The train roars through the hot muggy air of the countryside. From my thin cramped bed on one side of the carriage I open the curtain a crack and peer out at passing palm trees, rice fields and tiny villages lit by glowing central lamps. The baking air blasts my face and I quickly push the curtain back into place.
My skin is sticky and covered in a fine layer of dust. I haven’t showered now in 31 hours and it shows. My friend rolls over in the creaky bed above me. Somehow she is able to sleep during this cacophony of sounds whilst I have lost both earplugs to my suffocating sheets. I am at the mercy of the train now – the jerks, rumbles and passengers.
I peer across the aisle at a man a few years younger than myself. The sides of his face are encased by the modernity of huge, round earphones that clash with our surroundings. If only I had brought music with me and not merely a book I have long since read.
Sighing, I study my nails in the dim light. There are chunks of dirt that I pick out and flick on the floor. I dare not look at my toenails.
A few beds down, a child’s wailing and sobbing leads to a symphony of sighing and snoring in the carriage as the thick-skinned roll over and go back to sleep, while the rest mutter their frustration at the child or her parents trying to calm her.
It sounds like the child is vomiting now and I pity her since it is only three days since my own distress. The memory of the warm and bitter bile rising in my throat forces me up and away down the aisle trying not to dislodge curtains or backpacks and suitcases.
I reach the toilet and its swinging door, and I shut and lock it firmly behind me, attempting not to stand in puddles of what I suspect must be piss. Gripping the handrail I relieve myself staring out at the exotic world speeding by the open window beside me. In the early morning light a man leads a cow through a dense field. Dogs chase each other down dirt roads. A few women are bending over picking reeds while their young children eat what must be balls of sticky rice.
I calculate that at precisely this time back home I would be returning from a day spent in the confines of a grid-like office – the grey maze – and staring out from this chaotic and suffocating train, I have never felt so alive.