The Closeness of Parting to Meeting, slash, Thirty-Something Hours
Taking a nap is the first thing on the imaginary to-do list. Hungry, I am in great need of sleep, and I hold emotions so messy that I’d rather throw up more than anything. I’ve been planning this nap ever since I woke up unreasonably early this morning. If I don’t nap now, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the most. And the plan is to enjoy the most. The road is long, something to look forward to. Traveling now carries a different meaning. No longer about visiting the points pinned on my map recommended by journalists and travel experts, this city or that one, it’s now about the incidents happening on a smaller scale; it’s personal. Perhaps just to take the time to be. I care to know about the people who live in that village and how their forest burned, their church bells, their casual summer parties, and what they eat for dinner; to call it our village in the end. If good fortune follows, we would remain good friends with the people I meet along the way.
The bus stops for a break. The driver announces something, which I’m thinking is about our lunch break. It’s either fifteen minutes or forty; I should’ve made more effort in learning the language. The passengers get up and ask each other if this is the lunch break. This other lady turns to me and says something, I assume meaning if this is our lunch break. She obviously couldn’t tell that I am a foreigner.
It’s a very typical local restaurant. Except for the toilet that I use very quickly, I don’t have any intentions of going inside the restaurant. I already know how it looks; I’ve been to so many of them in the past few months. I enter the terrace; I sit on the yellow a plastic chair at a yellow plastic table. There’s probably a yellow plastic umbrella around the corner as well. I take one of the egg sandwiches out of the cloth bag. I start to eat. Very hungry, I could see everyone else is too; everybody’s eating vigorously. I’m done with the sandwich. The taste of the salty butter is left in my mouth, the soft brown bread, the creamy egg yolk, and the crunchy lettuce. Even though I made the sandwich yesterday, it’s still quite fresh, as if I made it an hour ago. I reach for another sandwich without a second of hesitation, feels like I deserve this deliciousness. It can be the support I’m looking for, a hand around my shoulders to assure me it’ll be fine. Can’t be bothered with the food restrictions, or if it’s too much butter, if the bread would widen my hips; I’ll worry about that tomorrow. How come some people are standing out in the sun?! Isn’t the sun burning hot?! How can their skin not melt?! I got a memorable sunburn last summer as we did a picnic with Soheil by the lake. I recall talking to him about something, remember the sentence word for word, where I said it and why I said it. But I can’t hear myself saying it. I can’t remember how I sound like, the tone of my voice, the way I speak. I feel foreign to myself, like a stranger. Where am I even?! What part of the country is it that’s spoiling me with this tasty lunch?! It’s not that far away, we’re only half an hour away. I believe it’s another lonely place.
The landscape changes very subtly. The rocks start to turn up in square shapes, and the windmills disappear gradually over the mountains. We’re now riding along a very high hill, such great view of the whole area, small towns and villages in between. Different types of trees cover the land; we’ve passed the burnt forest a while ago. Piles of big rocks are here and there, which are rather flat with a smoother surface. Yellow bushes and the dust tell it’s a dry land, or perhaps the sun is too hot. I keep my eyes on the horizon, a little bit distracted by the black lines of cables that interrupt with the clouds, and break the blue color of the sky. The afternoon blue. I must breathe, and drink some water.
About to pass the first border
For some strange reason, things look different all of a sudden. Not just the trees and the rocks, but the houses, gas stations, shops, and things. It must be for the invisible line drawn in between the countries.
This whole story sounds quite familiar. Taking long trips by the road, I used to do it often many years ago. Things, all of a sudden, shift shapes as we cross the border. The difference, in previous journeys, was that we actually crossed the gates of the border drawn in between the two neighboring countries; passport check and custom control to make sure you’re no threat to the country. Nonetheless, the road is just as enchanting. That’s how I overcame the painful process of moving out of my hometown. It’s a slow type of traveling; you get to let the emotions sink in. You can’t really digest them as fast as an airplane ride, can you?! Airports take you to another world, like a spaceship or some kind; you enter another state of mind. Stressful, there’s a peculiar tension to it. I guess the only thing that makes it worthwhile is the magnificent view of the clouds. Oh, the clouds.
I almost cried a couple times as the bus headed east down the road. My breath was stuck before my throat, my eyes were filled with tears that didn’t fall–I decided it’s best if I take a nap. It’s really hard to let go, just to say goodbye. Abandoned buildings are everywhere: factories, farm houses, unknown constructions. The walls are covered in graffiti and the windows are broken. The rooftops are dusty, the ivy and weed growing all over them is kind of depressing. Maybe that’s what makes me so down.
After a short coffee break
Farmlands, it’s been hours now, they’re all I can see. Yellow plain fields decorated with stacks of hay, green fields with industrial water sprinkles. Saplings that has been planted very recently, I wonder what trees they are, and what their fruits will be. And sunflowers, so many sunflowers. The sky is wide open since the land is flat. Things can be seen in a great distance, trees and mountains far away. I wish for a miracle tonight. I wish that the sun magically wouldn’t set. So many great views will be missed in the darkness.
We must be getting closer to a city. Factories of different brands, big grocery storage facilities, and chain furniture stores are great hints to reveal a city nearby. I don’t know, I’m sitting on the driver’s side, I can’t really follow the signs, can’t really tell where we are. I let myself by amazed by the magnificent views instead.
There must be a way to create a better communication with the old man sitting next to me. I’m thinking, but can’t come up with any. The conversation includes words, which I don’t know so many. I got to know him only a bit. I didn’t learn his language enough over the past few months to be able to have a very brief chat with him. Well, almost a year, it really was longer than a few months. I would’ve asked a lot of questions from him if I could, such as how come he travels with no suitcases, only two small plastic bags, which I’m thinking one of them is for the food for the journey, and even a smaller hand-bag.
Time passes by strangely on the bus. It’s either too fast, or too slow. I snooze for two minutes that feels like three hours; the view is different each time. The small space inside the bus is shared with strangers for the next twenty-something hours, passengers seated next to each other, drowned in all kinds of thoughts and emotions. They admire the landscape, take naps, some with their mouths open. It might even get boring, but we’re all headed to the same destination. Where are we stopping next?!
We pass by an abandoned church surrounded by trees and bushes and an old windpump windmill. Beautiful, wish I could’ve taken a picture, or pause the view for a moment to draw the scenery. I guess this is how you need to entertain yourself around here. The road is indeed long, and there are so many things around. Interesting or not, they get your attention. I read the plate numbers of the cars, and the letter written on the side to resolve which country they’re coming from, or where they’re going to. They might be on holidays, or might be on their way back home.
The white windmills show up from behind the hill again; they have them here too. I can’t keep my eyes off the ever changing view. The sun is about to set. When would we stop for dinner?!
The new driver must be a funny man. I don’t understand what he’s saying, but all the other passengers laugh as he makes an announcement. The drivers changed shifts at the first border as we took a short coffee break. The first one was very friendly, I’d say pretty funny too for our brief conversation. I always make a conversation with the driver. But not this time really! I’m sitting in the middle of the bus, and we don’t really speak the same language anyway.
The sun is setting beautifully. It assembles all the magnificent colors from bright yellow to red and orange and finally to the deepest blue. The clouds are, of course, pink. They look soft. I’ve started studying the clouds as a fun hobby, but I still cannot tell which is which; they have such difficult names to memorize. I’ve never been good with names. This colorful feast is happening on my left side as we pass by the tall white windmills. On the other side, the moon is shining in bright yellow. Looks like a full-moon. My calendar says the full moon isn’t until tomorrow evening. Seems pretty full to me! I have to bend forward or lean backwards to be able to see it. Its reflection flickers on my window, which makes my view even cooler, but it’s not really the same as seeing its bright golden face in front of me. I tap on the old man’s shoulder gently to get his attention. He seems puzzled, but he smiles as I point out to the moon, saying that it is very beautiful. We’re riding north in between the two of them, the setting sun and the rising moon. Wish I had them both on my window. How do they say again, you can’t have your cake and eat it too?!
So many hotels on the side of the road, I’ve noticed since the start of this trip. Big, small, fancy, casual, cheap, a lot of them. Now that it’s dark, I see some lights on. So, people do stay there. But, who would?! And why?! I mean, in the middle of nowhere?! What for?!
Before the gas station
Not so sure if the driver is all that nice anyway. As we stop for a refill, I ask him if the lights above our seats are working, because they’re not working. If they’re not broken, could he please turn them on?! He says it’s true, they don’t work. No smile whatsoever. I appreciate it. I take a little walk around the gas station. My legs feel a bit sore from all that sitting. Fifty or sixty steps would do, with a little bit of stretching on the side. I also take a good look around before I get back my seat, just to see where we are, or what’s going on around the neighborhood. I don’t know, I can’t see any signs out of my window; how would I know?! I only know that we’re about to cross another border.
Even though we don’t speak the same language with my fellow passenger, we might have a connection. I come back to the bus a bit later than the others after the dinner. I imagine the old man is slightly concerned since the couple behind us point at me as I arrive, saying there she comes, or something in that sense. He says that it’s another country right after we cross the first border. I show him the yellow moon so that he’d enjoy it as well. And this time, before the gas station break, he tries to simplify the driver’s announcement so that I’d understand we’re taking a short break. We definitely have a connection: I couldn’t help but share my excitement with him as I realize the lights are working after the gas station break. I give him a big smile, and turn the light on and off a couple times. I imagine he understands the reason for my happiness. Well, the driver isn’t so mean after all; it must be another language barrier.
I haven’t yet spent any money. I only bought a ticket from our village to the town, paid a few coins at the coach station to use the toilet before I hop on this bus. I’m excited to see how far I would go. I still have enough food and water. Haven’t craved for coffee yet, we’ll see about that tomorrow.
Not that it matters all that much, just out of curiosity, what time is it?!
About to cross another border
The moon is now on my side. They move in the sky you know. Still a bit cloudy from a couple hours before, although the rain has stopped. We arrive in a town. It’ll take me a while to figure out where we are. I have to look for the name somewhere, some billboards, a street sign to the center, or a title at the back of a truck. And even if I do find the name, I’m not sure if I’d be able to pronounce it right. I see so many people out, young people looking for parties in an intoxicated state of mind. They are trying to have a good time, they most definitely seem so. Where is this town?! Perhaps I should come back to it at some point. The clubs are busy, something quite nice to see, people having fun.
And again, abandoned buildings with broken windows have taken over the town, at the same time, so many new constructions going on. I can’t make sense. They have a large body of water which I’m thinking should be a lake. Is it real? Or is it man-made?! I really need to use the bathroom. I didn’t go to the bathroom during the previous break.
The first drop off
It’s morning. The sunrise is happening, I spot its location. We’re driving toward it; it’s on the right corner of the bus. And so the moon must be on its opposite side, we’re leaving it behind. I have to look back to my left to be able to see it. It’s yellow. Orange-ish type of yellow, with a bit of dirt dusted upon. Still quite dark to see the colors of the fields, they’re all around the road. They must be farmlands. Almost flat again, you could see things in a great distance. A couple of low hills, gray clouds, silent houses and trees which I’m sure are green.
I woke up from a crazy dream. We were in a city with a friend, a guy who seemed to be a close one. We took a walk with others to have a smoke. Things turned into a big mess, chaotic and crowded. We had to pass through a certain area, some marble stairs that linked different parts of the city together. The water had come up to the first few stairs. Dirty disgusting black water. We made up our mind to walk through. Nasty, I stepped in nevertheless. As we passed the staircase, I saw a bathroom on the right. I let myself in to wash my black shorts. I washed it a few times and it was still dirty. Very dark gray water with gray foams fell on the marble sink as I gave it a squeeze. Those black shorts, all of a sudden, were magically able to hold so much water. And the marble seemed to carry a touch of blue. Still quite wet, I put on the shorts to join my friends; they were waiting for me. At some point, we watched a video; it was an art performance. It felt very familiar to me. Seemed like I’ve already recorded the sound. Maybe it was recorded on the phone that I lost before I went to the forest. Some things are better left behind.
We stop for a quick coffee. The old man raises his finger, he says coffee! I agree and we all head out the bus. The idea sounds lovely in my head: morning coffee accompanied with the sunrise. But it is a machine that would serve you the coffee. I don’t believe a plastic cup would be all that romantic, so I just charge my phone, and use the bathroom real quick. I’m slightly tempted to buy a little something from the shop. I say to myself that I’d buy a stuffed toy if it’s SpongeBob. Or if I see a cool puzzle, like one of those puzzles we had when we were kids. But then again, I start to think logically: I don’t have any space to keep it. So I walk out of the store.
I take another nap now that we’re back on the bus, even though it doesn’t seem quite possible. Everyone else has had their coffee already, and they’re wide awake. I’m behind their time. A couple hours ago we were sleeping side by side, all together on this bus; it was all very quiet except if the driver was having a chat with his fellow, or listening to the radio or something. The bus, all of a sudden, seems to be a whole other place. It’s not just the sunrise, or the coffee that has woken everyone up. Things have their time; we would arrive at our destination in a few hours. Some will take another bus, the others will go home. The old man had said, yesterday afternoon at some point, that we wouldn’t arrive at the transit station until the next day, sometime around noon. I smiled as I nodded when he said that. It was going to be exciting, I said to him with my facial expressions and very few words that I knew. These two ladies are now speaking out loud about something. One of them is sitting in front of me, the other one a couple seats behind. They are the buns, and I am the filling of this sandwich. They are probably speaking about the spot where the bus would drop them, and some restaurant somewhere. They are very loud. Maybe because we’ve been on this bus for about twenty-four hours now, they feel much more comfortable than what they normally would.
I wake up to the windmills. A lot of them. Near, far, right by the road, beyond the farmlands. They’re crisp white, and they rotate at different times. There’s something nice about that, visually speaking. Unreal, but comforting, a gentle massage to the eyes. They really are everywhere.
Closer to the transit station
Red bricks become more popular the further up north we go. Not here though, this city is mostly about stone houses. The shape of the stones is quite different than the ones back in our village. These are round with a lighter color. Cute windows and brown rooftops, the alleys look lovely. Beautiful monuments, impressive sculptures, good-looking people; what’s not to love?! What if I lived here?! I might not live in this city, but somewhere in this country. Life seems to be easy and effortlessly cool, it seems nice. I guess I have to live here for a while before I could make any statements. Everything can look cool from the outside. Don’t they all look rather alike in the end?!
The road itself is not tiring; traveling doesn’t really take much of your energy on its own. It’s just sitting, and watching things happen out the window. The stations wear you out, carrying the bags and suitcases, the vehicle, or dealing with other people. Planning ahead of time, and eventually realizing the plans had gone wrong.
The view is quite different now. I take the first seat just as I get on the bus; this is my favorite place to sit on a bus. Now that my plans have gone wrong, and I have to take an extra trip before I get to my destination, I at least deserve a good seat and a good view. The road is wide open, and I see both sides clearly, not to mention my wide window on the right side. Still windmills, makes me think about them more than I usually would. The reason to make them stand out so might be for their incredibly large sizes. They’re enormous. A white van was parked by one of them on the side of the road; the van looked like a white dot.
Ben is the name of our driver. He introduced himself when he made the first announcement. He has a very serious attitude. I need to ask him something to make sure that I will eventually reach my destination alright, but I wouldn’t dare to ask him; he’s very intimidating.
Watching the road is the best fun, reading the signs, counting the numbers to see how close we are to pass another border. It doesn’t really matter all that much, it’s only a source of entertainment. Red brick houses are back, they look like cookies. It’s green everywhere. The farmlands have vanished and the forest has taken over, narrow rivers and streams here and there, factory buildings, and a large lake as a surprise present to the view. I notice some walking paths where the locals would take a walk or ride their bikes, would enjoy their day in a humble way. It’s summer, and unfortunately, it’s cloudy.
Crossing another border
We stop at another station, another capital, another city. Maybe I would’ve enjoyed this city better if it wasn’t raining, if it was warm and sunny, and the chilly wind wouldn’t freeze my cheeks off on a summer afternoon. I might’ve enjoyed it better if I hadn’t seen so many homeless people, and this huge building in the center of the town that seemed to be completely abandoned; there were so many blankets and plastic bags filled with stuff which I’m thinking is the houses of these homeless folks. I find a shelter from the rain, and have an early dinner. I eat almost all the food that I’d brought with me. Except for some oatmeal, there’s nothing left in my bag. I’d prepared four small egg sandwiches which I decided that I’d better finish eating them on the first day before they went bad. I also made a bucket of salad, shredded cabbage with grated carrots, and a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt and a little bit of black pepper. I took two pears and an apple as for the desert by the end of each meal, and a can of tuna fish that I just finished eating. I’m still very hungry, my stomach is speaking out loud with me. I take a nap as I get on the bus, it would help me forget about it.
Leaving the last capital
We go from one country to another without even realizing that we cross any borders. There’s a blue sign on the side of the road to tell you that you’ve entered another country. What do these borders stand for here anyway, other than a thin line on the maps and globes?! Are there here so that we know people speak another language on the other side of the line, and they live their lives slightly differently? Why can’t the whole world be like this?! Why can’t we all just get on the buses, and watch the landscape transform before our eyes? The burnt forest, to the rocky hills, farms, and eventually lands that are completely flat. Is it really that complicated to let us move freely?!
About to cross the final border
One time a friend said that she prefers to travel alone, because that’s how you get to meet others, and make new friends. I do meet people when I travel. I try to help them if they need any, and I’m not shy to ask for one if I’m in trouble. I take the train with this young couple; they’re going to the same town as I am. They say we could take the train to get there faster. They fixed my broken route; good thing that I meet them. Good thing that I had that sweet conversation with the driver; he suggested I could ask this young couple since our destination is the same. I ask the driver if he enjoys his job behind the wheel. He says that he’s doing it as a hobby. He says he used to be a flower man for over thirty years. He becomes my friend too, just like the young couple sitting behind me. Eventually, we have to say goodbye, and we’ll probably never meet up again. Hopefully, we do, but probably not.
The train is on its way to our stop, and we have a nice chat with my new friends. I ask them how come they’re here. They ask me where I’m going and where I’m from. I tell them about my plans, why I was on this journey. It just hits me that I’m about to see my mother; we haven’t met for over a year. A smile is drawn on my face, a genuine form of happiness. I don’t even stop myself from smiling. I tell them about it, with my most honest feelings, about the excitement that just filled me all over. They nod, they understand.
On the train