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But I said: ‘Kerala’. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe it. Again, they looked at me very well and smeared.

‘Kerala?’ a fat man, in turban said in astonishment. ‘Yes, Kerala’, I answered. They watched me in surprise.

‘What language do you speak?’ the Sikh man asked me in—and I replied boldly, ‘Malayalam and a little Punjabi’.



The Train Journey

A short story by Onyeka Nwelue 


 woke up that Monday morning, and heard a noisy sound that irritated, scraped, and abraded my brain. I had to know what was really happening. That happened to be on the morning of my arrival in India, after a great hassle at the airport, with the customs officer examining my green-coloured passport. Sure, they knew my nationality, so it wasn’t really surprising to learn how they scrutinized my visa, to know if it was a fake one.

There were some things I realised as soon as I came to India. Not knowing much about this country; just a little about the billions of exotic people, the glaring noise of elephants, staccatos of cows, moving sluggishly through the streets, stopping when the red light appears at the traffic light; and the prudence of spiritual men, with brilliant and colourful festivals, the huge numbers of temples and the dribbling  rickshaw pullers and their strange behaviour.

As soon as I walked down the staircase to know what was happening, I found out that there was really nothing. Nothing at all. Just that on the street in Pahar Ganj, where I was staying in New Delhi, so many people had bombarded the entire place. Textile shops bloomed with foreigners, especially the Israelis who were engulfing the entire place like smoke, to catch their bus or train to see the Taj Mahal. They were going to see that old and tall building. That is certain. And then, the Brits who were diffused everywhere to get to Varanasi, the holy land or the Ganges. A man in a ragged cloth, hung around his neck, about three snakes, of different colours walked around like a ghost. I stood in front of Vishal Hotel, where I lodged, and immediately, I realized that everyone was looking at me. All eyes, in fact were on me. I froze. Dead like a breathless horse. They watched me derisively, as if I had my penis, standing out of my trousers, probably, because someone with odd skin was amongst them.

Behind me, stood a 20-something year-old Indian. As soon as I turned to him, he smiled curiously, and I felt he had done something to me. I felt he had actually taken away something so precious to my body. My body felt a betrayed, though no one did. No one did. At all. No one. But something seemed to have been erased from it and I felt somewhat empty. Something was actually taken away from me, which I couldn’t tell. He smiled when I smiled.

‘Which country?’ He asked me, smiling again and again.

‘Nigeria’, I replied, candidly.

‘Ah!’ He exclaimed. ‘Naizeria people—‘

I was somewhat surprised. What could that mean? I kept silent and watched him in astonishment. Again, he looked at me and smiled. There was something surreal about him—He was somewhat tall, with fat belly, big chest, small buttocks, and curly hair that he had just pomaded with water. I knew he knew why I was looking at him. He couldn’t hold himself as he should have done. At that moment, I turned crazily around to see what actually made him shudder: it was when I said I was a Nigerian.

‘Why did you scream?’ I asked, with a lucid smile.

‘No sir’, he began. ‘You know, Naizeria people do drug too much these days, sir’.

‘Hmm’, I mumbled. ‘Well, that doesn’t concern me, does it?’

‘No, sir’, he nodded. ‘Sir, you stay alone, sir?’

‘Of course, I do’.

‘No girlfriend, sir?’

I broke into a hysterical laughter. ‘I have, but she didn’t come with me. Why did you ask?’

‘No, sir’, he smiled, with almost-brown-teeth glaring under the morning sun. ‘Only one, sir?’


‘Ah, sir!’ He continued. ‘I have six, sir’.

‘That’s great’.

‘Yes, sir’, he nodded and paused, then began: ‘Do you like sex, sir?’

I couldn’t hold myself. I broke into uproarious laughter that caught people’s attention. Their whatisit eyes fed on me. I couldn’t answer him, because I didn’t want to sound so funny. (But that was then…) and who knows, I could have been served with sex, if I had said that I liked it?

‘Sir, if you like sex’, he ignored my laughter, ‘I can take you to GeeBee Road, sir’.


‘Really, sir’. He stammered. ‘Very cheap, sir. Beautiful girls, sir. Ah! You will enjoy jigi-jigi, sir’.

‘What’s that?’ I asked, surprisingly. 

‘Fucking!’  He demonstrated with his fingers strummed together in a way that depicted sexual intercourse.

‘Oh!’ I shouted. ‘But I don’t want to fuck now’.

‘No, sir’, he said. ‘Eleven o’clock, sir’.

‘How much?’

‘Can you pay sixteen hundred rupees, sir?’

‘No, I can’t’.

And that was the end of the conversation. Then, we went to a nearby restaurant that looked posh and sat in opposite directions. Honestly, he was such curious person. I couldn’t believe what was coming out of his mouth. I would never have believed it, if I was told that someone would ask such question. Later on, I ordered a plate of chicken fried rice and a bottle of Slice (a mango drink)—and he ordered a huge tray of Indian thali.

‘So, what’s your name?’ I asked, as we ate.

‘Arjun’, he replied, forcefully spooning his food into his mouth.

As he didn’t ask me mine, I said: ‘My name is Jorge’.


‘No, Jorge or Udoka’.

‘Oh, Udoka, sir’. 

I began to notice the ‘sir’ and became dizzy about it. I watched him as he ate—He looked up at me and said, ‘Sir, mineral water, sir’.

‘What’s that?’

‘Mineral water, sir’, he repeated. ‘Bottled water’.

‘Oh!’ I exclaimed.

And one of the waiters got one for him. As I ate, I thought about Lagos and how I had actually left it to roost before the cock, to get myself pluming in Delhi. Thoughts raced through my head as of the Metro Station which raved with the roaring noise of trains. I thought and thought, keeping mute and serene. Arjun looked at me and knew that I was thinking. I couldn’t tell if he knew, but the way I made face, could actually make him think that I was feeling bad.

‘Any problem, sir?’ He asked me and I felt there was no problem.

‘Arjun’, I said, gently.


‘Could you please take me to Delhi University?’

‘Yes, sir’.

That was it. As soon as we finished eating, I paid my bill and we walked out onto the street, where we waved at an auto rickshaw driver and he came.

‘Ashram Marg’, Arjun said in Hindi. ‘Kitna paisa- How much?’

‘Twenty rupee’, the driver replied.

‘Ok sir’, Arjun said to me and we entered the motorbike-like vehicle, at which point the driver started the engine and drove off. Well, after some minutes, he stopped in front of a beautifully constructed building, and near it the Entrance sign to the Metro Station was . . . a statue of a man robed in a long dress and in turban. I brought out my wallet from the pocket of my trousers and paid the driver. And he smiled at me, before he drove off. When we walked into the station, at the ticket counter, several people were queuing up, waiting to purchase their tokens, to assist them get on board the train.

‘Which country?’ a voice came from behind me as I stood in the line, while Arjun stood before me. I looked back and there was another 20-something year-old guy, talking. Therefore, I didn’t answer him, and he broke into laughter with the other boys who were staying behind him.

‘He. Don’t. Spoketh. English’, he said to them in a slowed English-Indian accent. ‘If. He. Spoketh. English. He. Will. Know. What. I. Am. Saying.’

They laughed boisterously, I didn’t give a damn. But later, they would learn if I spoketh English. When it was my turn, the smile-ridden ticket -woman in a neatly ironed uniform said to me with a smile. ‘What station?’ And Arjun said: ‘Vishwavidyalaya’.

‘Your name?’ she asked, although there was no need for the name.



‘No, Jorge’.

‘Ok’, she agreed. ‘This is RK Ashram Marg’, she spoke animatedly. ‘You stop at Rajiv Chowk, change line on Platform number two, to Central Secretariat, then, you will get to Viswavidyalaya’.

‘Thank you’, I said and she replied with an innocent smile. That was when they understood that I spoketh English, quickly I was out of their sight. Of course that was what I should say. RK Ashram Marg . . . Rajiv Chowk . . . Central Secretariat . . . then Viswavidyalaya. Things I never heard of. I wondered what she thought about Josh. Josh was a first time visitor, a newcomer and an infidel, (just like The Koran says that ‘when you encounter the infidels, strike off their heads till you have made a great slaughter and among them make fast the fetters . . .) I paid twenty four for two tokens for the two of us and quickly, we passed the ticket barrier.

After the Security searched me thoroughly, we ran up to the station that was to take us to Rajiv Chowk, and as we stood talking audibly, other passengers who were waiting for the trains to arrive, hooked their eyes on me. I couldn’t resist them. I tried to get myself together, so as not to mess up. And as we waited there, the two trains coming through different tracks, pulled up to an abrupt stop; we waited as the passengers onboard walked out. I saw sweet faces, but none was at tall as me, and possibly, they dragged themselves to their seats; children surged, probably these ones that hadn’t been to Metro Stations for the first time, so it was a great excitement for them, just as it were for me. As I sat in the rows in the train, I saw an old woman who stood staring into my eyes.

Moreover, I was odd, with my chocolate coloured skin, strange afro hair and probably, my so different dress. I tried getting my eyes off hers, but I couldn’t, so I beckoned on her to sit down there, while I stood, and she smiled, clasping her hands on her chest, she said: ‘Shukriya’. Nevertheless, I couldn’t tell if that was an abuse, still I smiled—Arjun frowned at me [but other passengers smiled, as if to say, ‘Thank you’ for giving the seat to her].

…As the train moved on, I began to notice things—I could see how every eye watched me. A couple, whose skin colours were as black as anything looked at me and smiled. I looked at Arjun and he smiled. I was confused. I couldn’t tell why they were smiling and as soon as the automated voice-over said: ‘Our next station is Rajiv Chowk, change line on Platform number two for Central Secretariat’, Arjun rose and when the train finally stopped, the passengers struggled out of it. We walked out. And began to run down to the next station, where our train to the named station would be arriving, I saw two African young men, but they had the East African face. That face that looks Indian. I was so-so excited. Honestly, that was the only time I would see an African within the one night and day I came into Delhi.

But when the train finally came up, we walked in, and luckily for me, I got a seat, but not near Arjun. I began to think of Lagos, filled with bustling buses, the Molues and Orile on its own. I visualized myself waiting for the buses, because we didn’t have that. It was obvious that this was my first time entering a Metro, but that didn’t make me look stupid or alien. I knew how to behave very well. It’s not a joke, at all. I was interrupted when two young boys sitting near me talked. The younger one smiled and said: ‘Which country?’ So I decided to make them look stupid, by not answering.

‘South Africa?’ the older one spoke for the first time, laughing.

‘West Indies?’



But I said: ‘Kerala’. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe it. Again, they looked at me very well and smeared. ‘Kerala?’ a fat man, in turban said in astonishment. ‘Yes, Kerala’, I answered. They watched me in surprise. ‘What language do you speak?’ the Sikh man asked me inand I replied boldly, ‘Malayalam and a little Punjabi’.

‘Punjabi?’ He was so surprised.

‘Yes, Punjabi’.

‘How come?’ He said and everyone looked at me again and again. I knew what I was doing.

‘I was born in Kurushektra’, I explained, lying. ‘But my parents are from Kerala’.

‘Which part of Kerala?’


They froze. Inside of me, I was laughing.  In spite of the fact that they saw my hair, my skin colour, they still believed that I was from Kerala.

‘But where do you live?’ the Sikh man asked.


‘England!’ He screamed and they became more interested in me.

‘London or England?’ the younger boy asked.

‘Both’, I nodded.

‘Wow!’ the older continued screaming.

‘Your father rich, eh?’ a voice asked, when I looked at him, I remembered Miki Maouz the Carpenter in our village. So slim, tall, with his feather-like hair, reeling incongruously.

‘Somehow’, I said.

‘Wow!’ the older boy was still screaming like—anything. He was so excited.

‘London, very cheap, eh?’ Miki Maouz the Carpenter’s look alike asked.

‘Not so cheap’.

‘Wow!’ the older boy was still so excited. I saw it in his eyes—Before I could look at the Sikh, he was already handing a card to me and he said: ‘My business card. Problem? Come to me. I am manage for Sify. Internet connection. Phone connection. Everything connection. E-mail me. Invite me for London. I will pay. I will come. Visa only’. I agreed and before I knew it, the same voice-over said: ‘The next station is Kashmere Gate . . .’, then, ‘Civil Lines’ and more interesting people entered, but then the Sikh was gone. That was when Arjun came and sat near me, still the Younger and Older boys were looking at me.

‘Your money. Hold, sir’, Arjun said and I nodded.

‘Yes. Indian people are very bad’, the Younger boy rammed. ‘They. Are. Cheaters’.

‘Wow!’ the Older whispered. ‘England?’

‘Yes, England’, I said, ignoring the Younger boy.

‘There are job opportunities there, eh?’ Miki Maouz the Carpenter look-alike asked.

‘Of course, there are’, I sounded too sure.

Arjun looked at me. I knew he wanted to say something. Possibly he may not have heard our previous discussion, though he sat near to me. There was so many things to be excited about. I thought about Lagos and its excitement. There was no one in Lagos who could thrill you when it came to being a Keralaite, then Punjabi, English and Londoner, altogether. I couldn’t smell Lagos in Delhi, at all. The voice-over came again: ‘Our next station is Vidhan Sabha…’ It finally landed at Vishwavidyalaya, saying that the ‘train terminates here’. Arjun walked out before me, as everyone pulled out of the train and then entered the escalator which pulled us up. Behind me the Younger and Older boys walked.

‘Sir’, the Younger boy said.

‘Yes?’ I made a whatisthis eyes.

‘Where. Do. You. Stay?’

‘Main Bazaar, Pahar Ganj’.

‘Hotel name?’

‘Hotel Vishal’.

‘Room number?’




‘Your name?’

‘Josh’, I decided to say.

Shukriya, Mr. Josh’. They said, repeating in English. ‘Thank you, Mr. Josh’.

‘Thank you, boys’, I smiled. ‘And what are your names?’

They looked at themselves and said in unison: ‘Sunny’.

‘Ok’, I smiled, and they walked away. The memories of Lagos engulfed me. As we walked out of the Metro building and headed for Delhi University, I remembered that very day a conductor of a Molue bus, surprised me, as I took the bus from Oshodi, going to Orile. Of course, I was holding a copy of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

‘Ah!’ he began in Pidgin English. ‘Chinua Achebe, abi?’

I nodded. ‘Yes. You like it?’

‘Yes, I like am’, he said. ‘De book sweet pass oda book’.


‘Na so’, he continued. ‘I never read am, but people talk say e sweet pass oda book’.

‘Ok’, I agreed. ‘Have you read any other one?’ 

‘For where?’ He stared at me. ‘I try say make I read Soyinka book, but de man na so-so grammar e dey write. I not fit read am. But true true, e dey do good for our country, Naija’.

‘Try and read one’, I suggested to him.

‘Ah!’ He inhaled in a typical Yoruba accent. ‘No talk dat ting. I never even finish dey do my job, you wan make I come dey read book?’

‘Well, I don’t know what you are talking about’.

‘Forget am, boy’, he patted me on the shoulder. ‘One day, I go write my own story establish say make people come read am. Na jeje we go use dey follow dis world. No be so?’

‘Na so’, I agreed in Pidgin.

*   *   *

Arjun and I took a rickshaw from the rickshaw park to Kirori Mal college, which was a bit of a distance from the Metro Station, passing Miranda House. The trees shook their branches; the wind blew, as if soaring so high it would tear apart the skies. Like sweet pluming of groves. I watched as the rickshaw puller bicycled us up towards the canal hills. The moment he looked at me, he asked: ‘Which country?’ and I was again bound to lie—as I replied, looking at Arjun: ‘West Indies’. He: ‘West Indies?’ That was really a scream. ‘Yes. West Indies’.

‘Play so much cricket, eh?’ He asked.


‘You know Brian Lara?’


‘Ah!’ he shouted. ‘Your face, Brian Lara’.


‘Really, sir’.

Well, I went down, opened my wallet and paid him, moved into the college with Arjun. As we walked into the premises, students were loitering around like sheep loiter—I thought no one would be moving around like that. Some sat on the wildflower sprinkled green grass and under trees; some held books open on their laps, and I knew too well, that they were not reading them. We walked up to a young beautiful girl who sat near the pool, under a mango tree and asked how we could meet the Principal—so she directed us and we moved. As we walked, I realized that Arjun was becoming restless . . . I knew he must be wondering how I could be a Nigerian . . . from West Indies, born by Keralaite parents in Kurushektra, then living in England. He surely didn’t understand what I was doing. He walked ahead of me, with his posterior shaking and shaking, like a bag of Pure Water. When we finally got to the Principal’s office, we were ushered in to meet him and that was one large pot-bellied man, tucked into a fat chair, bespectacled.

‘He is Punjabi, sir’, Arjun said in a whisper.


‘Really, sir’.

‘How did you know?’ I asked, so curious. ‘Have you met him?’

‘No sir’, he said. ‘But I know, sir’.


‘I am Punjabi, sir’.


‘We are always fat, sir’.


‘Because we eat so much chapatti, sir’.


‘Really, sir’.

‘That’s interesting’.

‘Yes, sir’.

There, the Principal sat—and as he saw me, he picked up the phone and dialed some numbers and spoke in Punjabi. That was when I believed my friend. But that didn’t bother me, because fat-ness is fat-ness. Slim-ness, slim-ness.

‘Can I help you?’ He asked, with his face frowned.

‘Yes, sir’, I nodded.


‘I came for Professor Parvinder Kholi Singh’.

‘O well!’ He exclaimed. ‘The Professor of History?’


‘From which country are you?’

I listened to myself: ‘I was born in Kenya---‘

‘You participant in Marathon, eh?’

‘But then, I live in Nigeria’.

He became silent; looked at me closely and said: ‘Naizeria people! Naizeria people! You do so many drug these days’. I gently walked to the door of the room, turned to him and said: ‘Waka!’ I repeated: ‘Shame!’

‘Shame! Shame!!’

Onyeka Nwelue was born in Nigeria in 1988. He has been published on Eclectica Online Magazine, The Guardian, The Sun, New Age, Daily Times, AfroToronto, Libits Journal, Universal Journal, Kwenu, Wild Goose Poetry Review and more. His novel, The Abyssinian Boy is forthcoming

posted 29 July 2006

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Ancient African Nations

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Related file: The Train Journey (short story)    Interview with Onyeka Nwelue    Onyeka Nwelue Interviews Jude Dibia     A Tree Was Once an Embryo            Men in Suit? Give ’Em A Chance