You are not spontaneous. Unplanned trips unnerve you. Especially when you neither speak the language nor like the cuisine. But it’s the final semester of college and your life is nowhere near as together as you hoped it’d be and in a fit of misguided optimism and peer pressure you decide to take chances and try something new. Any hopes of cancelling the plan at the last minute goes out the window once the unnecessarily expensive tickets are booked and ofcourse it has to be the first train of the day.
You wake up groggily, shaking away the remnants of the half finished episode of Grey’s Anatomy from last night that had continued on in your dream and search the corners of your brain to find one good excuse to cop out of this whole ordeal. No! God knows when you’ll get to meet these people once college ends in three months. This is good for you. Get out there. You make it to the train on time and are delighted to find the compartment empty. Nothing screams irony more than an annoying co-passenger who, ignoring all your friends laughing and joking about, takes an instant liking to you, the quiet kid with his earphones in, and decides to ramble on about his life’s stories. Granted, you like to listen but the problem is they expect you to share as well. However your delight is short lived as your friends begin to share past experiences about this particular train and its indigenous sect of passengers, whom, let’s say, don’t have a particularly strong hold on railway rules. God, I hope I used ‘whom’ right.
A couple of men join you in the next station, just as you and your friends have decided to take a short nap. Can’t occupy the middle berth now that they want to sit and chat. You end up opting the bottom one as it involves the least movement and thus reduces any chances of public humiliation arising out of your inherent clumsiness that magically appears around strangers. Worst idea ever. As your eyelids begin to droop, the scent of betel leaves and chewing tobacco rudely interrupt your senses. A loud conversation and bright sunlight from a newly opened window join the party. You eye the empty upper berth just sitting there, waiting to be taken. But you’ve been lying here for a while now. What if they notice you switching and find out it’s ’cause of them? What if they think you’re some kind of snob? Do you really want them to find out they’ve inconvenienced you? Can you bear to be such a burden on the world? You work out a plan and decide to casually get up, stretch, maybe throw in a yawn and casually talk to your friend as you announce that you’ve decided to move to the upper berth since it’s closer to the fans. It’s a grand success and you have your safe little space above all the drama where no one can see you. So much for a seat change. When are you going to learn that nobody has the time to see anyone else but themselves? That the feeling of a spotlight following you around everywhere only exists in your head? Nobody’s looking. Nobody’s judging. Nobody cares. Nobody’s got the time to.
Soon enough, the others arrive. You notice the warnings were all true. Some of them have tickets, most do not, all of them have no regard for the compartment or seat numbers. You try your best to stick to your berth and ignore what goes on around you as the compartment gets more and more crowded. Looks like we are right in the epicentre of population explosion. You thank the heavens as a family of two occupy the seats below you, surprisingly their rightful seats, but of course, after relocating a whole hoarde of young gentlemen, high as a kite, to other areas. You don’t speak their language. However they don’t attempt to speak much to you either.
9 hours pass uneventfully. 6 more to go. You are no longer sleepy, but remain lying down looking into your phone, shutting out everything else. A man taps your feet with a wide grin and asks if he can sleep in your berth for a while and you immediately oblige and get down. Soon enough the train rocks you back to sleep and your friend seeing your head repeatedly droop, decides to wake the guy up and demand our rightful seat back. There is a slight commotion as the guy refuses stating that the seat is his and language barriers and the unrest of onlookers don’t help at all. However the guy takes off as more of your friends gang up. Your friend smiles back at you and asks you to take the bed and sleep comfortably. You shrug uncomfortably and stand up to climb back up. Everyone’s going to know the commotion was because of you. You, the guy who’s been sleeping all morning, going up yet again. You are no longer the kind stranger.
You close your eyes. The last three minutes have completely jolted you awake and you’re no longer sleepy. All that for nothing. You just used to be the quiet, shy kid who took pride in being an introvert. You talk a lot and love being the centre of attention when it’s a familiar crowd or a stage but you crawl into your personal cocoon and wish to be invisible when the faces are new. What are you so worried about? What intimidates you so? Does this count as social anxiety? But you won best public speaker last year. Why is it so hard to say no? Why can’t you stop being a doormat and be just a bit more assertive like those around you? Know when to draw the line. You open your eyes briefly pausing the monologue in your head. The booth is filled with atleast seven more people. There is another baby now. The aisle and the doorways are covered with sleeping people. The stench from the bathroom and the smell of tobacco smeared on the walls battle for dominance. You have four more hours to go. Perhaps if the words found release through your fingers, the voices in your head will no longer have anything to say.