How Many Dreams Lie Between Us

by Esra Canpalat

I am standing on the railroad platform. It is too late. Too early too. No more loudspeaker announcements at this hour, no electronic excuses. I just took Lena to her platform. She waited with me. Before setting out to the station, we had another mug of tea in my kitchen. My train was cancelled, and the next ones were late. I was checking the app for updates again and again. The red numbers kept going up, as if I were causing the delays with my dancing thumb. I told Lena she could go ahead and leave. She wanted to stay. But, actually, she was already dreaming as we sat in my kitchen. Although rubbing her eyes to stay awake, she was already several dreams ahead. In the dream, she was already on her train . . . going in quite the opposite direction, to Essen. In her dream, she was already home in her bed, dreaming. Maybe there were even more dreams between us. Maybe she was already in England – she is moving there soon. Perhaps she was lying there in her new home, dreaming on.

I wonder if Lena is wondering why I, of all people, want to go to the sleepy town we both dreamed ourselves out of years ago. Why don’t I wait until the morning? Why do I put up with all the delays and unspoken excuses. Why, with all the stubbornness I can muster in my overtired state, am I standing on the platform with a suitcase that’s far too heavy, insisting on tackling this odyssey to the eastern Ruhr? I slept a few nights at Rika’s. I could ask my prospective flatmates if I can maybe move into the room right now. But I can’t. First I have to learn to dream again.

I can’t stay in my apartment in Bochum since I found out that the woman lives only 500 metres away from me as the crow flies, since I counted the paces to where she set upon me. The first nights afterwards I couldn’t sleep – I saw her much too bright eyes as soon as I closed my own. I went into Svenja’s room, lay down with her, and she took me into her arms. Only when I heard her gently breathing in and out, running from one dream to the next, could I finally fall asleep. Now Svenja is no longer there, no longer dreaming in the next room; it’s no longer home here anyway. How many dreams away is Dresden, I ask myself.

I have to learn to dream again. Moving away is not enough. Mileage falls short. I need to know dreams of distance between me and that woman – as many as possible – before I can come back. I have to believe once again that there is more to life than those bright eyes that stopped dreaming long ago. There’s someone else waiting on the train platform as well as me, walking up and down the steps to the platform over and over again. I try to keep myself awake with Instagram, stretching my legs out on top of the suitcase, clutching my jacket tighter round me. Another hour has passed by the time the train finally arrives. I rest my head against the greasy windowpane, hoping to finally reach my destination without any more complications, to be able to dream again at last. Four more stations between me and dreaming! I’m exhausted, but I still manage to squeeze a few dreams in between now and later.

I used to get on trains to get away. I got on trains to dream. Ten minutes, and we were in Dortmund; another ten minutes’ walk, and we were at Domicil, where Monday night sessions were free. We listened to jazz improvisations like pretentious beatniks. We were unbearable. Later we tried to catch the last train back: Platform 8. Just like now, I used to lean my drunken head against the windowpane. Soon after the train pulled out of the Dortmund station I saw the shadowy shapes of factory buildings. I saw the shadows of the coffee-roasting plant, the red lights of the digestion towers that looked like giant mushrooms. I saw the pedestrian underpass with the blue bike lane I used with girlfriends when we went to a party. I saw the railroad crossing, then, eventually, fields, and on the horizon, the terraced houses of the middle-class kids from my school, all of whom I loathed. In the distance I saw the colliery’s winding tower, a dark-brown silhouette, barely perceptible against the black night. That was where I lived. There I dreamed.

In between were the trees whose dirty green leaves I had memorised in daylight on the outward journey. I closed my eyes and dreamed; I dreamed how, two years later, I would be on this very train, riding home from university. I dreamed how I would try to look out the window, but in the dark see only the reflection of my neon-tinged face. How I would wonder if I was happy. How I would cry and think: No!

As I did then, I look at myself in the window – until a bit of a factory breaks through my face. I think of my father. How he too got on a train to dream (although I don’t actually know if he ever did get on a train). But maybe he was one of the men I saw on the black-and-white film footage, one of the men waving out the train window to the relative standing on the platform, crying. Maybe my father was dreaming of Almanya, of Germany. Maybe he dreamed on the way to Almanya. Maybe, like me, he saw the trees (never as green as the ones beside the Black Sea) and vowed never to memorise them, but to dream his way out of here as fast as he could. Maybe he dreamed of me sitting on the train going to university, dreaming. Or maybe he wasn’t dreaming at all, because dreams couldn’t buy you bread. Maybe he didn’t dream so that I could dream. How many dreams lay between us?

As the coffee roasting plant, the digester, and my reflected face all merge together, I go on dreaming of my father. I dream of him, a knitted nightcap on his head, dreaming of the trees in his village, while next door in my room I dreamed dreams more distanced from his than the thickness of the wall between us. I dreamed on and on, until I was no longer in that dump of a place my father had taken us to, until I no longer saw the winding tower of the mine where I always thought my father worked (why else did we live there, dream there?), until I learned he had worked at a completely different colliery. I dreamed until the factory buildings became smaller and smaller, until the digesters shrank to the size of a mushroom, then became microscopic.

I close my eyes as I see the fields. A small dream still fits between my eyelids and the destination. I dream of how I shall drag my suitcase through the small town’s dark, silent streets. How only the rabbits in the park and the motion detectors on the terraced houses will be awake. How the coal mine will grow and grow. How I shall go to my old room, where my mother has been sleeping since my father died. How I shall lie down in her bed, and the same green, faded, cracked wallpaper will be on the walls as when I lay here before, dreaming away. How I shall close my eyes and dream. Further and further away, until the colliery and the terraced houses, the fields, the mushrooms, the halls, and the trees become smaller and still smaller. How I shall dream even further still, to Dresden and to Svenja. How I shall lie next to her again and dream with her. How I shall fly over my father’s village in late summer and dream by the Black Sea. How I shall walk across the Galata Bridge with Julia, and we shall sing, “I wonder if you look both ways when you cross my mind.”

I get off the train. It is too late. Or too early. But I keep on dreaming. I run on to the next dream.

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