The drunk deaf boy squirmed and moaned in his aisle-side bunk above the devoutly religious woman with the white head wrap, who was sleeping below. His three friends had literally thrown him up there just five minutes earlier, then they went to have a cigarette in the back of the wagon.
Five young female students with two parental chaperones, on their way back from a weekend excursion in Kiev, sat on the two bunks below me, talking about the boy and his friends. The four boys, or perhaps young men – all must have been between 16 and 18 years of age, their pubescent faces marked with zits – and also deaf, had been drinking Obolon beer since the train left Kiev Pas station five hours earlier.
By midnight all of the boys were drunk, slurring their signs and disturbing passengers trying to sleep. I imagine that it wasn’t their intention to be rude and to be loud. Given the fact that they were all deaf, they probably had no idea how obnoxious the slamming of glass beer bottles on the table could be. And given how drunk they all were, they most likely weren’t aware that their ricocheting off the ends of the beds as they stumbled down the aisle awoke people from their slumber.
I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but these boys were, in fact, acting disrespectfully and pissing off everyone in the wagon, and it showed on the passengers’ faces. So when the police came by on a routine walk-through, cited the boys for smoking and drinking – both of which are illegal aboard Ukraine’s trains – and made them each pay 100 hryvnia (about $12.50), passengers erupted in a small round of applause.
The celebration, though, was interrupted by gurgling and moaning coming from the passed out boy on the top bunk. I knew what this sound meant, and I’m sure others did, too. I sat up to face the boy just as he vomited over the side of the bunk. The chunky, brownish-orange goop splashed onto the aisle floor, with some landing mere inches from the religious woman’s face. Passengers let out a collective, “Oooopa!” One of the girls sitting below me reached over and shook the leg of the religious woman to wake her up. Once the woman saw what had happened, she went for the police.
Two officers returned with the woman, with the boy’s friends in tow. Frantic signing ensued. The cops, unable to sign, simply shouted at the boys, “See what you’ve done! Look at this! Don’t you understand?” It took a minute for the officers to realize their messages weren’t getting through. So on a piece of paper one officer wrote something down.
The boys left after that, with the wagon attendent, and returned with a bucket of hot, soapy water. Then, with the help of one officer, they pulled the boy who’d vomited down from the bunk and told him to scrub the floor clean. When he finished, the boy was taken by another officer, and he didn’t return.
The train, meanwhile, had stopped at a station somewhere five hours east of Kiev, and it wouldn’t continue on its way to Donetsk until this problem was resolved. The police officers wanted the remaining three boys to come with them voluntarily. I couldn’t see what one officer had written down and shown the boys, but when the boys saw it they began frantically signing to one another and shaking their heads in a panicked sort of way. After about three minutes of back-and-forth between the officers and the boys, the officers grabbed the boys’ things and their arms and escorted them off the train.
At that point, I sort of felt bad for the boys. Yes, they’d screwed up, pissed everyone off and broke the law, but their punishment would probably end up being more severe than it ought to be. I turned to look out the window at them as they were dragged out into the darkness, toward a small shack illuminated only slightly by a small light positioned above the door. I was thinking about what fate awaited them in that dark shack, when the train lurched forward.
Despite the effort to clean up the mess on the floor, the wagon smelled like vomit the rest of the night. It was a sort of acidic and sour scent mixed with ammonia, from the cleaning products. Because of that, and because of the discussions passengers were having below me, I didn’t get much sleep.
A friend of mine who I spoke with about this said every train ride is like a dice roll. And this is true. While I’ve had poor experiences, such as this one, some of my fondest memories of my time in Ukraine will certainly be of conversations and interactions with people aboard the trains. But this last one is a ride I’m hoping to forget.