My body resonated with the rhythm of the train, pushing me into my thin, questionable mattress. Old sweat sealed my skin to the fabric. Fresh sweat hung in the air, you could both feel and smell it. Through the filth that clogged my nose, I could also detect a hint of cumin, as everywhere in this country.

“Chai-chai-chai-chaaai, chai-chai-chai-chaaai”.

The loud voice faded in and out again. I was left with the constant rumbling of the train and conversations of which I could only distinguish an occasional theek hai. Convinced that I wouldn’t fall asleep any time soon, I opened my eyes. The ceiling was not far above my head. I decided to sit, which I could just manage to do if I bent my head a little. On the top berth beside me lay Tim, sharing a bed with his backpack. I could only see his back and wondered if he was asleep or not. The bunks were three high, they were basically just wooden planks attached to a wall, secured by thick chains attached to the roof. The windows, if you could still call them that – there was no glass present – were barred. Even though the resemblances with jail were undeniable, its use was the exact opposite.

The blue bunks and walls reflected the little light coming from the beginning of the aisle, creating a glow. As the corridor stretched, the hue faded slowly into darkness. I caught a whiff of cigarette smoke in the warm, dense air and agreed that smoking would be a good idea to kill some time. Anagh, my new friend, was sitting on the berth below Tim’s. His brown eyes looked up.

“Sutta?” he smiled, and gave me a head wobble, tilting his head from left to right.

I jumped down and we made our way through the narrow corridor to the passage in between the carriages. There was an exit on either side, a door to a toilet I didn’t dare to check and a basin. The entrance was the only place with a light. It illuminated the layer of filth on everything, but I still only noticed it on formerly white objects. I lit our cigarettes and polluted my lungs even further.

My head turned to the exit, it was also blue, with a black square in the middle: the window. Eager to see more, I grabbed the handle and pulled it open. A gust of wind met my face, blowing the hairs off my sticky skin. My fist clenched around the iron bar next to the door. I tried to look into the distance, into the desert that I knew was stretching far and wide right before my eyes, but I could only sense obscurity.

Jane Singer is doing her BA in English Language and Culture at Utrecht University in The Netherlands. She has travelled through India and has been fascinated by the country ever since. As a consequence, Indian culture and interculturality are recurring themes in her work.

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