Sunday, May 26, 2013

Night train from Vienna

The train is late. It started out on time, in the efficient and modernly beautiful Westbahn station in Vienna. But somewhere, still in Austria, it lost an hour.

The compartment has filled. I can no longer stretch across the three seats on my side. I struggle to find space for legs that doesn't intrude on someone else's.

The girl in the denim suit was the first in after me. Two hours out I'm sleeping, stretched. Crash of the door sliding back. 'Bitte', she says, settles her bag overhead. Dark haired, strong features, in her thirties I figure. She takes the centre seat on the other side. I nod, smile, sit back up in the window seat I reserved online but didn't get. Took it anyway when whoever booked it hadn't shown after we left the Westbahn. We don't converse, I sense this is the manners of the night train. She reads. I sleep.

I wake and she is sleeping, her feet stretched to the middle seat on my side. The next time I wake she is lying across the three seats on her side. I do the same on mine, and we sleep, together but apart. Like the tracks on which our train rides.

The door bangs. A young couple, she blonde, he sallow, glasses. They upload luggage, take their seats opposite on the corridor side. I sleep, wake, sleep. Wake again in a silent empty station. The train is late. I sleep, and it leaves the station in its silent electric manner and I don't notice.

Crash of the opening door. A couple with suitcases bulldozes in. He stocky square, she shimmering top and ruby streaked in her dark hair. He moves bags like Ryanair cabin crew, lifting, shifting, squashing. But their largest case is still on the floor.

I don't understand the words, but his handwaving wants me to put my bag on top of the denim girl's. I move it across, not sure if it's safe. I watch as the train picks up quiet electric speed. My labels swing, but the bag seems OK. I think they should have gone Ryanair, checked their luggage through.

I look at my phone. One in the morning. Five hours gone, we should be halfway. But the train is late, and I don't know. The girl in denim turns towards the window, pulls her knees up to her chest, fetally protecting her space. I wonder is she rushing to a boyfriend, or from one? I decide it's neither. The boyfriend would do the rushing.

The couples in the compartment can stretch, interlink legs. Mine cramp and wake me. I try to move them without intruding, on the denim girl, the man beside me or his wife across from him. I know she's his wife, because he did all the shifting and moving and she didn't try to help. A wife who takes more for granted than a partner.

The younger ones are recently together, I suspect. We get to know what she's like in bed. She snores. Loudly. He doesn't nudge her, smiles indulgently. I sleep. I wake. I shift in place again, the arthritis in my shoulders wanting to twist and turn me as it does in my own bed. Or any bed, anywhere other than this upright train seat makes impossible.

We pause at stations not on the timetable. I guess to allow for trains which went ahead when we stopped for an hour instead of two minutes all that time ago. Now there are people on platforms. Ones, couples, groups as we go from stop to stop. Early commuters used to the morning chill.

The country wakes slowly in mist. Impressionist fields fleet by. An outlined sun pushes through diminishing fog. Railside buildings and businesses ghost past. The train is late, I don't know where we are. But it's now becoming my time of day, and I'm comfortable.

A sign sprints by. Suggests I'm a bit over an hour from my Hannover destination. My head is back on track. I feel the slowing, watch sidings with waiting rolling stock. I stand eventually, nod to the denim girl. She bobs her head back. Two singles passing in bubbles in the night train acknowledging differences from their coupled fellow travellers. I take down my bag, happy it can no longer fall on her.

The others say nothing, nor catch my eye as I leave the compartment. Like an elevator in a building where all in it are together, but are not. The train eases to a stop. I step down, click out the handle of my roller bag and trundle towards the exit. Resurrection after eleven hours in a travelling tomb.

The train is late. But it doesn't matter now.