They waddled along right, her father pushed open the sliding door and a darkness swallowed them. They heard a hushed version of the din from the platform. Confusion edged the tone here, though. The people pressed into a much larger compartment, a huge empty space devoid of seats, windows or luggage racks. A big square of open space, and concerned voices muttered discontent. They filed toward the walls, settling atop suitcases or on the deck of the car. Her father and mother exchanged glances in the dimness, hushed whispers. More and more people continued to pour into the car. The steady stream of new passengers pushed them aside to make room for the swell of bodies. They moved to the wall, found spots near the compartment corner, and settled. Her father whispered to her mother, who clutched his arm, and for the first time, she felt fear.
She remembered the dirty girl shaking her head, large motions of emphasis. No, don’t get on.
Her eyes adjusted to the dark. Behind her, weak, pale blue light spilled through slots in the thin train car wall. She saw the tinny, vertical metal slats, close together, banded by horizontal runners holding them together. She smelled the alloy, and shivered on the cold floor. Through the slats the night air poured cold and unhindered. She shuddered and laid into the corner farther.
The flow of passengers ceased. The grind of the sliding door slammed to a stop, then a solid clacking of a latch rang through the car. The voices and murmur stilled to near silence. In an explosive huff and a jolt, the bodies, pressed and mashed together, rocked back as the train lurched on its burdened wheels and moved.
Glances in the weak light showed fear. Panic in some cases. She watched stoic and silent. Her parents held an urgent, quiet conference scant inches from her, but she couldn’t hear them over the heavy roll of the train on its rails. The car rocked to and fro, gentle as a boat on calm water, but gained speed. She looked between the slats, and saw lights recede behind them.
Someone stood up near the slider and tried the door. He couldn’t move the handle to open it. He tore at the door, then banged his fist against the scarred surface. His voice slammed and died against the metal panel. He banged again, screaming to be let out.
She felt it again. Something boring into her face from beside her.
She turned. The little girl in her stained and grimy clothes stared through her big, wet eyes at her from the gritty, dirty face.
She tipped her head.
“You’re dead, aren’t you?”
The dirty child nodded, one oily, matted strand of her hair shifting on her scalp.
“I had an accident.” Her voice was soft, musical, innocent. It carried over the growing panic as more and more men came to the door to tug in useless frustration at the latch of the slider. Her father joined them. The yells and near hysterical sobs pounded in rhythm to the clack of the rails.