S ERGEI, R OSE, AND I board train No. 44 in Krasnoyarsk just after 1:00 a.m.
It is packed full, but thankfully with a more balanced male-female ratio than our last train.
We have a twenty-one-hour ride to Irkutsk, the gateway to Russia's romantic Lake Baikal.
Many passengers are asleep, so the three of us are as quiet and unobtrusive as possible,
trying not to bang our roll-aboards and backpacks into anyone's feet. All our efforts are
spoiled when a mousy little blond provodnik decides to come yell at us.
“You come from a plane? Too much luggage! You must have a document to bring so
Sergei screams back at her in Russian. Then she walks away, grumbling to herself.
“What does she want, a bribe, Sergei?”
“Should we pay something?”
This is not the end of her.
As we are preparing our berths, a woman across the aisle from us is desperately looking
for her lost pillow. This is no small thing. On a Russian train anything lost can be the re-
sponsibility of the provodnik . Once she takes your ticket and hands you a pillow and sheets,
it is your responsibility to hand them back to her before you leave the train. Or she could be
The provodnik is summoned and immediately zeroes in on us as possible culprits. She
begins to tear into our unwieldy pile of luggage to see if a pillow happens to be buried some-
where. Not finding one, she yells at the woman and says she'll just have to make do without
And as if she has not made our night unpleasant enough, around 3:00 a.m., I happen to be
awake to see her pass through the aisle in the darkness and trip on someone's bedsheet. She
curses and immediately turns all the lights on in the train car, leaving the place illuminated
for the rest of our sleeping hours. Well, at least she won't trip again.
As the sun comes up I look across at Rose in the opposite upper berth. She's awake and
reading. Below me is Sergei, and below Rose is another passenger—a Central Asian man,