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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

48 hour train journey from Fort Kochi to New Delhi.

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

In March 2004 I was 25 years old. With not a care in the world, no particular place to be and zero commitments to speak of, I packed up a rucksack and headed off to India. The future lay sparkling and I thought it would last forever.

——

“Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet!” The vendor paused outside our carriage door with a hopeful smile, a wide tray of the aforementioned snacks hanging from his scrawny neck. ‘‘No thank you’’ said Lisa and with a subservient nod he was gone. Though we both knew he’d be back before too long.

Dropping my book onto the blanket, I shifted myself up into a sitting position and peered out the window at the countryside rushing by. “Forty seven!” announced Lisa cheerfully from her bed. ‘‘Huh?’’ I responded. ‘‘Hours!’’ she laughed, ‘‘one down, forty-seven to go”. ‘‘Ah yes’’ I grimaced and it suddenly hit me that we’d made a monumental mistake. Forty-eight hours on a train! What were we thinking?

I turned back to my book with a sigh, bracing myself for the challenge ahead. I’d been put through some tricky tests during my time in India and it looked like this one was going to be the final reckoning. In fact, our route from Fort Kochi up to Delhi would take us through two thirds of the country, a staggering 1666 miles!

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

Train from Fort Kochi to New Delhi.

Our last night in Benaulim was a whole heap of fun. Phil, Lisa, Allan and I had one beer too many at our local restaurant and ended up doing what we’d resolved never to do. Namely pay a visit to Domnick’s, the town’s sole nightclub. I say club, but in truth it was a rickety wooden shack with a tiny bar and a dance floor of golden sand.

Domnick Beach Bar Benaulim Goa.

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

We got really drunk that night on cheap beers and spirits. Thus I found myself actually dancing (a rare occurrence) to the likes of Y.M.C.A, I Will Survive, D.I.S.C.O and all the other crap I’d normally run a mile from. Besides us, there were perhaps a handful of western tourists and a group of local boys who were clearly diehard regulars. One of them, dressed in a smart buttoned blue shirt, was so thrilled by our presence he went nuts. 

I remember him dancing so close to me we were literally eyeball to eyeball! The kid knocked out some seriously funky dance moves right into my disbelieving face, his arms and legs flailing in all directions. It’s an image I’ll never forget, though my defining memory is of Allan, who was laughing so hard I feared he might pass out.

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

Dominick Restaurant and Bar Benaulim Goa.

Dominick Bar & Restaurant, Benaulim.

“Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet!” He was back outside our door, so I gave him an empathetic nod. Once again he took the rebuttal in good humour, sauntering off down the train with his aromatic goods. ‘‘Thirty two hours’’ said Lisa, nibbling on a cookie. ‘‘Shall we play eye spy?’’

The number 32.

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

It was tough leaving Benaulim behind, its sleepy atmosphere having made for the most relaxing leg of my Indian travels. Happily, we’d also chosen wisely for our next destination. It was a draining fourteen hours down to the state of Kerala and then a further three to Kochi, a major port on the south west coast.

Allan and I decided to rent an apartment in the city’s charming Fort Kochi neighbourhood. It was a big old building with enough room for Lisa and Phil, who’d be arriving separately over the coming days. Until then, there was plenty to be getting on with and we slipped easily into local life. Indeed our days were idyllic, with regular beach walks and delicious seafood dinners. Moreover, we never missed an opportunity for an evening walk, chiefly to see the Chinese fishing boats and their nets dotted across the promenade. 

Fort Kochi.

Visit Fort Kochi India.

Fort Kochi, India.

Photo courtesy of thebetterindia.

When Lisa joined the party, the three of us spent a day touring Kerala’s rural backwaters in a wooden boat. Our captain was a chatty local called Saab who, with great effort, heaved us along a series of emerald green canals using a cumbersome bamboo pole. “Is easy!’’ he lied, with a breathless laugh.

Kerala backwaters cruise India

Cruising The Kerala Backwaters.

Eventually, having passed a few villages and several grand houseboats, the narrow waterways broke out into a wide, blue-grey lake where we jumped out for a refreshing swim. Clambering back onboard, our guides welcomed us with a tasty lunch of vegetable curries served on a giant banana leaf. “Enjoy!” ordered Saab and with exchanged smiles we dutifully obliged.

Traditional lunch Kerala Backwaters cruise India

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

It had been such a fantastic day and I was in fine spirits that evening. Hence I felt totally unprepared for the news Allan gave me back at the apartment after dinner. ‘‘I’m heading home’’ he announced with a regretful smile, before launching into an explanation that involved a number of problems with an apartment he’d been renting out in Edinburgh. The situation was now in need of his presence and, he admitted, it felt like the trip was coming to a natural conclusion anyway.

While I told him that I understood, internally I was gutted. The news had come so suddenly that I was in a bit of a daze the next morning when he left after breakfast. With a brief hug and one last wave for the camera, Allan turned, headed down the lane and disappeared from sight.

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

Fort Kochi India.

Farewell from Allan.

“Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet!” Highly disoriented and confused, I bolted upright, smacking my head on the metal springs of the top bunk. “Bollocks!’’ I cursed and it actually took me a moment to get my bearings.

‘‘Lisa, you awake?’’ There was a long pause followed by the rustling of a blanket. “Yeah, what time is it?” she asked, as cutlet man, barely visible in the darkness, gave up on us and moved on. ‘‘Three a.m.’’ I managed, through yawn-speak, before cursing again and burying my head under the blanket. ‘‘Twenty seven hours’’, came her muffled voice.

Vegetable cutlets India

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

“They’re so beautiful!” cooed Lisa, peering out at the seemingly endless row of decorated elephants. A procession of swinging trunks, glittery headdresses and towering parasols. ‘‘Must be a bugger to get them all ready” noted Phil, fiddling with his camera. He’d arrived the day before in a blaze of glory, singing the theme tune to Top Cat. And, I couldn’t help but notice, sporting a leg wound sustained during a moped accident back in Goa.

“Well, I crashed the bloody thing” he explained, with a philosophical shrug.

Visit Kodanad Elephant Training Centre Kerala India.

Kerala Elephant Festival, April 2004.

We were at Kerala’s annual Elephant Festival on a sizzling hot day, the ever-swelling crowds gobbling up what little oxygen there was. In a somewhat pointless attempt to protect myself, I’d fashioned a headdress from a scarf bought at a local market. Yes, I looked like a lunatic. But hey, it kind of did the job. 

Kerala Elephant Festival 2004.

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

Luckily the searing heat didn’t spoil what proved to be another wonderful experience. The locals chanted and clapped, while the elephants performed a graceful march to the sound of thumping drums. In the evening there were fireworks and live music, not to mention the eventful process of trying to get home.

It took us an age to flag down an available rickshaw, and even then we had to share it with another group. Consequently, the vehicle was so horribly overloaded Lisa, Phil and I found ourselves hanging off the sides. We found it hilarious at the time, but looking back it’s a wonder nobody fell out and got seriously injured.

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

Visit India Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary in Kerala

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

Charmed by the beauty and character of Kerala’s elephants, Lisa and I were keen to see more. So we headed out to a nearby sanctuary for some up close and personal time. Set in a verdant river village, Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary was home to twelve elephants, including a pair of adorable babies. It was touching to observe the bond between animal and caretaker. And of course the absolute privilege of getting to wash and feed them.

In the minivan back to Fort Kochi, it struck me how much kinder the second half of my India trip had been to me. And how the creeping claustrophobia of Jaipur now seemed as far away and trivial as a bad dream.

Kodanad Elephant Training Centre Kerala India.

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

‘‘How’s your vegetable cutlet?’’ asked Lisa, taking an uncertain bite of her own. ‘‘I don’t hate it’’ I replied, gazing out the window, but not really looking. I was in a bad mood, with a case of cabin fever that no amount of pacing up and down the train could cure. “Fifteen hours!’’ she said. Reaching over to the little table between our beds, I opened the box of Scrabble we’d brought and began idly sifting through the letters. ‘‘Good idea, let’s go!” enthused Lisa.

‘‘Alright” I said, determined to break out of my malaise. ‘‘First person to spell cutlet is the winner!”

Short story India

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

When the Kathakali performance finished Phil and I shot out of our seats and scurried out of the theatre as fast as our legs could carry us. ‘‘Oh dear, I really hope we didn’t offend anyone in there!” I was still laughing hard, my ribs sore, tears pouring down my face.

‘‘Dear god!’’ puffed Phil, wiping his own eyes with a snigger.

A traditional southern Indian dance, the Kathakali show we’d just seen incorporated colourful masks, gaudy costumes and highly dramatised, mimed facial expressions. We hadn’t meant to be insensitive, but Phil and I had found the whole thing so silly we’d begun chuckling to ourselves. To this day I don’t know how it spiralled so far out of control. But we’d at least had the sense to get ourselves out of there before someone ejected us.

Kathakali India.

The Indian art form of Kathakali.

Phil and I were still calming down when we got back to the apartment. It was late and yet the three of us sat in the kitchen drinking wine and chatting. It was then, completely out of nowhere, that the realisation hit me like a cold slap to the face.

Lisa and Phil were in the midst of some deep discussion but I was completely detached, unable to focus on anything but the details of what had to be done next. Unsure as to whether the sensation might be a temporary one, I decided to sleep on it and see if I might feel differently in the morning.

However, from the moment I awoke there was an instant understanding that only one course of action lay ahead. ‘‘Can you pass me the milk?’’ asked Lisa. The two of us were rustling up a makeshift breakfast, Phil still fast asleep. As we sat there eating I mulled over the different ways in which I could break the news. Finally, taking a leaf out of Allan’s book, I opted for bluntness.

‘‘Lisa…’’ I ventured, bowl of cornflakes in hand, “I’ve had enough, it’s time for me to go home”.

Leighton Travels travel reports short stories.

“Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet! Samosa… pakora… vegetable cutlet!” ‘‘Sod off!’’ I replied from under the blanket. But he obviously didn’t understand, because I could hear him standing there sniffing and shuffling his feet. When at last he was gone I emerged from my bed and gave Lisa a shake.

“Four hours!’’ I grinned, but my heartening news fell on deaf ears.

‘‘I’m so done with this’’ she croaked.

We were certainly on the same page. Not just this stupidly long train journey, but the trip in general. I was tired of living out of a bag, jaded by the draining heat and the endless negotiations over hotel rooms and taxis. I’d begun daydreaming of a Sunday Roast at my parents’ cottage in rural Scotland. Of Yorkshire pudding, white sauce and cauliflower. I thought of the rolling green fields around Sweethope and pictured myself taking Inde for a walk up the hill. I could almost feel the cool afternoon breeze on my face and a book under my arm as we made our way.

48 hour train journey from Fort Kochi to New Delhi.

Daydreaming of not being on a train.

When, hallelujah, we hobbled off at New Delhi Train Station, Lisa and I were a pair of gibbering wrecks. Having booked into our guesthouse on Paharganj, we eagerly headed out for pizza and beers followed by a visit to the cinema for good measure.

We ended up catching Along Came Polly, a romantic-comedy-by-numbers starring Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston. Not their finest work by a long shot, but a much-needed night at the movies nonetheless. It just felt SO good to be off that train. A mammoth tub of popcorn balanced on my lap and the knowledge that a new chapter of my life lay ahead.

Forty Eight Hours, a short story from India.

Along Came Polly Jennifer Aniston.

“Don’t make eye contact, the vegetable cutlet guy is coming”.

‘‘Airport?’’ asked the taxi driver, eyeing my luggage with a greedy leer. ‘‘Yup!’’ I confirmed, though he was already scooping up my backpack and heading for the boot. I don’t remember much about that final drive, which I spent staring out the window in a disengaged haze.

Careering down the motorway at a typically breakneck speed, I thought of Devda the ear cleaner and his little box. I recalled the horror of that awful room in Agra and the breathless beauty of The Taj Mahal. I pictured myself atop Lalou in the desert, the sound of Mr. Magoo’s bowling laugher echoing around me. Furthermore, there were images of James Bond and Bombay cocktails as my eyes dropped and I succumbed to sleep. 

10 Rupee note India.

In my restless slumber there were snapshots of the so-called Pink City. And for just a moment I was back on that damn train again tied to the bed, a masked man laughing manically as he force-fed me from a bowl of vegetable cutlets. At some point The Cashew Kid whispered some inaudible secret into my ear before the sound of the taxi’s shuddering brakes jolted me back to the real world. 

Stepping out into the stuffy afternoon, I retrieved my luggage from the boot and made a beeline for the departures hall. Sucking in lungfuls of delicious air con, I checked in, handed my bag over and decided on one last Indian meal before going through security. It was a buffet-type deal with rice, curry, naan and a tempting selection of fried snacks. Loading up my plate with a variety of delights, I dropped my tray down at the register as the cashier looked over everything, calculating the bill in his head.

“That’s 300 Rupees please’’ he said with a smile. 

“Would you like a free vegetable cutlet?”

‘Forty Eight Hours’ is the twelfth and final part of my short story series Incidents In India.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

Leighton Travels logo travel reports and short stories.

42 Comments

  • exiledprospero

    It’s amazing to learn what one individual is prepared to do to attain, finally and irrevocably, the holy grail of Indian fried food, the samosa or pakora fritter.

    July 5, 2015 - 2:00 pm Reply
  • Forty Eight Hours – a short story from India. | natty4t's Blog

    […] Forty Eight Hours – a short story from India.. […]

    July 5, 2015 - 3:56 pm Reply
  • Anonymous

    Fantastic final episode. Loved it.

    July 5, 2015 - 6:40 pm Reply
  • Diann Peterson

    C… u… t… l… e… t I win!!!!!!

    August 8, 2016 - 7:54 pm Reply
  • Akshay

    Leighton, I love your blog. I read the entire India section and I cracked up so many times … It was nice to know a foreigner’s perspective on my country 🙂
    how long was this trip?

    February 25, 2017 - 7:14 pm Reply
    • leightonliterature

      Hi Akshay, thanks a lot for your kind words! The trip was just under two months and seems so long ago to me now it could almost be another lifetime. I was a young, inexperienced traveller and parts of the adventure were very challenging for me, albeit highly amusing. If you’re interested in reading more about my life travels, I also have short story collections on Qatar, Slovakia, Belgium and China. Thanks again for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

      February 25, 2017 - 8:18 pm Reply
  • Andrew Blackadder

    Trying to understand India is impossible. However when one arrives back in one’s own country they look back and see it in a different light. And by doing so think they have understood what transpired. Every Westerner should visit India one time in their life as it will give them gratitude that they were born in The Western World and it shakes them out of the spoiled slumber.

    April 28, 2020 - 6:02 pm Reply
  • travelling_han

    Lovely – I think Domnick’s sounds great haha! What another adventure, India sounds like one of those trips you learn so much from but probably leave with more questions than you arrived with. I also can’t believe 2004 is now so long ago, I feel like a different person to then!

    January 27, 2022 - 11:51 am Reply
    • Leighton

      You’re right about the “more questions than answers”. On the one hand you feel enlightened by such a trip, like your horizons have been expanded. On the other hand, it throws up so many conflicting feelings and curiosities that can never be fully resolved. George Harrison once said “The farther one travels, the less one really knows”. Sounds about right to me.

      January 27, 2022 - 12:30 pm Reply
      • travelling_han

        Sounds entirely true…I also think that somehow the more you travel, the less you realise you’ve seen!

        January 27, 2022 - 1:29 pm
  • WanderingCanadians

    Sometimes it’s hard to say goodbye to a city or country and other times it isn’t. A 48 hour train ride sounds awful, but it seemed like it gave you some time to reminisce about your travels and to figure out what’s next. Sounds like you’ve had quite the memorable experience in India but that it was time to move on.

    January 27, 2022 - 12:02 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      You’re right, I think at that time of my life the trip was the perfect amount of time. I couldn’t have stayed longer and continued to enjoy it. If I ever make it back I’m sure I’ll stay longer and be better equipping to embrace India’s unique challenges. Appreciate you guys following this series and for your contributions to the various comment threads.

      January 27, 2022 - 1:04 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    48 hours on a freking train. Yikes. Every trip/vacation/holiday comes to a natural conclusion and after so long on the road, even the hardiest get weary. So glad you had this adventure Leighton and that you shared it with us. Cheers. Allan

    January 27, 2022 - 2:28 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Allan, it’s another chunk of the travel vaults published and laid to rest, so to speak. Looking forward to getting back to travel reporting for a bit now. Thanks as everyone, for your readership.

      January 27, 2022 - 2:32 pm Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    What a great and entertaining series!! Now I’m craving a samosa 🙂

    January 27, 2022 - 3:05 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Guess that shouldn’t be a problem in New York! Thanks for reading Lyssy!

      January 27, 2022 - 3:18 pm Reply
      • Lyssy In The City

        True I could have some delivered to my door in 30 minutes 🙂 I may never be able to leave the city for that reason ha!

        January 27, 2022 - 3:23 pm
  • Monkey's Tale

    Looks like you had a 1st class train ticket at least, we were never so lucky. It is funny though, even with all of the hard times and strange meetings during travel in a very foreign country your memories are often fond. There are definitely places in India I will never return, but the country and all of it’s strangeness does grow on you doesn’t it. Great story, Maggie

    January 27, 2022 - 5:27 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      You summarised that well Maggie. Part of me feels like, in order to come circle, I need to go back to India one day and see it with my older/more experienced/more cynical eyes. A 20 year anniversary trip sounded apt to me but in reality I can’t see myself going near India in the current climate. Maybe a bit further on down the road. Thanks for following this collection and for all your feedback.

      January 27, 2022 - 5:48 pm Reply
      • Monkey's Tale

        No it’s not nice to get Delhi belly in another country, I wouldn’t want Covid there.

        January 27, 2022 - 8:08 pm
  • Little Miss Traveller

    48 hours is a very long time on a train journey, much longer than I’ve ever experienced. Thanks for sharing the experience and your memories of that time.

    January 27, 2022 - 6:59 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Marion, hope you’ve had a good time in The Peak District!

      January 27, 2022 - 7:09 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    What a great last story about your trip to India. There were definitely highlights (the washing of elephants sounds amazing) … but oh my, that 48 hours on a train … that sounds a bit nerve wrecking to me! And like with any long holiday, there comes a time, when you just know, it’s time to go home. Thank you for an entertaining series – there were funny, as well as hair-raising moments … I’ve enjoyed every bit of it!

    January 27, 2022 - 8:29 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for joining me on this nostalgic journey Corna. It’s been fun reliving and sharing these adventures and laughing about how my younger self struggled with it all.

      January 27, 2022 - 8:43 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    You certainly had a whirlwind of a time in India! Homesickness is no joke: travel is one long party, but eventually, the desire of stability and familiarity calls you back. Overall, India seemed to be one of your most-challenging countries to have navigated and visited (still recall the countless times of street vendors and scammers you had to endure), but you made it! Can’t wait to see what the next travel series is about!

    January 28, 2022 - 4:21 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Rebecca. Despite being a digital nomad these days, that call for home and familiarity still comes calling, usually every two years. Have been enjoying my current stay ‘home’, especially the food and the comfort of hearing and using native English every day. Will be a few months I guess before the next short story collection, back to travel reporting for a while methinks.

      January 28, 2022 - 10:00 am Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    Excellent series to follow along with! India certainly had its ups and downs for you and wow what a ride it all must have been. Reading through this post I had to shudder again at your ear cleaning and glass in the bed experience, laugh at the Cashew kid and his persistence, feel wild jealousy at seeing the Taj Mahal, and wonder again how you maneuvered through the endless heat and scams. You really are an exceptional story teller and I am looking forward to reading the next story in the next series. I hope you have a great weekend 🙂

    January 28, 2022 - 5:13 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      You’re very kind Meg, thank you. I’ll plan to put out the next (shorter) story collection out before the summer. Until the it’s back to the relentless business of travel reporting from the old back catalogue. No rest for the wicked.

      January 28, 2022 - 5:16 pm Reply
  • salsaworldtraveler

    I feel your train trip pain. I had a 40 hour train trip from Beijing to Lhasa in a compartment like yours. It was an ordeal being the only Westerner onboard. At least one person in the compartment spoke English. But I was glad i had the experience – once. The details, feelings and impressions from your trip paint a wonderful picture that makes your stories very interesting and fun to read.

    January 28, 2022 - 5:13 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Wow so you definitely know what I’m talking about. Beijing to Lhasa sounds similarly epic. Would really love to explore Tibet one day. Thanks for following this series John, next it’s time to finally finish my Vietnam travel reports. It’s been a long time coming.

      January 28, 2022 - 5:18 pm Reply
  • northeastallie

    That sounds really amazing to hang out with the elephants. They are very graceful and intelligent beings!

    January 28, 2022 - 6:41 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Absolutely, probably my favourite animal experience thus far. Though I’m hoping that one day I’ll get to test that by hanging out with giraffes. Thanks for reading!

      January 28, 2022 - 7:20 pm Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    These are great stories, I enjoyed each one. Years ago, theTravelsketcher and I took a train from Melbourne to Sydney which was about 12 hours; and I thought that was a long time to be on a train! That’s a short jaunt compared to yours.

    January 29, 2022 - 4:22 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, thanks for following these old tales. A little break now and back to the travel report archives. Hope you’re having a great weekend.

      January 29, 2022 - 4:23 pm Reply
  • pam@ichoosethis

    Sooo fricken good! ahhh to be 24 again. Loved all of the pics. If I took Sean on a 48 hour train ride, he’d kill me. LOL.

    January 29, 2022 - 5:43 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha I hear ya. Thanks for checking out this last chapter of my Indian adventures.

      January 29, 2022 - 9:18 pm Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    One thing you shouldn’t do on a long trip is count down the hours! Taking the train across Canada, we enjoyed the scenery, chatting with other passengers, reading, and getting ready for what we wanted to see on the next stop. Of course, I was a lot older and less impatient! It was nice not to have to negotiate the highways and endure endless hours of driving, or figuring out connections. I enjoyed following your journeys across India.

    January 31, 2022 - 4:35 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Ruth for seeing the journey through. The 48 hour train journey was definitely an experience to be filed under ‘done’ and never repeated. A train trip across Canada sounds amazing.

      January 31, 2022 - 5:30 pm Reply
  • Memo

    I had the feeling you were just going where the winds took you but I never expected you to just decide to end it so abruptly. Great summary of the trip at the end. You really did experience a lot. Would have loved the elephant sanctuary, especially since you got to do some hands on. Where are you taking me next?

    January 31, 2022 - 6:24 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Vietnam next (as you’ve already discovered by now) before an extended series in northern England. That’ll keep these pages busy until the end of February.

      January 31, 2022 - 6:46 pm Reply
  • jasonlikestotravel

    Not sure I’d fancy 48 hours on a train but perhaps a fitting way to end the journey.

    February 2, 2022 - 3:29 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I’d never do it again, that’s for sure! Good to have you back Jason.

      February 2, 2022 - 3:39 pm Reply

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