Wednesday, 13 July 2016
Midnight Train Part 1
For audio click here
I’d never been so cold in my life. The draught from the faulty window was arctic and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get that damn window to close properly. I wrapped my coat around me, but the cold was already seeping through my skin and setting up home in my bones. The wind whistled as the midnight train rattled through the German countryside. I looked out of the grimy window and into the darkness, I had no idea where I was, but it was somewhere between Hamburg and Berlin. I’d figure what I’d do in Berlin, when I got there. In my bag I had my brother’s passport, about seven pounds in cash, and two books, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and On The Road by Jack Kerouac, both of which I’d read forwards and backwards at least three times. My rucksack had been stolen three days ago and that was the last time I’d had a change of clothes. I was beginning to smell, maybe that’s why I had the compartment to myself. I tried to get comfortable, but the plastic seats squeaked under me every time I moved and the stale smell of a million cigarette had permeated every nook and cranny of the compartment.
“Passport bitte,” two officers in different uniforms looked at my dishevelled form. I grabbed my bag and took out my brother’s passport and handed it to the younger guard. He looked at the photo and looked at me, then he passed it to his colleague., The GDR man, spent a lot longer staring at the details. The passport was five years old, back then my brother looked identical to how I do now, so I did look like the photo in the document. But I could almost see the GDR man’s mind doing the maths. How hadn’t I aged since the photo was taken? Eventually he stamped a random page and handed it back to me.
The train rumbled through the communist land, but the German Democratic Republic was no warmer than its federal equivalent. Despite the cold, or maybe because of it, my eyelids were heavy, but I was scared to let them close, scared that they would never open again, scared that the frost that was creeping across the window would creep across the seat and envelop me. I struggled to stay awake, pinching my skin on my arm like I used to do in maths lessons, and trying to study my face’s reflection in the window, but it was a battle I couldn’t win.
It was light when I woke. The winter sun was shining brightly in a crisp blue sky. My toes were numbed by the cold, but at least I was still alive. The growling noise was not the train’s engine but my stomach crying for food. I wondered if there was a chocolate bar left in my bag. My bag! It was gone. I searched the seats and the racks twice, three times despite knowing it wasn’t there. I walked down the corridor checking the other compartments but there was no sign of my bags or my things. I went back to my compartment and looked around again, then slumped on the seat. What was I going to do now? The train slowed down. We were reaching West Berlin.
“Passports bitte,” two different officers, again one federal, the other democratic. They looked at my dishevelled form. I looked back at them. “Passports bitte,” one of them repeated.