The train is sleeping now. I touch the tops of the seats for balance as I walk the rocking aisle. Snores and little whimpers come from other people’s dreams. In one car, four old men sit beneath a buzzing bulb, which illuminates their white heads and the cards they pass between them. Two young girls whisper to each other and eat bananas, tossing the peels out the window so that they flap for an instant, suspended. In the space between cars, sadhus sleep. Draped in ochre robes, they snore as if the train’s floor has always been their bed. Tonight, this is my India: through rattling open windows, salted wind.

Flecks of stars and streetlights break the inked outlines of hills and buildings and the occasional, massive palm. The sadhus sputter in their sleep. I sit carefully on the lip of the stairs and watch the silver rice paddies whip past. Occasional squared crosses. The stone walls of whitewashed churches, built by the Portuguese.

I don’t hear three old men draw up behind me until they’re squeezing into the doorway to peer out, too.

Where you go, the tallest one says. He wears an old brown hat and a blue jacket. His navy pants blow out wide in the wind, and on his feet he wears rubber purple flip-flops. His face is tanned but unwrinkled, his hair and eyebrows pure white. His eyes glow gray.

Gokarna, I say. He taps at the floorboards with his cane.

Gokarna, each man says to himself. The shortest chews betel and crouches along the wall, glowering at the peeling paint.

Twelve-thirty, the tall man says slowly, eyes closed as if to better summon the English words. Twelve-thirty Gokarna comes. The other two men lean far out the open doorway, each holding a bar with one knotted hand. They stare out into the night as if they are looking at a place very familiar to them, and I wait with the old men for Gokarna to come.

When the train slows, the men nudge me. The station is lit by one bulb. The men are whispering, Gokarna. I toss my pack down and jump out after it, and then I look once more at the rattling door and the three old men leaning out. The train never stops moving, and the tracks are a singing, jungled curve.

About the author

Kate McCahill has travelled with her trusty red backpack through Asia, South America, and the South Pacific, and her essays and poems have been…

Read the full bio

Issue 23 · November 2015

Table of contents