My bed was the only one without a pillow, so I lay down with my head on my bedroll, my head freezing, with a blanket around my legs, also freezing. My torso perspired in my thick ski jacket. My toes were numb. I fell into a tormented sleep.
Kiss that down jacket goodbye
About an hour later I woke up feeling funny. I made my way to the bathroom. The dim light from the hallway showed the rusty metal floor to be covered with mud and slime. My untied shoelaces became saturated with the stuff. The door didn’t close properly, and there was no light. Once I was inside, the place was pitch black. Longing for the clean, warm, velvety, luxury-class cabin I had had on the inbound trip, I staggered — feeling quite ill now — to another bathroom at the opposite end of the car. Suddenly a very large woman — a big, solid blue uniform with a very angry face, stood to block my way. Where had she come from? I nearly knocked her over.
“Where are you going?” she snapped. “To the bathroom.” “There’s a bathroom at the other end!” she said, letting me know that this one was on her turf.
“There’s no light in that one,” I offered.
“Ha! He needs light!” she chortled, and then backed into a little room.
This bathroom had a light. I quickly closed the door, coughed three times, and vomited. Then vomited again. I felt better.
Opening the bathroom door, I met the metallic gaze of two extremely angry eyes.
“And where are you going now?” she demanded.
Holding tenuously onto consciousness and actually hoping for a little sympathy, I groaned, “Back to my seat. I don’t feel well.”
She fumed, literally; the air was so cold I could see the hot breath shooting from her flared nostrils. “Get back in there and clean that place up until it’s cleaner than you found it!”
“Me, clean it up?” My head swam.
“Who else do you expect to clean it?” she spat.
I looked around. I saw only a puddle where I had been sick and a broom handle with a bare wood block at the end.
“What should I clean it with?”
My question angered her so much you’d have thought I’d told her to lick up my vomit.
“How should I know? Take that jacket off and wipe the floor with it!” she screeched and stormed into her room.
I touched my 80 percent down, 20 percent feather-filled jacket lovingly, bidding it a tender farewell. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t think; I was very sick. My head burned, and I felt half-conscious.
As fortune would have it, I found a napkin in one pocket. I tore it up and began to mop my vomit up with each little piece. I wiped the floor. I wiped the disgusting toilet. The smell — not to mention the sticky slime all over my fingers-almost made me throw up again. I rinsed my hands in the sink and once again plodded off toward my bunk, clutching my stomach.
The woman was in my way again, eyes glinting like dirty ice. I could tell she was disappointed to see that I hadn’t sacrificed my jacket. She peered into the bathroom.
“That’s not clean!” she railed. “Look at that wall! I guess where you come from, foreigner, you can go around vomiting wherever you want and have people clean it up for you, but not here. Get back in there and clean. Clean! Or I‘ll call the militia at the next stop!”
Her words rang past my ears with such force I wanted to return the pain with a slap. But my body was numb, and my arms hung limply. I slinked back into the bathroom and soaked up the last patches of putrescence with the last piece of the napkin, then returned to my bunk — with eight hours yet to go.