Nithin Coca is a Freelance Writer and author whose traveled to over 44 countries. This is an excerpt from his first book, Traveling Softly and Quietly, now for sale on Amazon.
I looked up as a cute girl walked up and said something in Italian to the man in front of me and then put her bag on the rack above and sat down in our booth. With lightly tanned skin, medium-dark neck-length brown hair, well dressed in a beige suit that went down to her knees, she was very pretty. I wondered if she spoke English. Should I try to talk to her? I tensed up with fear—what if she rejected me? I'd have to sit here in front of her for hours. Not worth it.
The train quickly filled up. I noticed two men walking down the aisle talking in English. I checked my cell phone—we were to depart any minute now.
“Well, I'll sit here,” said one of the men, waving towards the seat to my left. He was Indian.
“Wait for us on the platform, I'm gonna join Jason up ahead,” said his partner, with a strong American accent.
“Alright, I'll find you later,” said the other man as he placed his small duffel bag on the rack above us. He was short and skinny, with a large bald spot on the top of his forehead surrounded by thinning black hair intertwined with specs of white. He was middle-aged, and I wondered what he and his American friends were doing on a train to Venice.
But I didn't ask. How ironic, my first train ride of the world tour, and next to me, an Indian from the States. Shy, I looked out the window, waiting for the train to depart so I could take a nap. I let my thoughts wander, my eyes began to feel heavy, and my neck slowly began to drift downward as the train pushed into motion.
“You're American?” I heard in a quick, softly accented female voice. I looked up.
“Yes,” said the Indian guy. How did that happen? The cute Italian girl was talking to my middle-aged seatmate. Not me. What could I do? Sit here and pretend not to notice, or jump in with some, “You're speaking English!” enthusiasm?
“What are you doing in Italy?” she asked the man.
“I'm here for business, in Milan, we figured we would take a quick daytrip to Venice while we're here,” he responded in a very friendly tone.
“But you were born in America?”
He smiled. “No, I'm from India, but I've lived in America for twenty years. There are many Indians in America,” he said as he laughed and turned to me. How did he know? I couldn't believe my luck, I was being welcomed into the conversation.
Her big, penetrating eyes moved over with him towards me. “Are you American too?” she asked excitedly.
I smiled, “Yes, I am.”
The girl's name was Jennifer, and she was currently in school in Milan and on her way back to her hometown, near the Austrian border in northern Italy. The Indian-American was Rahul—he was originally from Chennai but had been in Pittsburgh for twenty years, and was in Italy doing work on a water treatment plant in Milan. Jennifer had been on a high school exchange program in Washington state, which was why she spoke English well. We asked her about Milan.
“Milan is all about money, how you dress, what clothes you wear,” she said.
“So very materialistic...they care only about what they have?” I said.
“Yes. I don't like it, but the school is very good.” Her words stood in contrast to her fashionable dress and the Gucci bag that she was carrying. She seemed quite Milanese.
We kept talking, three people from completely different backgrounds. My first train ride was going so well, if this was what traveling solo was going to be like, this was going to be one amazing trip. Train rides full of conversations, beautiful girls, and tapping into the mystique and beauty of the world. Traveling was going to be absolutely amazing, I could already feel it.
“So,” I asked, looking ahead at Jennifer, “are you just going home to visit?”
She flinched, and, for the first time, she looked away from us. I could see emotions flash through her eyes.
Taking a deep breath, she turned back to us, distraught.
“I'm going to see my ex-boyfriend.”
“Your ex?” I said. Oh no. My awe faded into nervousness.
“Yes. He broke up with me last night, and I'm going to see him.” There was another pause, as I wondered how to react.
“Can I ask you guys—I'm scared, I need some advice.”
She quickly told us the story. Her long-distance boyfriend had broken up with her about twelve hours ago by email. She'd come to the train station at the break of dawn and bought a ticket to where he lived.
“That's a lame way to breakup,” I said.
“I know! And we were together for five years,” she said. After crying and being unable to sleep all night, and attempting repeatedly to call him, unsuccessfully, she had decided that this wasn't how this relationship was going to end.
“I am just going to show up. If he won't let me in, I'll wait there until he does. But he cannot break up with me over email, he has to tell my face,” she told us, the radiance slowly returning. I imagined her boyfriend, thinking he'd gotten out of this relationship scot-free, only to find a vicious, sleep-deprived girl banging on his door, refusing to leave.
She flinched again, the confidence faded from her face. “Do you think I am crazy,” she asked us, her eyes eager for reassurance.
“Don't worry,” said Rahul, smiling, with a tone of reassurance, easily trumping my blank mind, “you'll be fine.”
I was glad to have Rahul here, with his calming voice and warm smile. Inside, I was shaking with anxiety, clueless as to what to say.
I wanted to tell her that I wasn't just traveling for fun, that there was a burden on me too, perhaps more deeply hidden, but still there. Desires. Loss. The images of India and my Grandma's funeral just six weeks ago seemed to be from another planet, far away from the Italy of now.
So I said nothing. It would be easier when I was traveling with my friends in a few weeks, then I could gain courage. That was why I was in Europe, heading towards Spain. To party, finally, and become comfortable in my own skin.
As we entered the tunnels through the mountains of central Italy, we began to feel the weight of the early morning departure. The conversation slowly died, as I began to doze off, and Jennifer, finally feeling the effects of the stress and turmoil of the past day, finally began to show signs of fatigue. Every once in a while I'd catch her looking down at her bag, a glimmer of fear streaking across her face.
“Do you think I shouldn't have gone?” she asked, noticing me.
“I think you're doing the right thing. Email is such a stupid way to break up. If you didn't do this, you'd probably regret it later,” I said. One reason I was on this trip, experience it all so I would have no regrets.
“You are right,” she said, but her eyes turned upwards, betraying her nervousness. I turned away before she could ask another question.
Not long thereafter, nearly two hours after leaving Milan, the train pulled into a station. Jessica's eyes became bright again as we slowed down.
“Well, this is my transfer,” she said, leaping up and grabbing her bag with ferocious energy.
“Hey, it was great meeting you, and good luck with your ex!” I said awkwardly, wishing that I had something better to say.
Rahul, though, also stood up, shook her hand, and said, “Don't worry, it'll go well, you're a strong girl.”
“It was nice meeting you both. And enjoy your trip around the world! That is amazing!” she said, feet gliding, heels clicking, as she went down the aisle confidently. She was gone.
I exhaled deeply as I leaned back into my seat. It was a mix of relief, no longer having to try to be supportive, and sadness that she was gone. Jennifer, the first local I'd made a connection with during this trip. Would it always be this easy, I wondered, to meet people?
This, it seemed, was quite a good start.
To read more, purchase Traveling Softly and Quietly today.
You tell the story so well, Nithin. Hey, are you still researching a book about the dissemination of hot peppers through Asia?