She Just Wanted Honesty and Loyalty
Disclaimer: I’m no Han Solo, but If you asked me if I smuggled anything across international borders I wouldn’t deny it. Now I don’t advise you to smuggle people by train, but the events that took place in this story just transpired this way.
It’s around the hour 23:00 and my cousin Ashley and I are waiting at the train station in Prague to take a sleeper train to Budapest. We’re sitting under the flap display waiting patiently for 23:45 to roll around, exhausted and thankful to have explored this fairytale of a city.
This tall man, about 6’ – ‘6’2 dressed in all white with a Jimi Hendrix inspired look comes over and sits down with us. He introduces himself. His name is Martin, a guitarist who looked to be in his late 30s from the Netherlands with a SoundCloud I will not provide. We chop it up, exchanging small talk for a bit and things get serious all of a sudden.
Martin: Are you guys going to Budapest?
Us: Yeah, we’re taking the sleeper train at 23:45.
Martin: Ah I’m trying to go too, but I got mugged two nights ago and my wallet, train ticket, and bank card were stolen.
Us: That’s unfortunate. What are you gonna do?
Martin: Oh, I’m just gonna hop on and try and hide. My band and I are performing in Budapest and I need to make it there.
Ashley and I awkwardly look at each other with widened eyes. Shortly after we hear our call time and get up and start walking to the platform. Martin follows right beside us. At the moment, I didn’t think about how problematic this would be. I’m personally one to roll with the punches and just thought, “Hey why not? Godspeed, my friend.”
We get to our cabin. Six seats, just like the one in Harry Potter. My cousin and I store our bags in the overhead compartments and take the two window seats. Martin stores his guitar up top and takes the middle seat beside my cousin. We get settled and in comes two girls. The sweetest souls I’ve met from Prague, perhaps my two favorite people I met on my entire trip. They introduce themselves. Noami who takes the middle seat next to me and Caitlin who takes the far seat next to Martin. They load up their backpacks and leave to see their friends in the next cabin over.
We feel the train motion forward and see the platform moving away. My cousin and I are impressed with how far Martin has gotten. We were moving for about thirty minutes when Noami and Caitlin re-enter.
Noami: Hey everyone, the ticket taker is coming soon so have your tickets ready.
Ashley, Martin, and I nervously exchange looks of concern. Martin gets up to go hide in the bathroom. It was his only plan of action. Just as he reached the cabin door the ticketer shows up. Martin slowly backs down into his seat.
Conductor: Tickets, please!
We hand our tickets over and get them stamped. Martin pretends to sift through his belongings looking all flustered.
Martin: Can you come back? I’m still looking for my ticket.
The conductor complies and moves on to the next cabin.
Martin breaks the awkward silence. Ashley and I know exactly why, but he breaks it to the girls.
Martin: I don’t have a ticket.
Noami: What?! Why not?
Martin: I was mugged two nights ago and had everything stolen from me. My bank card, my wallet. Everything. I really needed to get on this train.
Noami: Are you crazy?! What are you gonna do?!
It was extremely irresponsible for Martin to put us in a position like this, but this was the situation at hand. Everyone’s on edge because this could mean a few things. Martin could simply get let off at the next stop and pay for a single fare, or he could pay a hefty fine for fare evasion, or there could be a big scene because let’s face it, we just met the dude and we didn’t know him all that well. The energy of the room was pretty tense. We were all stuck. The conductor returns and opens the door.
Martin: I- I don’t have a ticket. I was mugged and everything was stolen from me.
Conductor: Well, can you buy a ticket to the next city? That’s as far as I can take you.
Martin: No. I don’t have any money.
Everyone is dead silent just looking at each other. Suddenly Noami bursts out.
Noami: How much is it? I’ll pay for it.
Caitlin eagerly tries to talk her out of it in Czech going back and forth. Noami then turns to the conductor and they start going at it in Czech. By the sound of it, it wasn’t all that pleasant, but hey I don’t speak Czech. She switches back to English with a quickness and stares Martin in the face and without any shake in her voice,
Noami: Look I’ll pay for your ticket, but you must be honest.
Martin: I’ll pay you back. I promise. I’ll send –
Noami: I don’t need you to pay me back. I just ask for your honesty and loyalty. If you’re not, it will eat you up inside. You will live with yourself. It’s you who has it in your heart.
Martin: I’m telling the truth. That’s what happened.
She said this with so much conviction. I felt terrible because I literally had my hand on my wallet hesitating to pay for the ticket myself. She pays the fare to the next city and steals my heart in midst of the transaction. It’s all square now. The conductor leaves and we can all breathe again.
The night ensues and for a sleeper train, Ashley and I don’t get as much sleep as we hoped. Drinks may have been had, papers may have been rolled, stories were told, music was played, and dancing definitely occurred. Just restless travelers each on their own trip, who formed a bond under the most awkward circumstances. It was a beautiful connection.
At around 2:30 am we stopped at the next city. We were about to cross country borders and this was Martin’s queue to get off. It’s always sad parting ways with new friends. However, It made Caitlin extra sad. So sad she had this crazy idea.
Caitlin: I don’t want you to go.
Martin: Well I can’t go any further than this. I need to get off and I can’t pay to cross the border.
Caitlin: We’ll hide you! One time I hid in the luggage space and no one found me. We can hide you up there!
Okay so Caitlin is like 5’2 and Martin is a giant, but anyway, there are two overhead shelves for luggage, the top shelf being the smallest and the bottom shelf being the biggest. We start unloading our bags and Martin climbs up and cramps in, you guessed it, the top shelf. The smallest shelf. This man well over 6′ just scrunches himself into this small space. The least we did was hand him a tiny cozy pillow. I wish I took a photo, but that was it. This was the plan to get Martin to Budapest and it was working. Whenever a conductor came in to check our tickets, they never looked up into the luggage space. The fact that it was dark worked in our favor.
We all started passing out around 4:00 am. I woke up to the sun creeping through our window at around 6:00 am. Our train came to a stop. At this point, we had already crossed over into Slovakia and were about to head into Hungary, the last leg of the ride. However, at this stop, an elderly Czech woman who was a passenger opened our cabin like she owned it. I was sitting opposite of Martin and looked up. The dark of the night wasn’t there to hide Martin anymore. You could see this tall ass dude dressed in white squished into the luggage space.
Now, this lady was standing in our doorway. Looking in, around, and up! I’m getting nervous and avoid looking in Martin’s direction. The lady calls over someone. It was someone much younger, her son or maybe she was someone’s sugar mama, but she looked and sounded furious. This man comes over and peeks in. The lady then calls over a conductor and starts speaking aggressively. I have no idea what they’re saying, but I know damn well she saw Martin up top. The conductor wakes everyone up.
Conductor: Tickets, please!
We all hand our tickets over. The conductor looks around. I’m pretty sure she looked up, but what I’d like to think happened was the conductor thought to herself, “Well damn, if you made it this far, just go all the way.” She didn’t say a word. She just walked away.
The older lady looked upset and frustrated. Her hands fell to her side with a sigh and she left our cabin. I got up locked our door and pulled our shades down. Martin made it over one country and was home free to Budapest. That was our last checkpoint. Martin climbs down and we all sigh in relief.
It’s 8:00 am and the train comes to its last stop. We grab our bags and slowly exit the train. This is where we parted ways. Martin went to play his show, Noami and Caitlin with her other friends were carrying on to Serbia on a whim, and Ashley and I had a city to conquer.
I think it’s funny that one of the most prominent experiences I had took place when I wasn’t in any specific place but on a train moving us through the night. It was between cities I met the purest of hearts, freest of spirits. My biggest takeaway from this crazy ride was Noami’s words and actions. Her moral compass direct. She was steadfast and firm in her beliefs, was quick to act and expected nothing in return but honesty and loyalty. I learned and relearned important lessons from her that night.
I know this is knowledge we all possess, but sometimes we have to be reminded to be kind and to help those in need. To carry ourselves in honesty and loyalty, because she’s right. At the end of the day, it’s us in the end. We live with ourselves and the repercussions of our actions. I believe it’s better to claim truth than to be eaten away by dishonesty. So be honest, be loyal; because these traits hold more value than any amount of money.