Malaise in Munich

I leave Munich on a Friday night. A strange chanting noise follows me onto the train, as though a crowd of football fans are working their way through the station. Boozy shouts and cheers. I am beyond tired, as though all the travelling has meshed together with my malaise at returning home, like some bad romance. I took the cheapest option and paid for a seat (€4) and not a couchette (€20) and made a space for my aching limbs to curl up to a deep, dark sleep, cocooned by my large knit jumper. Woken only briefly by a train guard who gently taps me on the shoulder and then kindly brushes aside my apology for fumbling with my now battered and travel-stained interail pass. Fragments of language, faces and memories assault me through sleep and wakefulness, the motion of the train hardly discernible.

Munich U-Bahn, U1 line, Georg Brauchle-Ring st...

Later I wake to discover that I am sharing the cabinΒ  with a very stiff and formal Indian man, about 30 years old, though aged by his old-fashioned impeccably pressed suit. His fastidious attitude, as he continually sets his hair down just so, adjusts his watch to the exact position on his wrist and flicks the curtains across the cabin windows into place, is a shocking contrast to my lackadaisical travelling air. I feel slightly uneasy about sharing a cabin with a male stranger, but it turns out I have little to worry about; he is more concerned with order and neatness. Goodness only knows what he thinks of me, looking as crumpled as my interail pass.

A field in rural France, seen from the sleeper

Saturday dawns as cold as the night before, mist curling around the edges of the train. We appear to have lost some compartments at some distant stop (in Germany or France?) and I find that I am in the last cabin on the last compartment, which means I can stand at the end of the train and watch the track curve into the distance. I am so glad of my Arron jumper and leather jacket. The train is delayed and my companion begins to panic. He seems remarkably clueless about where he is going and I take pity on him, helping him plan his route on the Metro which baffles him hugely, his eyes as round as a baby lemur’s. I explain its workings again and again but he insists he comes with me on the Metro as we are going the same way. I take him as far as I can and when I come to say goodbye he gets a panicked look in his eye and keeps saying, “I go with you!” He can’t though as he is going a different way to me, so gently I leave him with the copy of the Metro map and the reassurance that the guards will help him if necessary. He seems so lost and bemused that for a long time after I worry he will be wandering around the Metro tunnels for days trying to find his way out. This image of him haunts me the whole way back to London, to Kings Cross, the point at which I cross the boundary into my normal life.

The disappearing train tracks, as seen from the sleeper in France
The disappearing French train tracks
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