Night Train to Bucharest – 1992 – Flash Memoir

FLASH MEMOIR

Photo on Foter.com

Photo on Foter.com

Squeezed onto a hard bunk, high up the compartment wall, she settled into the night journey. She would not see the countryside slip past the black window below. But she was alone, on a train, and headed to a far-off city that only three years earlier had been forbidden.

On Christmas Day, 1989, after crackers and pudding, she had gaped with others at the TV screen – BBC images of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena, bullet-ridden.

Now she lay in the dark, the ceiling so close her breath circled back to her face; aware of the other women in the cabin – crinkling paper, digging about in baggage, whispering in an unknown tongue. The piercing whistle. The ka-chunk, ka-chink, ka-chunk, ka-chink. The shush. Shush. Shush. The steady rocking of the bunk – so began the long night.

She did not sleep but lay in adrenalin fueled alertness, absorbing every metal-on-metal screech, every curve in the track, the way her center of gravity shifted on the vinyl and pressed against the compartment wall.

Through the mesmerizing rhythm a new sound broke. Stomping, clapping, fiddling. Young men’s voices singing patriotic folk songs built to a crescendo as the train reached a station; the celebration fading into the distance as it moved further east.

Throughout the night the same pattern: mid-night celebrations, rising and falling, as new recruits set off to join the army in a changed world.

Mombasa to Nairobi – 1992 – Flash Memoir

FLASH MEMOIR

We’re running late – again. He says.

Our train won’t make it from Mombasa to Nairobi in time to greet some important visitor at the airport. How could a guy who’s lived in Africa for five years keep getting this wrong?

What does he do? Come to my compartment before light and tell me we need to get off. I slide out of the dark upper bunk, hoping I won’t disturb the other passengers.

Get off where? Where are we? Not sure? Just need to get off? Oh, walking to Nairobi will be faster? Hush, hush. You’ll wake the sleepers.

He’s spoken to the conductor. There’s a village coming up. They’ll stop the train so we can get off.

He grabs my bags. I follow down the narrow corridor stumbling side to side through broken florescent light. What else to do?

We drop into a sleepy village; earth and huts amber in the rising sun. People stare. They’re drawing water, washing, building fires for breakfast. A Korean guy and a white girl with packs are traipsing through their world at dawn.

We reach the main road. Dead straight and empty – both directions. Just scrub, asphalt and sky. In the middle of Kenya. But we’re late. So, I guess walking makes sense.

When the western horizon becomes a large, dark sedan, he sticks out his thumb.

Car stops.

Oh, great.

We climb in. Two men. I’m thinking – we’ll never be heard from again.

Turns out, they are headed for Uganda. Returning home from a business trip. Will be going right through Nairobi.

We make it to the airport on time.

Maybe our train would have too.