Place: Goa Express train. Hour: 19. Hours remaining: 29. Final destination: Agra.
India, a country one-third the size of the United States is home to 1.5 BILLION people. Although we chose the hottest month to visit, a month that sees very few tourists, we failed to realize that May is also India's holiday month. 1.5 billion people very easily fill all of the country's trains and buses every day, let alone during Indian holiday. We very quickly learned an important lesson about domestic travel in India: book ahead.
Even though we were sold tickets aboard the Goa Express, we were not sold confirmed seats. No seats. 48 hours. At this particular hour we were seated--me on a stack of sheets and Kimmy on her backpack--in the toilet compartment between train cars.
Temperature: approximately 115 Fahrenheit. Kimmy: confused and sweaty. Me: tired and sweatier. The smell: dehydrated curry-laced urine. The surroundings: a mustachioed rail employee is shoved and screamed at by a younger, louder, angrier, passenger.
When chaos erupted we played it cool and casually observed the drama, as if it were just another scene from a typical 19-hour Bollywood film. Though I secretly feared for our lives (especially once I noticed that the younger man was packin' heat), I desperately wished I could understand Hindi to follow the juicy details. Unfortunately, the fight did not conclude with a song and dance number, instead the younger man forced his papers into Mustache's face and forced him to look through them and acknowledge his person. The younger man stormed out of the compartment, bags in tote, and that was that. Or so we thought.
Not five minutes had passed when our cozy toilet compartment door swung open and the the same young man burst through. He went for Kimmy first; speaking English he demanded that she get up and follow him. She hesitantly stood, I shot her a worried look and I could sense the desperation and raw fear burning her soul. He opened the compartment door and led her to a bed she could share with another girl. They disappeared into the cool air-conditioned car and I wriggled upon the sheet stack I claimed as my own, sculpting myself some comfort in preparation for the long night ahead. Again however, the door shot open and I was confronted with the young man. He told me to get up, I did. Assured me my "wife" was comfortable on a bed, then told me to follow him back. Reluctantly I grabbed my backpack, and dragging it behind me, I followed the young man. My fuzzy, sleep-deprived mind thought for a moment that I too might be offered a bed, shared or not, it didn't matter, and I was momentarily ecstatic.
The young man came to an abrupt stop and explained that I could share a bed with him, I was his "special guest." He shook my hand and introduced himself as a "very important man", and a "captain in the Indian Army." Then he showed me the bed. It was in a triple-tiered sleeper unit and "his" bed was on top. He took my backpack from me, threw it in the middle of the unit, yelled at a couple other passengers, told me how "ignorant" they were, and hopped up to the top bunk. Then he told me to follow suit. Slightly afraid of El Capitan and in no mood to be fondled on the top bunk of an Indian train at 3:00 a.m. I quickly weighed my options and decided that some sleep on a bed with a strange, obviously unstable man, in an A/C car, and with the possibility of a groping would be better than none behind a squat toilet with an ever-present symphony of flatulence at 115 degrees. So I hopped up.
"Regret" doesn't quite capture my immediate feelings. The bed, approximately 16 inches wide wasn't nearly as bad as its proximity to the train ceiling; I'd say 12 inches at most, and it couldn't have been more than 5 feet long. And Captain didn't hesitate to sprawl out. I might have been his "special guest" but it was his bed and he was set on sleeping. I, at his bare feet, sat hunched, neck bent, hugging my legs, and compacted to the point of cramping. Captain saw this as an opportune time for some pillow talk. I died, more from his B.O. than anything. I was upset about having to talk to him only because it prevented me from attempting a self-induced coma. His topic of choice? Girls. At least I was safe from any fondling.
After a few minutes of chit-chat and giggles his phone rang. His girlfriend (at 3:30 a.m. Curious, I know). My peaceful coma was nearing and he must have been gabbing away for at least 20 minutes before the old lady on the bottom bunk shrieked something that was probably similar to "shut up." And that's how showdown number 2 began.
Old lady's boldness didn't make Captain one bit happy. He jumped down from his bed, she stood up from hers and a yell war erupted. Blessed momentarily with the gift of tongues I was able to decipher that Captain's bed actually belonged to the old lady, and she was fed up. In the midst of the commotion an old man, also in our unit tapped my toe and asked to see my ticket. I handed it over, he gazed at it for a moment then declared, "NOT CONFIRMED", the line we had heard countless times throughout the journey. He shoved my ticket in Captain's face, showed the old lady and the other passengers around us; they were all staring at me. I unfolded my numb body and jumped down from the bed, grabbed my ticket, shook Captain's hand, thanked him for his generosity, claimed my backpack, and booked it back to my toilet compartment for some peace and quiet.
Hours remaining: 27.