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Follow You Home
Mark Edwards

Part One

Hungary–Romania
August 2013

Chapter One

The overnight train to Sighisoara, due to leave Budapest at eleven, was running late. The station was quiet and unwelcoming, bars and shops shut for the night, figures lurking in the shadows around the edge of the building. We sat on the hard floor, tired after a day wandering around the city in the summer heat with our backpacks. A gang of teenagers hung about nearby, shouting and posturing and badgering passers-by for cigarettes. A middle-aged man approached us, asking if we needed a hot meal and somewhere to stay, his oily smile vanishing as we shooed him away. Armed police strolled about in pairs, scrutinising us suspiciously as they passed by.

So we were relieved when the train finally pulled into the platform and more travellers, though fewer than I expected, appeared as if from nowhere.

As we were about to board I pulled Laura against me and said, ‘I love you.’

She kissed me. ‘I love you too, Daniel. Even if you are a tightwad.’

‘Hey—’ I began, but she turned away, hauling her backpack onto the train and throwing a little smile over her shoulder that told me she wasn’t really mad with me. I followed her.

Passing the cosy, private sleeper compartments, I wondered if I’d made a mistake. It had been my turn to buy tickets and instead of booking a private sleeper compartment I had, at the last moment, bought seats in standard accommodation because they were half the price.

Laura noticed me looking through the window of the sleeper and stopped to join me. ‘It’s a shame, really,’ she said.

‘What is?’

‘Well, I was quite looking forward to having sex on a train. I’ve never done that before.’

I slapped myself on the forehead. ‘Do you think it’s too late to change the tickets?’

But she laughed and went through from the relative luxury of the sleeper carriages into standard class. Laura surveyed the empty carriage and chose a pair of seats at the far end. She took her Kindle and a bottle of water out of her bag and settled back on the double seat, upholstered a long time ago in grey velvet, trying to get comfortable. I sat by the window, hoping the train had air-con powerful enough to blast away the night’s humidity. I took my glasses off to wipe the sweat from my face and put them back on in time to see a young couple running along the platform. They made it just before the train shuddered and lurched into motion. An announcement crackled over the speaker system and we were on our way.

The couple I’d seen running for the train almost fell into our carriage, panting, the man laughing while his female companion looked pissed off. They were carrying overnight bags, which they hefted into the baggage rack before taking the seats across the aisle from Laura and me. I smiled at them, then averted my eyes. Although we had befriended a number of couples on our trip around Europe in a transient way, exchanging email addresses and Twitter usernames, I preferred to observe someone first, make sure they weren’t crazy before engaging in conversation.

Going purely by appearance, they were a curious, mismatched couple. They were both in their mid-twenties but I would never have put them together. He was short and stocky, with cropped blond hair, and was wearing a khaki T-shirt and cargo pants. An average-looking guy who clearly spent a lot of time at the gym. In contrast, the girl was dressed all in black, with a leather jacket over a Stranglers T-shirt, plus tight jeans and biker boots. Her hair was black to match her clothes, with streaks of crimson. Beneath hooded, heavily made-up lids, her eyes were the colour of café noir. A shade away from black. She was several inches taller than him, about five foot ten, so when standing she towered over him, reminding me of Olive Oyl and Popeye.

They talked to each other in their own language. Eastern European, obviously, though I was unable to tell if they were from Hungary, Romania or some other part of this half-continent.

As the train made its way out of the city, another passenger came into the carriage from the other end. He was about forty, stocky, with cropped hair and an acne-scarred face. He had no luggage. Even though most of the seats in the carriage were empty, he sat diagonally opposite Laura and me. He appraised us, apparently not liking what he saw, then closed his eyes and fanned himself with a newspaper.

I watched Budapest go by, the lights of the city blinking out as the journey progressed.

‘I need a drink,’ I said after a while. ‘There should be a dining car open on the train somewhere.’

‘Not till it crosses the border.’

I looked up. It was the guy across the aisle. He shrugged good-naturedly and said, ‘The dining car doesn’t open till we reach Romania. In’—he checked his watch—‘around two and a half hours.’

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