The travellers’ mind houses many an apprehension as life on the road can at times be a tough place. The irate, unshaven boarder guard menacingly rolling his sleeves, drooling at the prospect of another backpack intrusion induces fear in any weary traveller. The unclean hostel denying much needed rest with its paperweight bunk beds, decaying toilets and enough suspicious characters to warrant a raid by Interpol. Yet nothing worries more than the prospect of being fooled by the dividing train.
Out-foxing many a traveller the dividing train pulls into a platform as one before a short time later departing as two trains heading in very different directions. Those unaware of the separation and trapped in the incorrect section of the train are faced with arrival at an unintended town, city, or even country. Yet despite many a year spent zigzagging across Europe by rail, travelling on some of the most dangerous and delightful routes, I had yet to encounter such a situation. Indeed, such was the confidence fuelled comfort zone in which I inhabited, I began to question the very notion of a dividing train.
Many a time I have been awoken from my narrow, uncomfortable hostel bed by late night arrivals, victims of the dividing train. They fumble in the dark, blaming one another as to the reason why they are in Brussles and not Berlin. By morning these unfortunate souls had often vanished, rising earlier to retrace their unintended steps. “Fools!,” I often thought. My opinion altered somewhat when a train in which I was travelling pulled into the small Dutch station of Roermond.
Blinded by egotism I failed to recognise the warning signs. The train had emptied, silence replaced the chatter and the accompanying incessant rustling of food packaging. Far from being concerned I welcomed this transformation as too much Dutch gin the previous evening had elevated even further my normally high state of irritability. The train sat motionless for an unusual length of time, yet still my suspicion was not aroused, focussing instead on the behaviour of a bearded, energetic fellow on the platform below.
It was only when the doors of the train carriage clumsily and robotically closed that a sudden fear overcame me. As the train pulled tantalising slowly away from a platform upon which I should be standing I knew I was trapped, undone in the same manner as those who I had unashamedly mocked.
Somebody, somewhere once wrote of the merits of gaining lessons from the journey, not the destination. Begrudgingly, I fear in this instance those words may have some merit.