As usual, stops were not announced on the train. People familiar with the route rushed the hallways as we pulled into a station–or the last scraps of one. The train paused, the people fled, and the machine continued. Ages before a vague arrival time, I grew terrified that I would miss my stop. I suffered this particular anxiety on every trip. It became a typical part of what I carried on.
A woman and I shared legroom in our train compartment. We kept accidentally kicking and stomping each other, but stopped making polite apology smiles somewhere around hour two. Since this woman was able to engage in small talk with the passport control boy, I waited until he left and nerved-up to ask if she knew which stop might be Novi Sad. She blinked, pressed down a smile. This was also her destination and she pledged to take me along. So finally, rather than reading a paragraph in my book, staring anxiously out the window, re-reading the paragraph, and checking my watch–finally, I could make some progress.
Later, she stood, gave me a nod, and we moved into the snug train hallway for our unannounced arrival. She was blonde and fair, single, an only child, an online trader in Budapest waiting for her big break so she could leave Europe and “chase that rainbow.” She smiled to herself, even as I stood right next to her. From the slow-rolling train, she directed my attention to her childhood home just outside of the city, and as we approached the center she pointed to her parents’ new flat. She asked about the thick novel I was reading and I asked about her similarly sizable book. We spoke vaguely about authors, trains, ambitions.
As we edged toward the exit, she asked what had been on her mind since hour two. She wanted to know why an American was going to Novi Sad. And I smiled to myself, even as she stood right next to me.
-Train from Budapest, Hungary, to Novi Sad, Serbia.