I wonder where we are all going. I wonder where we’ve all been.
In the end, all our journeys are solitary.
The next day, the sun is bright and I find my Turkish friend has gone and I am face to face with an old woman with pronounced smile lines and a green scarf wrapped around her head, which lolls backward as she sleeps. The moving train rocks her in dreams of warm soups, crackling fires, and happy families. The quintessential babushka has arrived. I smile, happy for my new companion.
It hasn’t been long since I’ve become aware of this deep wound in my psyche that has me searching for a mother. I look for her in faces of older women and old women. Young mothers and old mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. They fascinate me with their motherhood.
And from these mothers I’ve come across in my travels, I’ve created my own. Twinkling eyes and a smiling mouth, smooth forehead and deep understanding, an easy laugh and fiery resolve.
A composite fashioned with the faces and bodies, voices and spirits of women I’ve met and loved and secretly yearned for. They hold me close and wipe my tears. They whisper prayers in my ears and bless me in my dreams. Through their touch, I feel the comfort and love and security and knowing I’ve searched for my entire life.
The energy of my seeking is heartache. And it has propelled me forward into adventure and truancy from a safe and timid life. This that is greater than me, a soul’s journey, has led me with heart wrenching abandon onto this train to the other side of the world, back to where my own mother was born, determined to find a mother in myself, for myself. And for the child growing in me.