Tayga, Russian Federation
(23:00, 3 July) I’m on the train somewhere east of a Siberian town called Taiga (ТАЙГА) and I can’t sleep. No fetid fug this time. Actually rather comfortable. The guy on the other side of the aisle has opened the top window fully and a welcome cool breeze blows about the dark of the dormitory carriage now. I seem to have man-handled the lumpy mattress enough and have rid the knot that was right where the small of my back lay. I still don’t fit length ways in the narrow slot I’m cradled in high above the aisle. People walk past their heads just below my sleeping plane. There are nine partitions with six beds in each. Four on the long side of the aisle (two up, two down) oriented perpendicular to the direction of travel. And the other two, one above the other, are on the narrow side of the aisle oriented parallel to the direction of travel. There are two toilets, one either end of the wagon, no separation of male and female, and are shared by all 54 occupants. They’re a bit old and appear dirty but the provodnitsa, who occupies a special room and ‘office’ at the end of the carriage where the samovar (water boiler) is, has a regular cleaning program. They are simple toilets with a foot pedal that opens the metal pan like a trap door and water flows to rinse the contents onto the noisy track racing past below. Up to my second provodnitsa on this journey. It’s a tough job. I was standing leaning on the exit doorway on the north side looking out its window for a while before. Admiring the endless taiga. Noting little boggy tracks leading deep into its emerald green interior. Wishing I could jump off and tread silently into the woods. Every now and then an oncoming train would zoom past clickety clack just metres away. A ghost town of tired wooden buildings drifted past my view like a hole in the taiga and time. Dark brown log houses with wooden shingle roofs, surrounded by overgrown vegetable gardens. Little cemeteries with colourful iron work fences barely visible for the brambles and bracken. And lane ways and paths almost indistinguishable for the crops of weeds and bushes growing where children once rode bikes and passersby stopped to chat with each other on the uneven ground. Once sustained by soviet nation-building arrangements these villages subsequently floundered in the post-soviet period of economic rationalisation. Gone are the people. Probably older people too. Gone where? To high rise apartments in the cities perhaps. To look out their windows to the taiga now far away. And dream of when the taiga was their train in life.