Scary Strangers And Nice Strangers

The night train is always a crapshoot unless you are traveling with another person or 3 other friends. I like to minimalize my chances of crazy, so I prefer to book the two-bed car when traveling alone.

My latest trip back to Oz started getting interesting while I was still in the parking lot. I was almost to the terminal doors, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a guy walking in a trajectory that would cause us to collide. I didn’t think he saw me at first, so I stopped to let him pass by, which he did. But he stopped two steps away and turned around. It seemed as if he was pondering how he missed bumping into me. (But that would be a ridiculous supposition, right?) He then looked at me out of the corner of his eye and circled back towards me. At this point I just assumed he was simply going to stare at me as most Georgians do.  But he actually then stopped me and asked, in English, if I knew where the Tbilisi Center was. I was bewildered for two reasons. 1. Trying to figure out this guys’ deal, and 2. Amazed that he, a Georgian, asked me for directions in English.

I thought for a second and pointed in the general direction. He stopped to consider this (but thinking back on it, he was just sizing me up to determine the line of conversation he wanted to have). But unfortunately for me only after this time of pondering did I realize he was plastered drunk.

In the two-minute conversation where I tried to distance myself from him, I found out he was Michael (Misha) from Abkhazia. He also wanted my phone number in case I needed him to fight for me. Which was nice. He followed me into the terminal and kept pulling me to continue talking with him. But finally, after asking where the restroom was, he relented.

Once I found out which track I was supposed to board my train, I went up to use the bathroom. In front of the restrooms my newfound friend was arguing with the security guards. I put my head down and scooted by. I think he was protesting having to pay 50 tetri (cents), which philosophically, I was on his side. But now wasn’t the time to start a crusade with drunk. On the way out of the restroom, they had moved the argument to the escalator. Again, I scooted around unnoticed.  I stopped for a quick tea at a café and tried to finish my book.  5 minutes later, I sensed someone hovering…  I knew without looking it was Misha. I didn’t look or let on that I knew he was there. After the longest minute, he left.

A consistent problem I have with train tickets is I can never read them correctly. I try to decipher the numbers and symbols but always fail. I though I had it this time. I made my way to my train on Track 3. I found that easy enough. I found my car easy enough, too. I was a little early, so I unpacked the essential things I needed and made my bed with the linens they provided. After five minutes, two guys came into my compartment. They obviously thought they were in this car as well. The smaller of the two started speaking to my in English- surprise! I told them that I was probably in the wrong car. And after checking with the attendant, I was indeed in the wrong car. I apologized to the guys and went to find the right one. In my correct compartment, I found an old lady in the opposite bunk. This was going to be awkward.

The lady I deciphered, wanted me to switch bunks with her by going down several compartments. Okay.  In that compartment, I thought I was going to have it all to myself. But at the last minute, my neighbor came. He was a young fellow with a 4 year old boy. The only luggage they had was a big grocery bag full of food and another bag concealing what looked like a racket. The little boy was either one of two things the entire journey: either transfixed with me and wanting to talk to me and/or ask his father about me or being fed by his father. Every other word from dad was, ‘eat’ or ‘drink’, which the kid obliged.

Another negative of traveling with strangers (but could also happen with friends) is you don’t know whether they snore or if their feet stink. This guys’ feet stunk.

As I was just about to nod off, the short guy from the first compartment stuck his head in my compartment. He asked if I wanted to talk and eat chips.   …. Okay.

The two guys ended up being brothers from Armenia. They were traveling to the port city of Poti to pick up a car they had ordered online. The bigger of the two brothers was an engineer. He claimed to not speak English, but when asked to translate a word from Armenian to English, he was spot on. The smaller of the two, was the talker. He knew ‘enough’ English to have a labored conversation. He was a University student studying Psychology. He was very anxious to practice his English with someone and was not going to pass on this opportunity. And I was happy to oblige.

We found out that I had visited his home city during my trip to Armenia last fall. And he invited me to come visit him in the near future. Non-touristy Armenia? Yes please!

***

“He’s leaving
On that midnight train to Georgia,
Said he’s going back
To a simpler place and time…”
Midnight Train To Georgia, Gladys Knight

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