I would consider myself a fairly comfortable traveller. Apart from the odd wave of nausea on a rough boat trip I can withstand most forms of transportation with dignity and stomach contents intact. In fact, the only time I have disgraced myself in the realm of public transport was that one unfortunate time – 11 years ago – when I was presented with my Thai Airways breakfast of what looked like scrambled eggs but tasted like scrambled cardboard, and which I obligingly ate, then consequently un-ate in the middle of the plane. This horrendous incident was made all the more worse by the fact that a) the seat belt signs had been turned on, so I couldn’t sneak discreetly away to the bathroom, and b) I was stuck, smack-bang, in the middle of three large holidaying families who could do nothing other than to help me hold my sickbag, and continue to pass me more for the duration of the journey in case I needed them. As most people idled out of the plane expressing their goodbyes to the waiting hostesses, I shuffled up with a “umm, here you go” and passed her my sickbag.
Actually, I lie. There was also that time I had to withstand a 24-hour bus ride with chronic gastroenteritis – and therefore chronic diarrhoea – with all my Argentinian classmates. Luckily for me there was a toilet on board – a urinal, admittedly – but at that point I wasn’t one to argue. Even more luckily for me we had been partying for 10 days non-stop as a sort of ‘graduation trip’ and everyone was so exhausted that they slept the entire trip home: ie. no one saw me getting up every hour and slinking away to the bathroom. Dignity: fairly intact.
Which brings me to the fateful night of January 10 2014, where I would find myself feeling quite unwell on a train headed for Hyderabad, India.
Now, travelling by train in India is quite a treat. Thankfully, despairingly long journeys can be travelled overnight in reasonable comfort due to whole compartments that convert into a bunk-bed type arrangement. You board the train at a fairly respectable hour like 8pm, spend a few hours feigning conversation with the people sitting within your compartment, then at that glorious hour of about 10 or 11pm, you fold down your bed and succumb to the gentle vigorous rocking of the train, waking at 8am (or whatever time) as you pull into your destination station. One second-class sleeper compartment consists of eight beds: two lots of three-high facing each other, and a two-high across the aisle positioned length ways. All compartments are fully open save the dividing walls and there is a constant stream of people walking through to the bathrooms at either end, or selling things. Or, just stopping to look at you because you are foreign and that is what Indians do. I digress.
As a type of preventative measure to not get hungry later on when on the train, I filled myself up quite suitably with not one, but two, masala dosas. First mistake. While waiting for the train at the station I decided to try buttermilk. It is sold everywhere in India, and as everything here is served incredibly sweet I assumed it would bring to my mouth a sweet creamy goodness much like that of a lassi. It did not. If you have not tried buttermilk I seriously suggest you keep it that way. Urgh. Second mistake.
Climbing up to the top bunks of our compartment, Angelo and I settled ourselves in for the night. We have found that these are the best beds to choose as they are permanently set up so you are not at the mercy of your fellow passengers as to when you can sleep. I took off my shoes and popped them into the side pocket on the wall and slid myself into my travel sheet where that familiar rocking sent me off to sleep in no time.
But, I soon awoke.
I felt a wave of dread wash over me. No wait, that was nausea. Oh, shit.
Now, you may think this was not such a terrible situation. But as I lay in my bunk – as still as humanly possible – I started planning an exit strategy. There was one thing working in my favour: I was a mere 5m from the bathroom. All I had to do now was: sit up – something you want to leave till the last minute when on the verge of chundering; wriggle out of my sleeping sheet; put on my shoes; climb down from the third bunk; run to the bathroom; lock bathroom door – in case it swings open and knocks you onto a dirty disgustingly filthy floor; and, puke into a tiny hole (about 15cm diameter) while the train is knocking about at around 100km/hr, all in less than about 20secs. All this presuming that the toilet is not already occupied when I get there. Feeling a little disheartened about my chances of success, I decided to remain lying as still as humanly possible and instead just talk myself out of it. Third mistake.
Talking myself out of it – I used to be able to do this. All I need to do is block everything out, think about anything not relating to food, drinks or eating, and swallow continuously until it passes. I also need to sit up. The thing about the top bunk on a train is you cannot sit up without first dislocating your neck to a 90 degree angle. In short: it was a stupid idea.
Seeing my time limit flash before my eyes I decided to make a break for it. I slid out of my sheet and to the end of the bunk, sat up and grabbed both shoes. I got one on, then the next, then… projectile vomited into my lap. Actually, first I did what every on-the-verge-of-vomiting person does: covered my mouth with my hand, which instead of stopping my dinner – why do we think it’s going to stay in our mouths if we do this? – only guided my puke upwards into my eyes and all over my face, and sideways – straight onto the wall. Nooooooooooooo!
With eyes burning and face sopping wet I tried to catch what I could in my scarf (one of the reasons why scarfs are invaluable when travelling), but then it happened again! I couldn’t stop! IT WOULDN’T STOP! I puked again into my scarf, but not all that successfully. I took off my shirt (I had a t-shirt underneath, luckily) and tried to wipe the wall save some of it found its way to my non-the-wiser neighbour beneath me. It was everywhere. All over my face, all over my t-shirt, my scarf and now my shirt, and I had a pool of it in my lap and underneath me.
In marginal hysterics I prodded Angelo until he woke up – in shock I might add – and told him that he needed to get me a towel and a change of clothes out of my bag, as, in my rather sticky predicament, I couldn’t move. He watched on, a little worried, as I stripped off – in the middle of an Indian train – to my bra and undies and got changed. As my perfect timing would have it, I was back in a clothed and (almost) dignified state just as a middle aged man walked past our carriage and looked up at me. I wiped and wrapped my lot into a ball, and slid down to do my best at rinsing my clothes in a tiny, stinky, dirty train bathroom. I shoved everything into a plastic bag, tied the tightest knot, and tried to conceal any odour inside my pack. I would deal with that tomorrow, and not a moment sooner.
Then, I slept like a baby.
All I can say is thank God that this all happened during the night and that no one saw me, and that I, by some absolute miracle, managed to contain it all on myself. I think from now on, I will endeavour to carry a plastic bag on me at all times – having said that, it’s been over a week and I still haven’t put a bag in my bag – in case the next time I’m caught out in a temple, or heaven forbid, a subway train.
Leaving the train the next day I spotted something. A wee trickle of evidence that had run down the wall underneath my bed… Guess I was luckier than I thought.