In this city everybody sleeps, but no one dreams. A railway splits the city, but there’s no station. Looking at it from high above, together with the river, the railway forms a cross. Alina lives in a block of flats by the riverside. Fifth floor, just the right height for the railway bridge to cover the view like prison bars. At sunset the steel rivets glow red. Alina has learned how to count them. Mother helps her. Ten. Twenty. A hundred.
The train runs only at night. An endlessly long iron-made worm. The wheels spark up a rhythm that howls over the river, pierces the walls of Alina’s bedroom and keeps her awake. Her mothers are asleep. Alina has tried to wake them up in vain. She stands by the window and stares into the darkness.
Clang, clang, the rails howl. Ten. Twenty. A hundred.
One summer night, when light is abundant, when she presses her pillow to her ears yet again, the train makes a sorrowful sound. The rhythm breaks. Screeching, then silence. She goes to the window. A black freight train stands on the bridge, atop of the glass-like river. The scarred boxcars go on and on. There’s no end, no beginning to be seen. A hatch on the roof of one car springs open. A hand pushes through, then another hand. Then a head, the head of a girl. She’s about Alina’s age. The girl tries to climb up out of the car, but something pulls her back. The hatch snaps shut. Alina starts, though there’s no sound to be heard. Slowly, the train begins to move.
The girl had looked straight at Alina. She had seen Alina, and Alina had seen her.
In the morning Alina tells her mothers about the girl.
“There’s no train. You must have dreamt it. Just forget about it. You mustn’t speak about this to anybody.”
Alina stays silent, but she doesn’t forget. When she gets older she wonders why everyone sees the railway but refuses to see the train.
In this city everybody dreams, but there is one who isn’t asleep.