Friday Feature ~ “Night Train to Kisumu”

This seems like an older story than the ones that came before it, but I suppose it’s not. “Night Train to Kisumu” was my fourth published short story, appearing in the March 2009 issue of the online journal Wanderings Magazine.

I wrote this story based on an actual experience I had riding a night train from Nairobi to Kisumu in Kenya more than a decade ago. I was visiting my son, who was serving with the Peace Corps there at the time. I had flown into Nairobi (and waited in vain for British Airways to produce my luggage), then we took a night train, the city of Kisumu being the end of the line for us, but it got us close to the village where he was teaching, and we rode a tuk-tuk the rest of the way (which included crossing the equator).

The train was obviously discarded from a lifetime of use in some better-off land; it was run down and ragged. It was crowded. Some passengers could only afford passage on the floor, and I found myself stepping over them to get from here to there. But it offered a four-course dinner in the dining car if you bought the right ticket. That was an odd experience because the dining car was filled with families drinking pop and beer, while down at the end was a table with a white cloth and silver service on it. We (my sister had also come along) had a nice meal there, but the whole time I was well aware of the disparity between our table and everyone else’s in the car. At one point the train stopped at one of the village halts and out the dirty window I could see two soldiers with guns dealing with a screaming man who, if my son’s Swahili could be trusted, needed to get on the train to visit his mother.

I realized at the time that there was a story in this, and when I got home I wrote it. Then I decided it was good enuf to submit around, and, thinking I was clever, I sorted the likely markets I’d found in Duotrope in reverse alphabetical order. My thinking was that the publications at the end of the list were likely to have the least number of submissions and so I had a better chance. And there I found Wanderings Magazine. I made the submission and was delighted when I learned they wanted to publish it.

Wanderings Magazine survived for a few years, but it eventually folded, and the web address is now for sale.

__________

This trip was odd in many ways, but the oddest part was actually getting a cell signal while on the train (which had no electricity — how did they cook that dinner?). And I got a call from my wife then. She told me that she was to have quadruple bypass surgery the next day and that maybe I’d want to think about returning home. It took me three days to get home. I’d spent most of a week on the equator without a change of clothes. People were getting up and moving away from me on the planes I took home.

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