One Kind of Traveler

Mike Dillon

And then there are those people who don’t bother to ignore you. Birdlike, they’re unaware of their own existence, let alone yours.

He boarded at Ainwick, a small town in the north of England. As the train resumed its progress toward Edinburgh, he entered the compartment I had to myself and settled into the seat directly opposite me, a figure out of Scottish central casting in his red tartan cap and tan, wool overcoat. Black, horn-rimmed glasses topped off his middle-aged, owlish look.

I was a backpacking American commonplace. Forty-five years later, I haven’t forgotten how our eyes never met.

Instead, one black-gloved hand plunged into his briefcase. Out came a weighty book: Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas. He cracked it open past the halfway mark. At some point, I caught a glimpse of a page: all in Latin. Even in English that medieval tome I studied in college, with its scalpel-edged, theological proofs, left me gasping.

From my own copy here’s a taste: “Although the universal and particular are present in all categories in a special way, the individual belongs to the category of substance. For a substance is by itself an individual, whereas only through their subject, which is a substance, are accidents individual.”

I leaned back in my seat. Over the River Tyne we went as his thin-lipped concentration never broke from Aquinas. I took some comfort in remembering that, on his deathbed, Aquinas said everything he’d written was “straw.”

A couple of minutes before the Scottish border we crossed the River Tweed. I looked east to slate-roofed Berwick-upon-Tweed huddled against a drab sea. We emerged into open country again with grassy fields and stone fences against the gray horizon. After a while, the train slowed. He closed his book without looking up. Edinburgh lay nearly an hour away.

I had figured, like me, he was bound for the “Athens of the North.” How could he not be?

As we slowed to a stop in a dingy village whose name I didn’t catch he loaded Thomas Aquinas back into his briefcase and snapped it shut. Once stopped, he stepped briskly from the compartment without looking back. I don’t remember if he wore a wedding ring.

Out the window: one empty platform and an empty street running before a row of gray council houses. Coal smoke and rooks smudged the June, cod-belly sky. He descended the platform stairs with unbroken briskness and strode into the street.

The train slid out of the station toward Edinburgh. And the man with the Latin of Thomas Aquinas bulging in his briefcase turned a corner and vanished forever.

In a fashion.


About the Author

Mike Dillon lives in Indianola, Washington, a small town on Puget Sound northwest of Seattle. He is the author of four books of poetry and three books of haiku. Several of his haiku were included in Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, from W.W. Norton (2013). Departures, a book of poetry and prose about the forced removal of Bainbridge Island’s Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor will be published by Unsolicited Press in April 2019.