The Overnight Train In India

I board the train from Trivandrum to Goa. I’ve got a 17 hour ride ahead of me before figuring out my two hour trip to Arambol Beach. It’s my first time taking public transportation in India. I’ve bought the most expensive ticket I could get, a/c with a sleeper. This is considered luxury train travel.

There are three rows from floor to ceiling of sleeper beds. My ticket is the top “bunk.” Once I crawl up to my narrow quarters, it feels more like an ambulance stretcher than anything. I must immediately lie down because the space is about a foot short of being able to sit upright.

Curled up in the cramped space, I am cuddling my laptop and valuables. Brown paper bags contain fresh sheets which quickly slip from my stretcher's leather surface and hang off the metal bar that is meant to keep me from rolling to the ground. A leg’s distance away is the other top bunk in my assigned cabin. Here there is a man wearing a button down shirt and dress pants laying down. I glance over, he is staring at me. He burps and I can smell it.

The fluorescent lights turn on and off during the night and wake me up, but not for long. Without the help of a sleeping aid, I somehow manage to get a full night’s rest. I am thrilled. I recall the less pleasant times in the Ashram that prepared me for this challenge.

The first time we had a blackout on the Ashram in Trivandrum it was at 9pm, right when I was planning to bliss out in my air-conditioned bedroom under the blankets. Immediately the windowless room became muggy. There didn’t seem to be any other choice besides to open the front door to our two bedroom villa and hope that the slightly cooler air from outside might make its way to the back bedrooms. Mosquitoes made it to my bedroom before the air did. I rustled around, texting with friends, agitated and trying to find information about when the lights might come back so that I could sleep. The answer was a resounding “no clue.” I took a shower to cool off. It helped me stay cool for three, maybe four minutes.

I paused and put my phone away. It wouldn’t help me. I lay on top of my bed sheet. I took a deep inhale and a cooling exhale through my folded tongue, a technique I learned in yoga studies years back. A few more breaths, silencing the movements of my body except for this breath. Laying without the slightest movement as if in a savasana (corpse pose) meditation, I fell asleep.

I practiced this technique on the train: complete stillness. Away into dream world I sailed.

In the morning I hop down from my bunk and take a walk to the train bathroom. It is a squat hole in the ground. The floor is wet with leaky bidet water and urine. It smells like spoiled curry and as I wait my turn I can’t understand how someone could spend more than about twenty seconds inside before bolting out.

When I bust out of the piss hole, the food service boy is blocking the way to my train car. He says, “You are very nice looking.”

“Thank you,” I reply. Apparently my dumpy Ashram clothes and sleeper-car bed head look is appealing here in India. I had yet to learn that outside of the cities, men look at white women as "easy sex." 

He touches my abdomen, “Can we kiss?”

“No!” I am stern. He must be out of his mind.

For a moment I am 16 again. I’m in the walk-in freezer at the restaurant where I waited tables. I’d been saving up money so that I could go on a Spring Break trip with my friends that year. One of the chefs comes into the freezer behind me. When I turn around his protruding belly is touching my abdomen, “Kiss me.” He says, leaning in toward me.

But I am not 16 anymore and there isn’t a remote possibility within my will that this kissing incident is going to bear any significance for me beyond a temporary annoyance.

I easily get around him, he doesn’t really want to block my path. He passes by with the food cart and cleanup, but doesn’t look at me again.

18 hours later, finally exiting the train at Madgaon, I look around to figure out where the next connection will be. I’m looking for a train, but instead a blonde German backpacker boy approaches me.

"Is this the train stop for Goa?" he asks me.

“Yes,” I reply, “Where are you trying to go?”

“Arambol Beach,” he replies.

We decide to abandon the idea of taking another train and instead share a cab and our travel stories. I open my eyes as our van crosses a bridge. I see water.