The train to Jaipur rattles into the station, brakes piercing the heavy evening air. “I’m so glad we upgraded to first class,” Sarah says to her friend, looking at the night sky while she wraps her yellow silk scarf more tightly around her neck. “Finally, we’ll be able to get some sleep.” The buzzing station lights cast a pale green tint over Margot`s weary face. “If I have to sit on one more train floor beside one more lavatory and listen to the sloshing of human shit I’m goin’ scream.” “Nah,” Sarah replies. “It’ll be great. Our very own cabin. No more passengers. No more wailing babies. No more creepy men staring at my boobs and making sucky noises. Paradise. ”
The boarding gates open. The long, orderly lineup turns into a sea of bodies, lurching forward and jostling the two women. Sarah and Margot hug their knapsacks closer and thrust their boarding tickets at a small man with sticky eyeglasses and faded uniform. He blinks at them for an instant and points to a car.
They climb the steep and narrow stairs to the train and squeeze to their left, scanning numbers posted in gold above the private rooms. At A12, Sarah stops and studies her crumpled ticket stub. “Ah, here we are. Home sweet home. She draws open the sliding door to the cabin. One hand on her left hip, she surveys the tiny room ―two upright couches, an empty overhead bin, a small weather-beaten coffee table. She looks down and frowns at a large red suitcase lying in the middle of the floor.
Margot peers over Sarah’s shoulder “What the fuck”, says Margot. “What the fuck is right,” repeats Sarah.
The two women hover in the doorway momentarily before stepping into the room. Together, they attempt to drag the suitcase to the side. It’s too heavy. Sarah pokes her head out the cabin door and calls out for an official, anyone. Nobody. The train is suddenly asleep. She locks the door.
They step over the suitcase and take their seats. “What if there’s a body inside? ” says Margot, staring at the suitcase. “Wait, maybe it’s the severed head of some poor tourist.” Sarah ignores her, glancing nervously out the window into the darkness. The engine starts and the train slowly picks up speed. She closes the blinds.
Gradually, the women are lulled to sleep by the rolling train, their heads bobbing gently against the upholstered chair backs.
Five hours later, the train shrieks to a stop. Margot opens her eyes and scans the cabin. She pulls open the shade and looks out. The sky is a pale gold. People walk on the sides of the road. A young man on a motorcycle zips past with a woman on the back, a sprig of white jasmine in her hair. A camel appears. Margot gently opens the window and catches the tinkle of the camel’s ankle bells and behind the big beast, a man dressed all in white and wearing a rose-coloured turban. “Sarah, wake up! I think we’re here.”
Sarah sits up with a start. She looks around the cabin. “Margot… the suitcase. It’s gone!”
They look down at the floor where the suitcase once lay. In its place, a bowl of lotus flowers in a soft beam of morning light.