To say that every corner reeked of cabbage that must have traversed the human digestive system at least once, it was surprisingly difficult to find a secluded place to use as a toilet in the vastness of the Moscow railway station. Guards, with beards that seemed to be saving fragments of lunch for later, and eyes that had spent their humour long ago, lurked in every cranny. The number of times I hobbled, crossed-legged towards a likely hidey-hole was always matched by the tally of carbine-carrying clouds of frigid breath.
‘Closed for Repair,’ said the official washrooms. All of them.
A whistle – mournful as my bladder, reminded me with forehead-slapping insight that trains have toilets too. I headed towards the nearest one – desperate by now. Clattering up the short stair as quickly as my near-ruptured organ would allow, I rammed my way through the likeliest looking doorway. The stench of cabbage was stronger here so I knew that I was in the right place. Ignoring the scraps of paper – once white, now streaked with brown, that threatened to avalanche into the hole in the middle of the sopping-wet floor, I unzipped and righteously steamed the air with a streak of dark yellow piss. I closed my eyes, revelling in that long moment.
The feeling of relief was so intense that I was barely fazed by the battery of slams echoing down the train. But the sudden jerk as the brakes released, throwing me into the wall and wetting my boots in the process, got my attention fast. Zipping up quickly I skidded towards the carriage door and grappled with the handle, but the steel lever might as well have been welded in place. The windows were similarly sealed shut, and I was frantically failing to find anything that bore any resemblance to an emergency cord when the tannoy crackled into life.
The announcer’s voice seemed to be caught on the barbed-wire fence separating bored and malicious as his guttural tones barked out the destination of the train. Buildings, as dark as coffins, began to speed by, as my appalled brain translated a malign fragment of phlegm and spite: ‘next stop Siberia!’
(continued in Beyond Moscow)