My son likes Thomas the Train but the newer episodes seem strange to me. Narrated by Alec Baldwin, his voice conjures up 30 Rock or Saturday Night Live. His raspy vocalizations seem misplaced on the Island of Sodor. Thomas is so eager to please, so concerned with being useful. We should all be so diligent with our life trajectories, laser-focused on our purpose. What satisfaction he finds with a job well done, what eagerness he displays to please Sir Topham Hatt.
My son, too, is eager to please, but also wants what he wants in the typical preschooler way. He likes to link all this toy trains together, crowd them all on the winding wooden tracks. He wears his Thomas overalls, sleeps on his Thomas pillow, reads his Thomas books. I crouch to his low table to help assemble the puzzle-piece-like ends of the tracks, create a circuit for the trains to follow. I too like clicking the trains together, end to end, magnets locking. Each train helpfully pulling its neighbor to the desired destination.
My lids are heavy; we got up early to take the boat from Naxos back to Athens. Walking up the steep stairs from the port to catch the train, I could’ve sworn a rogue hand reached toward my backpack, fumbling for something of worth. Sealed tightly, I snatched my bag away as the arm disappeared into the swarming crowd. The end of our European tour, we’re heading back to an Athens hotel after several weeks of Swiss Alps, French museums, Italian countryside, Austrian opera, German beer. Our worn bag is full of dirty clothes and camping gear, Rick Steves travel books picked apart.
I keep our small bag with valuables on my lap as we take precious seats on the packed train. My husband dozes next to me. Suddenly someone taps him, then, in broken English: “Is that your bag?” We both turn to see another man struggling to lug our huge green canvas pack out the open double doors. My husband jumps up, pushes his way through and out of the train, not thinking.
They both stand there on the platform, staring at each other; a stand off. Eventually my husband pushes the perpetrator back, away from the bag and heaves the heavy pack as he slides back through the train doors, just as they close. The train speeds on to the next station. I wonder what we’d have done if he’d been caught at the stop, holding our bag, standing by the thief. No cell phones, no contingency plan. We hadn’t even decided where we were staying that night. I would’ve had all the cash, both our passports. I look at our crumpled bag and all I can think of is how disappointed the thief would have been: all that’s in there is our ratty stinky travel clothes.
I like looking out the window as the world speeds by. Bright earthy fields of Kerala, the train jolts back and forth hypnotically as the greens all blur. I think it allows an introvert like me to observe so much without getting involved; I can participate in the wonder of the world without expending the energy to interact, to please others, to represent myself.
We have a six bed cabin, fold down the upper berths for the overnight trip. My mom has sewn me a lightweight sleeping mat made from two soft bedsheets, a pillow case sewn in at the end. I unroll the mat onto the thin mattress and climb in. The train’s to and fro is soothing to the weary traveler, but the early morning hour is punctuated with the pre-dawn calls of “Chai! Chai!” throughout the train car as peddlers distribute the milky drink.
It’s morning, just barely, and tea time is in order. The spicy sweet scent mixes with the intense body odor of too many people who haven’t showered in too long. I look out the window and take in the grey morning light. I can just make out the shadows of the passing landscape, the new Indian day as it takes form.