It was the ‘dead of night’ train. Old wooden interior, departure 1.30 am. By the time the attendant collects your ticket and delivers you your sheets its well after 2.
This is a slow train, regular stops at nowhere to let the usual trains go through. There are no slower trains.
It had a feel of ‘heading to the Gulag’ about it, except for its emptiness. Who takes this train?
The passenger opposite me was a scrawny-looking Russian man with crooked teeth and a certain intense shyness. He seemed keen to talk but once we established that I didn’t really speak much Russian, silence fell interspersed with occasionally met glances and inane giggles.
Later, I ask why he was going to our shared destination.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you live in [our origin]?”
“Yes, but I can’t go back there.”
He shrugs and points to his tattooed fingers.
The next day, my Russian language books and dictionary on the table, he shows me “Heroin” and smiles wide. I sort of shake my head.
After a pause, “Court” and on questioning, “Robbery”. Apparently he was on the run rather than go to Court.
“Why?” I asked him about the robbery.
He signals he doesn’t know. Then after thinking, “Drugs.”
“Will you stop drugs?” I ask?
“No.” without hesitation.
“Because you don’t want to or because you can’t?”
With hesitation, “I don’t want to.”
He was the perfect gentleman the whole trip and helped me study. As usual on trains, we ate our meal together.
“What will you do when you get to [our destination]?” I ask.
“What will you do when you leave Russia?” He asks.
We kind of laughed, a shared understanding, but as we neared the final station I saw his face start to tense. He had nothing with him, except his troubles.
The Run-Away Train.