Roughly 3am at a rest stop off the Thessaloniki to Athens toll road. We all have to leave the bus, the driver clearly fearing a jacking as he kicks up his caffeine supply a necessary notch.
Of course he needn’t fear a thing. He is driving a living hearse. We respire, sniff our own smells and those of others and that’s approximately it. There is no collective or individual capability for a dastardly plot, but whatever makes him feel comfortable.
A small dog in a cage is carried off. Down to the one layer of entrapment for pooch. It’s the only creature with a welcome party, albeit not requested or desired. Larger black stray sidles up, tail wagging. Sniffs turn to growls turn to barks. The noise dominates heavily, given Greece’s motorways are largely dead this far from the major cities, even at times more conducive to traffic.
The basic truth of long-distance public transport rest stops is that although you get the stop aspect, no-one rests. This is due to a potent mix of acute social awkwardness, muzak and bad colour schemes. An empty bladder, stretched legs and popped-up blood sugar at a premium price is the best combo you can hope for.
We are obliged to go inside this hinterland facility, be good consumers. The toilets are lit like interrogation rooms, the restaurant-shop hybrid more like a negative. Retinas throb. Leave the place with snacks and thoughts of blindness are assuaged by the distant lights of Lamia glinting like pound shop Christmas tree fare. At least that’s where the guy on the phone arranging a pick-up says we are.
The bus has gone.
Oh no it hasn’t. It’s just been moved over there, behind and to the right, for reasons unknown. The five-second panic is real, and on this filling station forecourt, universal. Even those travelling with companions are alone in this moment. The most weather-beaten and vaguely hard-looking make silent micro cries for mummies.
There are enmities and wars and heinous misunderstandings in the passenger histories. There are loves and codependencies and all the rest. You don’t have to submit forms to know this. How long would we be left here before thoughts turned to eating each other. Some smoke, some pace. It is a confusion of cold and warm.
We ponder on death as a group. This is not guesswork, it’s the only possible thing to think of while gazing into darkness in half-unconscious wake, growling dogs scratching at your ear drums and night-chilled petrol fumes in your nostrils. The end is coming at a pace unknown; soon or distant, painful or an easy fade out. We face a terminus, with baggage shoved haphazard and careless.
We paid to plonk arses on seats and force low-rent sleep on brains stimulated by unfamiliarity as the open road slips beneath our feet. We cannot be expected to be ready in spirit for the rest stop. It is too little and too much.
I spit spearmint gum into a poorly-tended tub of flowers and feel slightly guilty about it for five minutes after. The bus doors hiss open, we board.
Cover image courtesy of CharlesEi1 via Flickr