I spent some time in India, as you may well know, and on one occasion I was taking a train across the desert between Jaipur and Jaisalmer. Anyway it was a long journey, and although you could get some tea every time the wallah came round, the hot sweet tea full of Cinnamon and cloves they do pale impressions of over here, but you couldn’t get any food you’d risk eating, even 6 months in country. I’d brought a load of biscuits and sweet bread with me and shared it with the guy it the seat next to me. He was class. Real class.
A tall warrior, he was a commander of an elite border unit with 18 years experience fighting the Pakistani’s, the Kashmiris’s, the Moaists near Bodguya and the Chinese in Ladhak. He was proud of his service to his country and had the medals and scars to prove his dedication. Anyway after about four hours travel we were in the middle of the dessert and the train slammed on its breaks and a shrieking later we were all picking ourselves off the floor. The day was starting to get hot and as we looked out the windows to our left, the woman who had remained silent throughout the whole first part of the journey and was seated next to the right hand window, let out a scream l hadn’t heard off the silver screen and then, something else from the movies, she fainted. Not quite so picturesque, she had vomited all over herself. As my friend ran over to her and the rest of us sat glued, he too vomited.
The reason we had stopped was the driver had seen something on the track next to him, which was now next to us. And one by one, we stood to look, and if we didn’t vomit we paled. I feel those who were ill immediately were lucky, they had nothing to bring up later. We were the first train to pass this direction that morning and hence were the first to pass the man tied to the opposite tracks, his head and legs destroyed by a train in the night. His brains were spread, still recognisable, about the whole length of our carriage and mess of legs and knees about the same, his shoeless feet were gone. There was a wild dog eating some bit of leg until a guard from the train killed it with a shotgun, adding to the mess. The soldier, having himself vomited, shouted for us to move to the other side of the carriage away from the carnage. He then spent the next six hours cleaning, whilst we baked in the sun and the smell of the corpse began to permeate the whole place, a thick high sweet smell I’ve never been able to forget. While one by one those of us would still could went to the door of the train and were ill. My companion, the soldier tried to keep us all amused, some of us were fairly hysterical and I’d been listening to the Requiem For a Dream sound track for about an hour and was about to move onto some Aphex Twin, so you know i wasn’t in my right mind anyway.
So he started to tell everyone’s fortune. He was an armature, self taught chiromancer and he had us all relaxed as we could be, telling us all of our fortunes and misfortunes. He took my hand, one of the last, and ran his hard weathered fingers over it, he took out a small compass and made some measurements. And wouldn’t say any more.
Later, when were getting off the train and I was nearly blind with tiredness and dehydration he told me what he’d seen. I’d be dead at 45, myself killed by a train. There would be blood on the tracks.