On Journey

The young woman was crunched up in the corner seat, head leaning towards the grimy window. Her dark, curly hair covered half of her face. A young boy asleep on her lap, his head cradled on her left arm, legs dangling over hers. She was dozing when she suddenly felt something moving up the inside of her thigh. Her free hand flew down to the object, her head turned and her eyes flew open. The man sitting next to her was grinning. She swatted his hand away from her and glared at him angrily. Shifting the young boy around so that he created some sort of barrier between her and the man. He was completely unabashed and went to put his hand on her knee once again. She slapped it again and told him to stop it through gritted teeth. She daren’t shout as everyone else in the dimly lit carriage was asleep. She threw a glance across at her partner who sat opposite, slumped, eyes shut and completely oblivious of what she was going through. Her young daughter was fast asleep snuggled in to the soft and comfy marshmallow lap of an elderly nun who was extremely overweight.

The woman sighed. This whole trip was turning into a nightmare. The journey from Tunis to Casablanca was much more complicated than they had first thought. On seeing a railway route through the three countries it had seemed like a good idea. Now though, crammed into an eight seat carriage with 9 adults (including three very overweight nuns) and two children, with a man sitting next to her who couldn’t keep his hands to himself she was desperately tired. But every time her eyes closed he would try to grope her. What was it with these Arabic men that gave them the right to touch foreign women in this way? It had been the same in Pakistan some years ago and it made her feel very angry. They didn’t treat their own women in this way, but western females were fair game it appeared. Even women who were obviously in a relationship and mothers!

Whilst she was regretting not carrying a penknife and imaging what she would like to do with it, one of the nuns suddenly began to fit. Her whole body started shaking and her arms flailed out hitting those next to her. Her body slid down onto the floor of the carriage. The Algerian man leapt up and pulled the communication cord. The train braked so quickly that everyone was thrown forward by the motion. The screeching of the brakes whilst the train came to a halt was replaced by clanking noises as everything cooled down. Then silence. The people in the carriage looked at each other. The woman on the floor continued to twitch. There was no room to get to her and see how she was. Minutes went by. The western man in the corner opened one eye and looked around, he groaned in pain, closed his eye and went back to sleep. The little girl woken by the noise began to cry and was soothed back to sleep by her mother. Suddenly there was a tapping on the window. The young woman was startled to see a face pressed against it from outside.  The Algerian moved to open the top part of the window and had a short and furious conversation with the man outside who turned out to be the guard. Because the train was so full it was impossible for him to walk down the corridor to the carriage. It also appeared that they were in the middle of nowhere and would not be able to remove the nun until they reached a bigger town some miles away. The woman looked out into the opaque blackness from where no help was coming.

Throughout the night the train stopped at unlit stations and people got off the train. Fortunately not many got on and gradually the corridors emptied sufficiently for the nun to be taken off at one of the larger towns. Dead or alive it was difficult to tell. She had received no medical attention and had eventually become still. The young woman held hands firmly with the Algerian man for the rest of the night.

Eventually, somewhere around dawn, the train pulled into the station in Oran where it terminated.  The family had to change here for a train to the Moroccan border at Maghnia / Oujda. The woman picked up her rucksack, gathered her children and asked about her partner’s health. The Algerian man shook their hands, still grinning and totally unconcerned by his behaviour on the train and then waved them goodbye.

The family of four found seats in an open carriage around a table. Alone. The exhausted young woman was finally able to close her eyes. For now.

~wander.essence~  On Journey

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I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

32 thoughts on “On Journey”

  1. That’s a powerful personal memoir, Jude. Took me right into the train with you. Reads like great fiction. 🙂
    (When I went to Tunisia in 1975, the men were fascinated by the natural blonde hair of my first wife. I got into some ‘tussles’ with those who tried to touch her. I eventually asked a travel company rep what the hell was going on. She shrugged, and told me. “Free love, The Swinging Sixties, all that stuff. Some local men think all western women are available for sex, married or not”. I wasn’t happy with that explanation.)
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. It becomes very wearying fighting off all the advances. It’s one reason why I avoided going to many countries though I dare say no-one would be remotely interested in me now 😀

  2. oh my Jude . . . .at first I thought I was reading a story and then suddenly I twigged it was a memory. Your experience is exactly why I was very cautious on my choice of countries for my solo RTW trip. Glad you escaped this train, but now slightly worried about the rest of your journey. Although at least I know you did get home eventually!

    1. The rest of the journey wasn’t as bad, though eventful as was the previous journey! All in all a very bad decision to head across North Africa with two small children, but yes, we did all survive.

  3. Can I assume you are the young woman on the train with the children, fending off attempted gropes by the Algerian? Excellent story, Jude; I am right there with you in that highly awkward, uncomfortable and even scary situation. I wonder what happened to the nun? Was she okay? Or maybe you never knew! Now you’re making my decision for me, I think. I was considering taking a train from Marrakesh to Casablanca on April 23 after my G Adventures tour is over, but maybe I’ll just pay the extra and hire a private car!. Excellent journey story! I’ll link it to my next one of February 20. 🙂 And I LOVE the family photo! It’s such a vintage snapshot. 🙂

    1. You assume right Cathy. We did better within Morocco as we booked sleeper berths, but I wouldn’t personally travel alone in Morocco.

  4. The photo is wonderful, Jude. I, too, thought it might be a story based on experience rather than the real thing, till I got towards the end. Not one you’d want to repeat! 😦

    1. It was an exhausting journey with two small children and we were quite relieved to return to Europe several days later.

  5. Great emotive writing Jude. It had me visualising that crowded carriage and the exhaustion you were feeling and it took me a while to realise it was really an experience that you went through. What an adventurer you were.

  6. What a story! Like others, I thought you were observing the young woman and took a while to twig it was you. I don’t think I could ever have undertaken that journey. Do the children have memories of it (the whole experience not necessarily that bit) or were they too young?

    1. My son remembers his fourth birthday which we spent in Malta as we took him on a carriage ride. My daughter remembers nothing at all. Perhaps as well 😀

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