The old train creaked and rattled, bursting at the seams with a myriad of different faces, as we began our journey through the stark and arid Greek countryside. My travelling companions and I were heading from Patras to Piraeus, where a ferry awaited to take us to the island oasis of Santorini.
Squeezing onto the packed train, we housed our backpacks in an overhead luggage rack further along the carriage. Before long, we had settled into our sticky leather seats, smug with anticipation and dreaming of the crystal clear water and ouzo-on-the-rocks that awaited us.
Twenty minutes or so into our journey, a loud thud emanated from a little further down the carriage. This was shortly followed by the eruption of a heated argument between
two men: one young and savvy, the other old and leathery.
They appeared to be gesturing towards a backpack that was lying forlornly in the aisle.
I uttered an expletive as I realised that it was not just any backpack, it was MY backpack. It had fallen from the overhead luggage rack.
The incomprehensible argument continued as I cautiously approached the men, swaying unsteadily up the aisle. As I reached them, flushed with embarrassment and desperately wishing that I spoke Greek, the old man reached down and picked up my backpack.
“Wow,” I thought as he lifted it above his head and turned towards the overhead luggage rack, “he’s stronger than he looks and he’s going to put it back”. Oh, how wrong I was.
Time stood still as the old man shoved my backpack out of the train window. My fingernails glanced the dangling waist strap as I lurched over the seats, pushing the old man aside in my desperate attempt to avert disaster. It was too late.
My backpack lingered momentarily, taunting me as I made a fumbling attempt to save it from disappearing into oblivion. Then, like a fart in the wind, it was gone. Somewhat resembling a deer in the headlights, an elongated choking sound escaped my lips as I turned to look at my travelling companions. Their jaws, like mine, had hit the floor. Did that just happen?
Tattered and torn
Now the entire carriage had burst into argument around me as I stood there, dumbfounded, ignorant of what was being said and not entirely sure what to do. Several long minutes passed before the train ground to a weary halt. Someone had evidently informed the driver that we had some cargo overboard.
Fending off panic, I was soon summoned by two stern looking train guards. The heat was unbearable as they questioned me, and the old man, about
“the bag chuck”.
I learned that, on its not-so-graceful descent from the overhead luggage rack, my backpack had knocked a drink from the old man’s hand. Did this justify throwing it out the window? Half the passengers thought yes, the other half no. Agreeing with the other half, the guards escorted the man off the train to waiting police.
After a few long hours of confusion, questions and animated hand gestures, I was informed an engine had gone to look for my backpack and, if it was found, it would be taken to the previous station. Alas, my travel companions and I exited the train and watched glumly as it continued on without us.
A few anxious hours later, we boarded another rickety old locomotive which took us back towards Patras. Our island paradise would have to wait. As we chugged slowly into a tiny station, tired and more than a little cranky, a sight for sore and gritty eyes awaited us. Alone on the platform, like a lost child, was my backpack: tattered, torn and dusty, but still resembling a backpack.
The station guard had found it lying on the tracks, relatively unharmed, and had launched
an impromptu rescue mission. Many zealous thank you’s and a gratefully accepted kiss for the station guard later, I grinned as I swung my dusty backpack over my shoulder and we mounted yet another train; worn-out, slightly ragged and looking forward more than ever to that ouzo-on-the-rocks.