When you emerged from the Indian Commuter Train System, you were a sweaty, brown, dehydrated mess. And tough as nails. You faced the crowds of Mumbai. Currents of people flowed up and down stairs, over platforms and footpaths, like blood in her arteries. Certainly, she suffered from hypertension—too narrow pathways, too dense—but her pulse was resilient. You dipped back into the city with uncanny familiarity.
You and Maeva reconnected with your old CS host and spent two marvelous nights in the comfort of his large, clean flat, complete with wifi and home-delivered, most-excellent Indian cuisine. The bathroom, with its toilet hose, shower head, and hot water, was an upgrade long-forgotten, so accustomed you were to “showering” by dumping little plastic pitcherfuls of cold water on your discolored legs. You reconnected with Karuna, and then you slept like the dead. In the morning, you drank your first cup of coffee in god knows how long.
By the end of your first day, you were supercharged. No bad news in the old inbox, not logistical nightmares. Narendra helped you book your ticket straight to the last station of Goa, and you scored the perfect seat. You were hyper, ecstatic—rested. That night, when you piled into Narendra’s car for a nice fish dinner followed by dessert and the cinema, you cranked down the windows and screamed the words to Carly Rae Jepson’s Call Me Maybe, reached out to try and grab perplexed rickshaw drivers and motorcyclists.
It was a very short-lived “vacation.” The next morning, you were awake at 8:30 and packed. Narenda fixed you a breakfast of toast, eggs, and strawberry jam, which confused and delighted your palette after months of rice and dahl. By 9:30, you were out the door.
Your train would leave at 11:30 that morning and would arrive at 12:33am in Goa. It wasn’t the greatest of itineraries, but you didn’t mind arriving in the middle of the night to a place a mere 2km away from your yoga school. Piece of cake. You could find yourself some last-minute guest house and catch a few hours of good sleep before checkout.
9:35 – Caught rickshaw to Malad train station.
9:45 – Shoved your way onto the commuter train in rush-hour and travel to Dadar station, praying to god the mob in the “ladies” car didn’t eject you onto the tracks as you clung to a pole under the weight of your backpack which hung out the side of the car.
10:10 – Stood in line for ten minutes to get a rickshaw. Drove across town to Lokman Yatilak station.
10:40 – Boarded your train one hour early, found your seat, and started writing. Ate a fried banana snack.
2:00 – Took a break from writing. Ate a 50rps lunch and promptly fell asleep.
5:00 – Read some Milan Kundera, wrote some more, listened to music.
7:00 – Ate an 88rps dinner, listened to music, and felt the boredom sink in. For the first time ever, you were train-traveling without someone to talk to, or even someone to acknowledge from time to time. No quirky Maeva, no verbose Danish girl. Just you.
12:00 – Took a toilet break. Your train was scheduled to arrive in just 33 minutes.
THINGS GET BUMPY
12:33 – Train stopped. It was still two stations away from yours. Disappointed, you went back to your berth, unlocked your bag, and waited for the train to start moving again. You are only 25km away from Cancona.
1:00 – Train finally left the station. Traveled for five minutes. Then stopped. There was no platform. Nothing. You waited.
2:00 – Train was still stopped, occasionally moving a few feet down the line before braking again. After one hour of this nonsense, you felt angry. Then you noticed the man on the middle berth across from you, openly masturbating while staring at you. His fist beat against the underside of the sheet he used for concealment, rapidly, like someone about to finish. You calmly reached into your bag and pulled out your tactical light. You clicked the button on the end like a sniper pulling a trigger, shot him with 220 lumens in the face. He grimaced, his hand stopped immediately, and he pretended to sleep. Then, after some seconds, he pretended to wake up and peer at you through little slits as though the light had disturbed him. He shifted to his side, never displaying anger or irritation, and covered his eyes. He stopped masturbating.
2:15 – Drifted in and out of a very thin sleep. Lifted your head over and over and over again to verify that there was no station or platform out the window.
3:00 – Felt the train stop. You jumped down and went to the door, asked two men if it was Cancona station. They said no. You couldn’t believe it. Two and a half hours late! You went back to your berth, and a minute later one of the men found you and told you that the train had already passed Cancona.
“You’re joking!” you said.
“It passed before one hour.”
“No…” you whined.
He asked if you were alone. Said that it would have been better to have had a friend with you, so that one of you could keep your eyes open for the station.
“But I was watching almost the whole time. The strain stopped forever. There was no platform. There was…” were you crazy? “Where should I get off?”
“You should have gotten off back there. It’s a main station, where you can easily get train to Canona.”
Well… it was already behind you. “How far am I away from Cancona?”
“About 25 kilometers.”
It didn’t sound that far, but it was. Over one hour already! And you were still galloping in the wrong direction.
“You can get off at the next station, hire a car, and drive to…” some place. “There, get train.”
You felt your emotions rising and collecting in your chest, your throat. You were furious. You had been so diligent, and yet the station had snuck past you. You wanted to cry. Instead, you grabbed your backpack and camped out next to the train’s door, ready to disembark the moment it stopped.
It ran for another 30 minutes, at high speeds—longer and faster than it had traveled in the preceding three hours. Of course it did. Goa was far behind you, and the train showed no sign of stopping.
You really wanted to cry. But maybe you were too dehydrated to make tears. Or maybe, maybe it was because you told yourself crying doesn’t change anything, Maria. True story. You tried everything in your power to stop obsessing over the mistake; it was in the past. All you could do now was move forward.
Maintaining positive self-talk at three o’clock in the morning is no easy feat. You tried to distract yourself by reading your book, but could only offer it half your attention.
Angry, angry, angry! Stupid, stupid! Fucking train. Piece of shit masturbator.
3:30 – The train stopped. The man found you again. You told him, “I’ll just hop on the next train heading in the opposite direction.”
He hesitated. “This station very small. Not a lot of trains. Better to hire a car.”
“Should I keep riding until I get to a bigger station?” you demanded, not sure if you should leap onto the platform.
“No. Get off here. No better station ahead.”
You did as instructed. Leaped down and found yourself in a little place called Kumta. Dark, underdeveloped. You went straight to the first railway worker you could find and demanded, “When is the next train to Cancona?”
Incredulous, “Cancona, that way.” Meaning, the train you just got off had passed it already.
You tried not to slap him.
“OF COURSE IT IS.”
“Next train is at 10:30, Madam.”
You sighed and looked at your watch: 3:40am. “Of course it is.”
Seven goddamn hours…
3:50 – You appraised the room of waiting families, of homeless people, of pairs of men wrapped in blankets, shielding themselves from the overhead lights. You thought about all the train stations you’d seen in the middle of the night. How sleeping at the train station was considered perfectly common.
So you did. You found a nice spot under a display case and unpacked a couple pashminas for sheets, and used a bundle of clothes for your pillow. The locals watched you get situated, and you were unsure if they stared because you were white, or because you were white and preparing to sleep on the floor. You jammed some earplugs into your head and pulled your wool buff over your eyes and endured the sounds of children crying, shrieking, laughing, and stamping for over one hour until you drifted off.
You’re a little surprised with yourself. You recall long ago, in your early days of travel, trying to sleep on a wooden floor in a Berlin flat—and finding it impossibly uncomfortable. Perhaps 24 hours on a Gen Pop luggage rack made the cool, broad tiles of the train station feel like a luxury. Or maybe it’s just all the practice—the “you travel so damn much, anything is a bed at this point” syndrome: you’ve slept on floors, pads, futons, couches, beds, armchairs, rock faces, gravel, roots, branches… when you’re tired, you’re tired.
9:30 – So yeah: an unbelievably decent sleep, all things considered, barring that time around 7am when the mosquitoes found you. Oh yeah, and that occasional tap-tapping one your legs, which you’d mistaken for the tail of a wandering, mongrel puppy, but which was, in fact, the ceiling leaking on you. No matter.
You packed your stuff, bought a few samosas from the canteen that had just opened its window over your head, and then inquired at the ticket window.
“The train is one hour late,” said the clerk.
You were too numb to care. “Of course it is.”
You waited. Went back to the window fifteen minutes before your delayed train was supposed to arrive.
The man smiled apologetically, “Delayed now one hour and a half.”
“Of course it is.”
12:30 – You finally got on the train. You knew that you are about 100km from Cancona. You were flabbergasted when you realized such a short distance took more than two hours. Local trains. Damn them. You realized that your mistake–your having missed your train stop–was an error costing 45 cents to correct (the cost of your return ticket), but one which cost you 14 hours of your life.
2:45 – Arrived in Cancona. Fought with rickshaw drivers over the price of a 3km lift. They wanted 100.
“I’ll pay you 35,” you said.
The driver laughed in your face.
“Fine,” you said, “I’ll walk.” Because you hadn’t walked in over 24 hours. Just sat and waited. Waited, waited, waited.
Oh, how India makes one patient.
And India allowed you to walk no more than 200 meters, before the very same rickshaw driver tracked you down and offered you a lift for 35.