Night on the Train

Night on the Train

A Story by Peter Regal Whittam

A sleepless night on the train turns out to be almost a spiritual experience


The screeching cacaphony of metal on wrought metal seemed not only to cut through the humid air, but through the very fibres of my sheer existence. The unrealistically harsh noise was in stark contrast to the gentle swaying of the  compartment and its low-pitched rumble. Akin to a baby being shocked awake by an airhorn while being lulled to sleep in a rocking crib, I jolted to my senses. Vision misty and consciousness clouded, I could barely focus on anything, save one obvious conclusion drawn from the sudden silence and the movement (or lack thereof) in the bogey - the train had stopped moving.


As the fog lifted and my vision cleared, I scrambled for my spectacles, putting them lopsidedly on my weary eyes and peering out the nearest window, only to be faced with an inky darkness. Beneath my still-groggy mind was a steadily growing layer of annoyance. Delayed departures, multiple stops, a snail's pace and long periods of immobility - they were almost a part of the norm when it came to Bangladesh Railway. One would expect a midnight inter-city journey would be somewhat of a smooth sailing, but even that seemed too much to hope for. Already on the train's third unscheduled stop, I was seething at the delays, although not completely surprised. The sudden noiselessness in the compartment pressed on my eardrums as I craned my neck, glancing at my snoozing travelling companions. "'We'll stay up the whole night, and we'll have fun.' Sure, you are." I muttered under my breath. Three out of the six of my friends had fallen right into a deep slumber within moments of settling in on their seats. The rest of us had whiled away an hour and a half in idle conversation and random games of blackjack. Soon after, the rest of them dozed off, along with every other person in the cabin, leaving me the only one remaining painfully awake. I too had managed to doze off for some time when the sudden stop of the train deprived me of what little sleep I could have salvaged.


Scowling at my irksome, yet wholly expected predicament, I decided music was my salvation. Putting on my headphones, I sifted through my playlist and chose a song, not unwitting to the time at the bottom of my cellphone screen: half past four in the morning. Immediately, the psychedelic notes of Pink Floyd started to waft through my ears.


"Lost in thought, and lost in time..." The lyrics seemed oddly fitting to the moment. By then, my grogginess had completely worn off, leaving behind a serene calm that washed over me as I felt the tense muscles of my body relax and give way to a tranquil flow of music. The lights in the compartment were turned off moments ago, perhaps in anticipation of the impending dawn, so I could finally see through the blanket of darkness outside my window. The view outside was eerily captivating: a narrow mud path leading off into the forest beyond, lit only by a sole sodium lamppost. It undoubtedly led to a small secluded community at the edge of the woods, but my mind could not help but wander off to fantasies of banshees and demons lying in wait to consume all that passed through. The thought sent a chill down my spine, not because of the horrific scenes that played in my mind, but rather because of a human mind's ability to leap to the most pessimistic of conclusions. Shuddering, I turned my head to the window on the other side of the compartment.


In the horizon was a small village. How entirely different it was from my own habitat! The high-rise buildings were replaced with tin houses with bamboo roofs while indoor plumbing fell to its knees in front of tube-wells and outdoor latrines. A place where actual post reigned supreme over high speed internet, and people had actual social communications and relationship, it was a refuge for individuals desperately tired of the daily rat-race of modern city life.


"...and she's buying the stairway to heaven." Seven minutes passed with the train completely immobile, and it was now the voice of Led Zeppelin blaring though my headphones. Three seats in front of me, a curly-haired varsity student jerked awake, his bleary eyes tiredly inspecting his surroundings. As if after reminding himself where he was, he dragged himself to his feet and shuffled towards the end exit of the compartment. I was just about to follow, eager for human interaction after hours of silence, when I noticed a cuboid bulge in his jeans pocket - a packet of cigarettes. After going through mental hell years ago in my successful attempt to quit smoking, I was not going to walk into a potential chance at inhaling what I had fought so hard against. Smokers have an unspoken, unwritten code: "Share your conversations over a cigarette." Hanging out with a smoker would guarantee that I would have to smoke at least one cigarette, and while it wasn't exactly harmful, a risk of relapse was one I simply could not take. In an attempt to distract myself, I shifted in my seat and scrolled through my music playlist. But before I could pick the next song to play, the unmistakable whistle of a train sounded in the distance. So that was why our train was stopped for so long - to let another pass! The staccato churning of a monstrous vehicle grew closer and closer, and in the blink of an eye, it was zooming past us on the track beside ours. Faces stared out at me from the windows of our neighbor. Upset, eager, thankful, happy, depressed, wondrous, knowing, sorrowful - no two faces had the same emotion, and a split second was all it took to capture the vast melting pot of human emotions into a single point in time.


A sudden jerk announced that the train was about to recommence its journey. Looking around in the compartment led to the discovery that all my travelling companions were still in sound sleep. Smiling to myself, I settled comfortably in my seat and put my headphones again. The gentle swaying of the train once again lulled me into a state of being half-asleep as I closed my eyes, losing myself in thought and time.

© 2014 Peter Regal Whittam

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This was a very interesting, the variety of words you employed as well as the employment its self was very well done. I'm definitely going to be look at the rest of your work.

My only complaint would be the depth of your character, at times you hint of the wonder or opinion that I believe would have rounded him off quite nicely - but still leaves some to be desired. In example, when confrontrd with smoking, fear is evident in his thoughts. However, being an relapse that hes afraid of, it would stand to reason there might be longing or disgust mingled with said fear.

Whatever you decide is best, I still enjoyed it as it is!

Posted 3 Years Ago

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Added on September 13, 2014
Last Updated on September 13, 2014
Tags: night, train, solemn, serene, calm, nature, emotions, solitude, travel


Peter Regal Whittam
Peter Regal Whittam

Chittagong, Bangladesh

Hello, I'm Peter, a hobbyist writer. I have always had an attraction towards what I like to call "text-based art", but my passion for writing did not bloom until recently, and it has been growing ever.. more..