I walk onto the train Saturday morning four minutes before departure time. Facing me are boxes and boxes of people-we are in a compartmentalized train! I call my other friend on the train, confused about whether or not we were on the right train, or in the right class. “Kristen! Are you in a compartment?” “Yeah.” This will be an interesting ride.
My other friend Nicole soon finds her seat, but it’s taken. “What do I do?” “You have to tell them to move. Have fun with that.” I keep walking until I find my seat-the same compartment as Kristen-but there’s someone in my seat as well! “Excuse me, I think you’re in my seat.” The man sitting there-dressed in four shirts layered one on top of another, cargo pants, one earring, and with a scraggly beard-nods, gets up, and moves to the seat next to mine. I don’t think he belongs on the train.
Shortly after Nicole appears at our compartment door. “I think the machine printed two seat #66s, because they had one, too.” She sits down next to me after the questionable man moved over yet another seat. Another young woman appears in our compartment with a ticket for seat 113, where another woman was already half-asleep. The young woman, first speaking French, then switching to Italian, discusses with the woman the nature of their tickets and seat numbers. Both look puzzled, the girl nervously so and the woman calmly so. The woman says that she switched either seats or tickets with another passenger after this happened earlier, so she pleasantly got up and returned to that seat. The French girl sits down, calms herself, then pulls out a small package of cookies, which she kindly offered a piece of to everyone in the compartment. No one took her offer, but we immediately liked her for doing so. Soon she put her iPod headphones in and began blaring Rihanna and other popular artists.
Then, out of nowhere, an older woman with a dark-haired little girl bursts into our compartment door
and yells, “112!! Chi è??” 112, who is it?? The questionable man had moved into seat 112. She began screaming about how she had paid for a seat and doesn’t have one, how she paid for the little girl’s seat and she doesn’t have one, and how that’s our faults. The French girl cries, “Basta! Basta!” Enough! Enough!, while the questionable man tries to explain the ticket and seating system. The woman won’t hear it and screams louder, getting right in the man’s face. Questionable man continues arguing back while this woman is angry to the point of violence. Finally the man gets her to listen to him as he explains that her ticket says Seat 112, Car 6. We were in Car 7. As she storms off she yells loudly about something, but soon the woman is no longer heard. I ask if we can close the compartment door to keep her away. Our compartment laughs and we close the door. Like I said, this will be an interesting ride.
Later on, a female conductor comes to our compartment door and asks who has seat 113. The French girl looks up and raises her hand slightly. The conductor asks, “Parli italiano?” Do you speak Italian? “Un poco,” she replies. The conductor begins explaining in English, but upon seeing the girl’s confused expression in Italian, that she does not have a seat on the train. Her ticket said ‘Seat Not Guaranteed;’ her return ticket said Seat 113, Car 7. According to the conductor, another woman has
this seat and is being required to move there. We all panic as Kristen voices our collective question: “Is it the crazy lady?” Nicole, the questionable man, and I laugh, and the questionable man begins explaining to the conductor what happened, his imitations of the crazy woman making us all laugh. The conductor says a few more things I didn’t catch, and then ushers the woman forward-it was the woman who was originally sitting in that seat! When we saw her we all sighed in relief and laughed at the crazy turn of events. Yet, we’re all a little sad because the French girl has to leave. She slowly makes her way out, and bids us a cheerful, “Ciao!” as she goes. We ask the questionable man what has happened with the tickets, and he explains that seat numbers change depending on who gets off when. The questionable man knew excellent English, and explained to us happily and fully the seating system. We thanked him. Later, while stopped at Bologna the French girl reappeared and the newly dubbed “Awesome Man” moved into a vacant seat to let the French girl sit. As Awesome Man stands up to let her sit, he gets out of the compartment and asks her if she wants coffee. She says no thank you, and puts her headphones back in. I wish I’d asked for names. Next time I will.
– Kathryn Herbert