HE TRAIN WAS NOT PARTICULARLY CROWDED.
The people in the corridor had enough room to lie stretched out;
the young westerner only had to share the space at the end with an old sadhu.
He leaned against his pack, his head falling on his chest. There was room
enough for his legs his companion was curled up by the other door
but his knees were drawn up and his wrists hung over them. His jacket
was zipped up but his feet were bare. A pair of leather sandals were stuffed
half under the rucksack, their buckles glinting in the moonlight that his
watch reflected into crazy curves on the ceiling.
Only one person seemed to be awake, a wizened little
man who squatted at the far end. He wore a lunghi and a torn white shirt.
He stared out of the window at the paddy fields rolling by. A little village
flickered past and he rubbed his eyes and stood up. He leaned into the corridor
and began to tiptoe over the bodies lying there. He paused between steps
and glanced around. No one noticed him enough to wake up. He reached the
end and maneuvered around the sadhu. He stood still for a full minute. No
one stirred. The train kept its steady rhythm.
He looked quickly back down the corridor and stepped
over towards the youth. Very softly, he knelt beside him and reached out
for the leather strap on his left wrist. The buckle was just visible. Slowly,
he drew the strap through the leather holder and on back till the prong
was exposed and gently on till the strap fell loose. The watch came away
in his hand.
He straightened up and hesitated. Then he leant over
and pulled the sandals out from under the pack. He stepped over into the
next carriage and away.
Ten minutes later, the young man was jarred awake as
the train stopped. He swore furiously but he had enough presence of mind
to make an official complaint. That way, his insurance would pay for it.