It was a bright Monday morning on January 23rd. Looking through the window on my left, I could see that the sun was a big fiery ball in the sky. The clouds stood still, the trees gently swayed and all life seemed to be at peace. I stretched gently and reached out for my yoga mat. I had just started doing the Downward Facing Dog when I received a call from Merlyn. She had moved to a new city and wanted me to pay her a visit.
Merlyn never made appointments. She always expected me to say yes on all occasions. I had to choose between the 10:30am train and the 11:15am bus. Internet reviews suggested that the train system was good. Being in a new country, I longed to have an experience that would last a life time. I had less than 30 minutes to catch the train. I hurriedly stuffed a few belongings in my yellow valise. Thanks to my camp experience, I made it to the train station in no time.
At the entrance sat a thin, tall old man on a three-legged wooden stool with his jaw resting upon his two fists, his elbow upon his knees staring at passersby. I walked straight to the information desk that was 50 paces from the entrance. There sat a slovenly sallow attendant who beckoned me the train schedule board. Train SE 30 had delays and I patiently sat on the cold steel seats with other travellers for another two hours. I eavesdropped all the conversations around with the hope of finding a single soul going to Dong Ha. But their conversations came in gushes and slowly went into silence that I decided to amuse myself by playing a game.
At 13:00, we were told to use boarding gate number five since the train was just minutes away. I joined the queue and rummaged through my pockets for the boarding ticket. I passed through the narrow gate which led to the boarding routes. I glanced around to see if any traveller stood along route two. The brown rails indicated that the system was rather old. Next to me stood a lean lady with a furtive look who I conjectured to be from Morocco. She stared at me and smiled.
‘Hi.' I said while I moved towards her. The curve on her face gave me the confidence to get closer.
‘Jane.' She said as she pulled her hair back. ‘It's my first time to go around by train. Am really excited.' She continued.
In a distance we had the train horn. I quickly put on my brown dust-coat. I was to sit in coach two just like Jane. I hoped to sit next to her but when we got on the train, our seats were diagonally opposite. The coach was 5m wide and 25m long with soft seats of blue leather. I threw my lean body onto the seat with an air of being at home. I laid my valise between my legs and glanced around. The man onto my left was silent next to the window. He spent most of the journey looking outside as the train rattled on the outskirts of the town. Everyone seemed to be absorbed in what they were doing with most of them lost in thoughts.
I reached my valise and took out a light green notebook to capture my adventure. There was no great difficulty in my first stage of the adventure. I sat silently while I took short glances at Jane who sat diagonally opposite to me. I conjectured she must have been sleeping for her eyes were closed with her right fist supporting her jaw. She sighed and winked. I blushed and quickly rummaged through my pockets not knowing what I was looking for.
‘What's your name sir?'
I turned to answer the call and right behind me was a young boy of about eight with a smile, arms pressed against my seat.
‘Murphy' said I as I took out my hand to greet him.
‘My name is Sam, am going to Quang Tri with my family.' He spoke as he gazed at his mother who nodded with confidence. ‘I like playing football and when I grow I want to be a professional footballer.'
I surmised that he spoke the same words to random travellers for some unknown reason. I felt uneasy about his story. I patted him and wished him farewell. Now and then he would peep at my little notebook with a smile on his face.
It was evening the darkness slowly swallowed the orange sky. We silently went through the outskirts of the town between two hedges, my ears lost to the sound of the engine.
I turned my head to see what Jane was doing. She was with Sam eating popcorn and laughing. I thought to myself that I must have been mean with the boy earlier. Now I could clearly see Sam, a fat boy with bow legs that were stuffed in black flip flops, clad in tight blue jeans with a red T-shirt that covered his knees. Jane offered me some of the popcorn. I sprang from my seat and reached out for it. There was a free seat next to them which I decided to take after talking to one of the train crew.
We talked for hours and I was amazed by Sam's witness. He was capable of doing a couple of things save his dream of being a professional footballer. I had my doubts about that given his size for an eight year old. I fished out a box of biscuits I was carrying for Merlyn and shared with them. I lost track of time for Jane sung a couple of traditional songs from her home town. I dared not to open my lips to let out the melodies that played in my head. I only boosted about my expertise in swimming and cooking. I took short glances through the window and I could see a few lights that still glimmered in the countryside.
Merlyn called to check on my progress for it would be my first time in Donga Ha. She was to pick me at the train station. The day had gone by and we were all weary. I decided to take a nap with the assurance that my companions would wake me up on arrival. I closed my eyes and buttoned my coat. With my head against the window I entered a whole new world. I could still hear the conversations around me but I paid no attention.
A strong kick on my left foot woke me up. I opened my eyes to see who it was. A tall lean man with a grey hat stood in front of me. He removed his hat to reveal his orange hair, pale face that was disfigured by a horrible scar, a bull-dog chin and a pair of cold blue penetrating eyes.
‘That's my seat.' He spoke with a hoarse voice as he signalled me to get out. I looked around for any signs of Jane or Sam but none of the two was to be seen. I sprang from the seat and noticed that my original seat had been occupied by a fat man who was reading a newspaper. Sam was laying oh his mother's lap and both were fast asleep. I was filled with anxiety. Cold blood ran through my veins as I realized that I had missed Donga station. There were four missed calls from Merlyn. I wondered why Jane had gotten off the train without letting me know. But her two bags were stuffed below her seat without any sign of her.
I looked around the coach for a crew member. An old lady was pushing a cart selling candy and dried nuts. I pushed past her and ran to the next coach. The train whirled faster and my chances of getting off were dampened. I saw a tall figure in blue with a black hat in a distance. I paced towards him and tapped him on the shoulder. He was a foul mouthed guy who instantly showed me the vile lurking berth where I was to stay till the next station after a long explanation. He threw his arms in the air and moved to the next coach. I turned around and returned to my coach to pick my valise. I was struck to see Jane in her sitting cross legged and clad in a white sweater with a pinch of blue around the neck.
She had gone to use the restroom and freshen while I was sleeping. I explained to her that we had missed our stop only to find out that she was going to Dong Hoi.
‘These two cities really sound the same, am sorry that you missed your station.' She said as she smiled at me.
I felt low for a moment when she suggested that I could spend the night at her home for the next station was Dong Hoi. I quickly texted Merlyn of my unlucky adventure and how I was to spend the night in another place. She agreed and promised to book for me the morning train. I strolled to the uncomfortable place where I was to spend the rest of my journey. Jane came to see me off with a smile. I sat quietly on the berth with nothing racing through my brain except the thought of getting off the train.