(Disclaimer: This story is based on true events)
The night train to Munich was running nonchalantly towards its destination. Darkness had befallen and the lights were switched off in the railway coach. It was quiet except for the gentle rumbling of the railway wagon.
We were on our way back from a rather wonderful trip to Czech Republic and Hungary. It was one of many expeditions during our 3-month long “student exchange program”. We were travelling from Budapest to Paris with a changeover at Munich. We have had so much fun exploring these amazing East European countries. Now at the end of the trip we were all exhausted and couldn’t wait to get back to our dorm rooms. My co-travelers were asleep as soon as the train had pushed off from the platform. I had been kept awake with excitement as the day’s plunder was jotted down in the trip journal. Now that today’s entry was complete and the journal was tucked away with me, the slow rhythmic rocking of the train was soothing me to deep slumber.
I was in the middle of a vivid dream when I woke up with a shock. I had been grabbed by someone. I had not realized when the door of my coach had been pried open. I wanted to cry out for help but as they tried to snatch me away, my head banged on the railing and I was knocked out. I could not even see where were they taking me or when did they get off the train. I was out cold and unconscious.
The train would have moved away without any of my friends realizing anything. They were soundly asleep unaware of my plight when I was gone and lost in the darkness. I guess they would have made huge hue and cry when they came to know I was taken away. They might have gone to the police when they reached the station. A report would have been lodged.
I could hardly remember a thing as I was moved from place to place. I was knocked out the whole time. When I regained my consciousness, I could only recall that I had been kept in a wet place for long as I was soaked to the core. But when I could make out my surroundings, I realized I was no longer in captivity. Such a relief!!
I was in some kind of a public service office. I saw an Austrian flag on the wall. So, I was still in Austria and that was as far I could make out of my location. There was an insignia alongside the flag which I couldn’t recognize and something was written on the signage (possibly in Austrian German) which I couldn’t understand.
Rows of old wooden counters divided the room in two parts. There were nondescript desks on one side of the counters with lots of paperwork. Files and folders were arranged neatly on the tables and what seemed to be the public officers working quietly on them. On the other side of the counter, people waited patiently for their turns. But there was a quiet sense of urgency in their ways.
Taking everything in was overwhelming. But, I also tried to string together possibility for my journey from the railway coach to this office. I guess whoever snatched me, got cold feet and just left me abandoned somewhere. Some Good Samaritan would have picked me up and brought me to this public office. Miraculously I was relatively fine and without any external damage. I just felt slightly empty inside and had a few clothes missing. But that was the last thing on my mind right then. I just wanted to be back in the safety of my dorm room in Paris.
I might have been dazed for long as I hadn’t noticed this lady who had been standing next to me. She wanted to know where I came from. I tried to speak but to my horror no sound came out. I was frantic by my situation. Desperately I gave her whatever stuff I had on me. May be that would of some help as I was surely not.
I stood dumb and in admiration as the nice lady went onto the work. She searched through all the paraphernalia. Her eyes lit up as she soon found the journal and the visiting cards. Yes! Now we were onto something. She read through the last entries in the journal and deduced that we were traveling across Europe and were last in Budapest. She also got my friend’s name but couldn’t contact him on his India cell number. Don’t know why but she didn’t reach out to him on his email though. She had strange ways but she was determined to help me. She racked her brains and went down on her computer.
Minutes later she emerged victorious having located him on Facebook. Finally, the social network was of some use. Waiting no time, she sent him a message. And he promptly replied back. Oh the joy! I thought my nightmarish ordeal was over and I would be soon going home.
But I couldn’t catch a break. I don’t remember the details but essentially my friend wouldn’t come right away to pick me up and I couldn’t be just sent back to him like a parcel. I never thought that I would have to wait in this office for weeks if not months to go back. And what ensued was nothing short of slow painful torture. I soon began to dread every reply as it would confirm that my misery would be prolonged. Along with the dwindling frequency of the message exchange, my hope was waning away.
Then out of nowhere I came to know that I was going back. I would be picked up at the station by my friend who was finally coming to this part of the continent. If I ever felt unbound joy it was that particular moment. On the fateful day, I was taken to the Attnang Puchheim railway station by my savior angel for the handover. I became the silent observer as she located my friend and owner. He was ecstatic to have found his long lost backpack. He anxiously opened me and could not believe his eyes that apart from few clothing items most of his belongings were there. In a million years he would never have thought that when someone stole his backpack from the train, he would get it back and that too with most of his stuff.