To Jort

Two guys sharing headphones watching a bollywood clip

 Dear Jort,

Your choice of leaving this life took me a little by surprise. Whichever afterlife you might have chosen, it is most probably better than where I am now. According to the itinerary, the train from Delhi to Kochi takes about 52 hours. I have an upper bed in a sleeper class, with a ceiling just low enough to not be able to sit up straight and it’s just high enough to not get any fresh air from the window or fans. If I turn my head, I can just see the slow rage of the train through the barred windows, but mostly I watch the ceiling. Sometimes, from an unexpected direction, you can smell a cocktail of old and fresh urine.
After 52 hours, I arrive at the Ernakulam Junction railway station in near Kochi.

Waiting for eternity
Waiting for eternity

In 43 hours I’ll be in Kochi. The ceiling comes down one centimeter every minute. Every five centimeters a chai wallah man in a catering uniform passes by, bleating something like coffeee chaaiii, chaiiicoffeeechaii panipani fresh water. But this time a guy brings me a veggie dinner. Rice with Dahl and Pickles. Half lying, half sitting, I shove the stuff in my mouth. Pretty soon I notice that there are no wastebins on the train. I leave the empty packaging on the empty bed next to mine, waiting for the guy with the food to come pick it up. This causes great annoyance to the man in the bed below mine. ‘Look,’ he seems to tell me, and he explains with hints how to get rid of trash. ‘you take it in your hand, you crumple it up, and then you throw it out of the window with a precise nonchalance. That wasn’t to difficult, now was it?’  I reply with similar gestures:  ‘Oh wow, It is way easier than it looks. Thanks.’

view from the train
view from the train

 38 hours left to go. Not that you care, with the eternity of the afterlife. Something touches my leg. Half awake, I try to sit up to see what’s sleep depriving me. A boy of about twenty looks up. He uses non-verbal communication to make clear that he wants to join me and without me giving a chance to respond he climbs up.
It’s half past two.

‘My name?’ He asks.

‘My name is Willem. Your name?’

‘Yes,’ he answers. ‘Country?’

‘Netherlands, Holland.’ He nods and checks me out.

‘Oh! Single?’

I smile, waiting to see if he has anymore questions. No, that was it. He checks me out a little more and jumps off. I doze off, but wake up again. He’s back with his friend, who’s English is a bit better.

‘Your good name, sir?’
Where are you from?’
‘Are you married?’

‘You have many girlfriends, I know! Many girlfriends in Holland. Very good! Are you traveling alone?’
‘Oww very bad. Not good. Where is your family.’
‘At home.’
‘No friends?’

‘I meet nice people everyday, like you.’
‘How long your time in India?’
The conversation slowly comes to a dead end. They discuss something and the English-speaking boy asks: ‘make pic together?’ I want to say ‘It is half past…’, but then I see their joyful faces. ‘Alright, let’s take this picture.’ We have to go to the hallway where it’s light enough.
I want to go back to sleep, but one of the guys joins me. An old man notices and hisses something at him. The boy leaves.

Two guys sharing headphones watching a bollywood clip
Two guys sharing headphones watching a bollywood clip, this is the epitome of friendship

It’s six in the morning. This day will be better, I know it. I get up and get myself comfortable in the doorway. The sun rises over the generously growing palm trees, the hills, rivers, villages, cows. A nice cool breeze is blowing in my face, occasionally accompanied by bits of plastic, teacups, or spit.
It’s all fine by me.
Only 26 hours left. Time flies while the train wanders.




The company in my subwagon has imrpoved a lot. A man with a big grey mustache shares his food. Puffed rice with onion, tomato and masala. Another has samosas. ‘Wait!’ clumsily I rummage through my bag and take out a big caramel peanut bar. The men and women wiggle their heads voraciously. In India they don’t say thank you, but you can see on their faces that they will talk about it for weeks: ‘a gora handing out peanut caramel bars to us!’ The man with the grey moustache deploys a song and starts dancing in the narrow hallway. The rest of us clap and cheer. People from other subwagons surround us, curious of what is going on. 

As if this weren’t enough, two drummers join the scene. They shout love songs above their heavy drums. They have a different way of making money than the street musicians in The Netherlands. In The Netherlands, they will only play for a little while hoping you give them some change. When you do they keep playing a little longer as a thank you. In India, on the other hand, they just play so loudly until you go deaf and give them something to make them go away.
The man with the mustache doesn’t give them any money, nor do the others. Everybody just starts dancing and clapping their hands with the beat.

I almost forget you should’ve been here too.
But you should have. Although you’re probably in a place you designed and perfected with that genius mind of yours. A place much better than the Kerela Express, which has just arrived at his final destination.


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