With Galle as its starting point, the train to Colombo is somehow full as it arrives. We place our bags on the rack and settle in the breezeway resigning ourselves to a two hour journey standing up, holding onto handles, straps, anything. The regulars on the 7.00 am service are mostly men with the usual business accoutrements of smart phones, brief cases and morning newspapers.
Among fellow commuters conversations flow. They know each other well in this place where space is a premium. Reciprocal systems are in play as sitting room is shared in blocks of time. Eyes dance around strangers on the train, avoiding direct contact and noticing everything.
Out of the window near Hikkaduwa we can just see the surf, pulsing in a gentle rhythm on the rocks. Ten years ago along this coast, thousands drowned, many on a train like this that was derailed near Telwatta.
At each station, more and more people squeeze on. Only my Tom Bihn satchel bag strapped across my body provides a modicum of personal space and modesty.
As the numbers grow, the level of cheerfulness rises. Sari-clad women board, smile greetings. “Good Morning! Good Morning!” There’s still half the journey to go and everyone is smiling. Shirts remain crisp and white, faces apparently perspiration free.
At 8.56 we pull into Colombo Fort and wait and watch as everyone moves slowly and with intent out of the doors and off to their places of work.
This afternoon they will be back here to do it all again on the passage home.