The day had already been a series of unfortunate events. There was a missed train, a cancelled train, no food, no sleep, sores on my hands and a stop over at a haunted hostel on a full moon night. I swear at that moment, standing at the train station of Ostrava again, in my head the scene from the Bollywood movie Jab We Met was playing. Where the lead actress was praying to God to not make this night any more eventful. All I needed was to get to Krakow on a decent seat.
As the train whirred in, it felt like a never ending chain of bogies. All of us waiting at the station cheered looking at each other saying, “Finally!”. A little clueless we all just got in anywhere and since we did not have reservations on this train, we all just got in and groups of friends took up any empty sleepers they found. I kept looking for first class cause my God knows I needed the pampering. I walked across many coaches but couldn’t find the first class nor any official. I reached a connection between two coaches that couldn’t open so decided to sit there and wait for the Ticket Checker. We soon stopped at the next station and I popped my head out the door, too scared to step out without knowing how far I would need to walk and may miss the train. I looked around for the men in uniforms, but none of them responded to my asking about the first class. So I just hung on till I would find someone who would understand me and give me some information. I looked around, stared at the board giving details about the next train and the stops for the train I was in, just staring blankly. Tried to pronounce the names of the stations to amuse myself, when it suddenly struck me. Like a bolt of lightning. It did not state Krakow. I totally panicked! I saw a man in orange overalls and just looked at him and pointed to inside the train and yelled, “Krakow?” he looked around, looked at the board and just nodded, “No Krakow”. What?? What?? I was in the wrong train??? When was this hell of a day going to be over? So I signalled again to him, “Where Krakow?” And he looked around cluelessly, and pointed to the train across the platform and said, “Krakow!” My eyes searched for confirmation and felt silly cause Krakow was written all across the coaches. I jumped right out and made my way to the train, and as I stood there catching my breath, I panicked again. All those people I had met at Ostrava, all were going to Krakow, and now were sleeping all over the longest train I had seen. I couldn’t possibly leave them! But I had a suitcase I couldn’t lug anymore! And didn’t even know when the train would leave! I stood smack in the middle of the platform with all these questions, and finally said to myself, “Chuck it, can’t live with the guilt!” I left my suitcase there unattended for anyone to steal and ran all the way back knocking windows waking up everyone looking for the faces I had seen at Ostrava. And making violent gestures begging them to come out with their luggage cause they were on the wrong train. They got up and hurried right out in their PJs and socks and luggage and shoes in their hands.
Once I told them what had happened I got hugged and loved by all and we went into our supposed last and final train to Krakow. Now nothing could go wrong! Wrong!
Remember we didn’t have reservations? Now this was a small train and the uniforms of this train somehow just refused to even acknowledge our presence, forget talk to us or listen to us. So we all just huddled into this 1 coach which had one section of 6 sleepers unoccupied, and waited for the Ticket checker to give us his time and assign us some seats somewhere. We all just sat on the floor of this coach. Tired, hungry, clueless, hopeful. Hopeful that once they heard what we had been through they would help us. I got the place outside the toilet which was locked thankfully. When the train started the Ticket Checker got in and walked right all over us, opened the locked cabin as we looked on like puppies, got in and locked the door and drew the curtain. That’s it! We all just stood there. Completely unable to understand what was happening to us. A bunch of girls who were in their cabin, also saw the whole situation and were as dumbstruck as us. Finally one of them asked me what had happened and why were we on the floor even though there was place in the train and I rambled on and on about the entire day. She didn’t interrupt me! She just kept looking at me and nodding in sympathy. When she finally spoke, she said something that broke me.
Something I just wasn’t prepared for. She said, “Are you hungry? Do you want some food? We have lots of it!” We had been through such cruelty all day, that when she said the most obvious human thing to say I didn’t know what to say. A little awkward, a little ashamed, and very hesitantly I said, “Umm no! I’m ok” She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Really, we have lots of it. It’s no problem!”.
I nodded hard and said, “Yes, yes please I’m very hungry!” No words can explain how I was feeling as these girls spoke to each other in Spanish and started giving me all their food. Packets of chips, water, muffins. One boy even gave his half eaten sandwich apologising and asking if it was ok. Ofcourse it was ok! Tears rolled out of my eyes unstoppably. And as I walked around coach waking all the others on the floor with food in my hands, we all broke down.
We were crying because of kindness. We were smiling at our state and crying at the same time. A system that was meant to help us sat in an over-privileged surrounding while we grovelled for the basics. Much like our societies!
The whole moment was melancholic with a strum of tears and vague smiles. Dawn was breaking. We were crossing Auschwitz (one of the worst concentration camps of the Nazis). We were sprawled over the floors and I was still able to sleep next to the toilet, leaning on its door. A layer of haunted fog over the horizon which had seen some horrid cruelties.
No matter how long the day had lasted, it was over. I had connected with people without knowing where they were from. No matter what background I was coming from, there, in that moment, on that train, we were all just travellers. We were borderless. We all cared for each other. I had found love in a hopeless place. The Swedish couple next to me, shared their stories with me to help pass the time. An onlooker from the other side of the locked coaches, Chris also made conversations to help us feel better. I was bruised and battered. But my soul was enriched. Enriched with random acts of kindness all through the day. I was stronger than what I had thought. People were still nice. I had learnt lessons which no school could teach. I knew something in me had changed. Made me better.