A familiar nightmare

 

ktmI fell asleep late, and then only fitfully, the memory of lights and voices echoing in my mind.

I am lying in a small room. I can see lights, faint, dim, through a window. I can hear people, distant, retreating.

I get up. The lights are going out. I call out, but I cannot hear my own voice. The voices and the laughter grow ever more distant. They stop. Now, only silence.

I grope around. The light is very faint now. I find a door and hammer on it, calling for someone to please let me out, anyone, please, let me out…

*

Sleeper train from Gua Musang to Kuala Lumpur Sentral, carriage W2, upper berth number 5. The train is 20 minutes late – we only leave the station after 11pm.

I settle into my bunk – not as roomy as the lower berths, but still surprisingly comfortable, aside from the ceiling lights only a few inches from my head, and not fully obscured by the thin curtains. My neighbours are chatting away – a couple of old women. I watch a few episodes of Community on my iPad, headphones in.

Now it’s past 1am. My neighbours are still chatting. I block out the worst of the light with my travel towel, then arrange myself, my bag and my plastic-wrapped shoes in a cramped version of Sleeper Berth Tetris.

Lying on my side, facing the wall, I exhale. Relax. My neighbours are still chatting, normal conversational volume. I roll onto my back. I roll to the other side. Back onto my back. My neighbours are still chatting. The thin curtain and the travel towel fail to muffle their conversation.

Roll. Roll. Roll. Chat. Chat. Chat.

The next time one of them speaks, I will say something. Ok, the next time. The next time. The next time.

Finally, the time comes. I stick my head under the curtain. “Please, can you be quieter?” Sorry, sorry, hands in supplication, apologetic smiles. I retreat. There is a snigger.

My neighbours are still chatting.

A few minutes later, I emerge once more, a fat Western gargoyle clinging to the upper berth. “Shh! Please! It is very late.” Sorry, sorry. No smiles, no hands in supplication. I retreat.

My neighbours are still chatting. But softly, now. Someone says “Shh!” There is a snigger.

Finally, I fall asleep – late, and then only fitfully, lights and voices of the train echoing in my mind.

I wake a few times, at least once to the sound of my neighbours again. But I fall asleep quickly. The next time I wake, it is 9am – only 45 minutes to our scheduled arrival. But the train was late departing, and likely to get later. A few more minutes, I think, as I doze back off to sleep.

At the edge of my consciousness – in a dream or in reality, I am not sure – I hear voices, movement. Someone says “Shh!” There is a snigger.

I sleep.

*

I wake. I am lying in my small bunk. I can see lights, faint, dim, red, through my window. I can hear people, distant.

There are no lights in the carriage. I look at the time – 10:15. We should be arriving around now.

I listen again. There are only the voices, growing fainter, retreating.

I stick my head under the curtain. There is no-one in the carriage. The lights are off, and there is no-one in the carriage.

I leap out of my bunk. Still no-one. Now, in the next carriage, I see a torch-beam playing over a control panel. Now I can make out the shapes of people.

“Hey!” I call out. They do not look around. “Hey! Hello! Where are we?” Now they look around, and stare at me for a moment. They turn back, without a word.

I walk to the end of the carriage and look out of the open door. There is another train a few metres away, also completely dark, lit only by the dim red lights high above.

There is another man here. He looks at me. “Where you going?”

“Sentral,” I say. “Where are we? What is this place?”

“Sentral?” he says. “Ohhh shit.”

And that’s the story of how I overslept and ended up in the maintenance depot at Kuala Lumpur Sentral Station.

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