There were four people in our cabin; a Dutchman, well into his sixties; a young English bloke; and us. The Dutch guy was very quiet and kept himself to himself, sitting on his bunk, staring out of the window or reading paperback.
Late one night, somewhere in Siberia, we pulled into a train station. I sat up. The Dutch guy got out of his bunk, put on his dressing gown, and said we seemed to be stopping for a while and that he was going to stretch his legs. The others were still asleep.
After a while I dozed off again, too.
When I woke we were rattling away again, the vast tundra stretching out either side. The Dutch guy – never did find out his name – was not in his bunk. Wonder where he went? Must be in the dining car.
As the morning passed and he didn’t come back from breakfast, we started wondering aloud where he was. We asked questions of other passengers. Finally we told the conductor, who organised a search.
He was no longer on the train. But is passport was still in backpack. So were his wallet and all his credit cards.
Never did find out what happened to him. Sometimes I imagine him standing on a deserted train station, in the middle of the vast tundra wastes, in his paisley dressing gown and slippers, waiting for the next train and nervously eying the wolves watching him from the end of the platform.
Or toiling in a windswept prison farm, somewhere near Omsk, eating gruel and tearing at a moldy hunk of stale bread with frost-blackened fingers.
How did he miss the train? I’ll never know.
But at least the story had a happy ending. He left behind some rather tasty poffertjes in his backpack. They were delicious.