THE 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.