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.