Hour 1. 6 a.m. It’s so cold I can feel my nipples through four layers of clothes. Nothing is open except a kebab shop and I can’t think of anything else I could possibly want less right now. I have the remains of an evening spent in a German sauna on my tongue; I felt bad making noise in the hostel so early so I didn’t brush my teeth. All I can hope for now is that no one will smell my intense dick breath.
Hour 2. It’s still dark. The one consolation is that I will see the sun rise over the German countryside. It’ll be nice to see the land change as I make my way to Sarajevo.
Hour 3. Fell asleep and missed the sunrise. Woke to the sound of a girl’s phone going off and her loud conversation. A terrible start to the sunlit portion of the journey.
Hour 3½. First stop, and it’s for 25 minutes. No wonder the trip takes 29 hours in total.
Hour 4. Phone girl is a problem. Her phone rings every few minutes, loudly. Constantly. She was asked to turn it on silent by another passenger and she just told him to fuck off. I admire her tenacity and simultaneously want her thrown onto the freeway.
Hour 5. I’m learning that breaks are a common thing. There seems to be a 5-minute smoking break every hour or so. The driver and I have become friends, chuffing away in a haze and bonding in silence.
Hour 6. I ate for the first time. I didn’t want to but I saw a chicken salad at the truck stop I couldn’t refuse. How are truck stop salads so good? What is their secret? I never thought I would be raving about a salad but maybe life on the road is changing me.
Hour 7. Had a nap in the afternoon sun and now there is an old man in the seat behind me who is shaky in both his disposition and physical form. His smile is riddled with holes where teeth used to be.
Hour 8. There is a man sitting in the seat in front of me who is writing emails on his phone with the typing clicking noise on. He’s been at it for so long I think he is writing his memoirs. There is a special place in hell for people who text in public places with that typing noise on.
Hour 9. Why did I think a truck stop salad would be a good idea? I knew I should have gone without the creamy dressing but it was just so dry without it. Past-me would have said that a life with dry salads is not a life worth living. Present-me, who is shitting in this bus toilet for his life, disagrees.
Hour 10. I exceed the 150MB Wi-Fi allowance. No more internet – stingy bitches. The page that tells me that I have exceeded it suggests I have a chat with my friendly neighbour instead. It feels like a passive aggressive instruction from a parent to their nerdy kid. I look around: memoir texter has departed, phone girl is a few rows ahead of me, a group of older non-English-speaking Germans sit at the front and at the back it’s just me and ol’ speedy McGee. I consider my options and decide against the advice. I go to the bus driver and implore him for more data, but he cannot allow it, says it is out of his control. I try to tell him how I am trapped on here for the entire 29 hours but he has no sympathy. He also most likely does not understand my English plea.
Hour 10½. A thick fog envelops the countryside around us. I know fog is common in these areas, but it feels somehow related to my internet getting cut off: foreboding and bleak. The fog is so thick I can’t see beyond the trees that line the road. I’m almost certain I’ve read this Stephen King book, and it does not bode well for us.
Hour 11. We enter a town clouded with fog. It’s just reaching 5 p.m. and it already feels like a ghost town in the dead of night. Where are all the people? I see a sign for a Kult Hotel and I am not assuaged. Ringing phone girl is still going. I wish we could vote her off the bus.
Hour 12. The fog continues; it’s giving the streetlights a creepy edge. Out of nowhere I feel the cold touch of death on my shoulder and turn to see the shaky man sitting behind me. He seems to want something, but then he makes streaks on his face with his fingers and a consoling gesture. I realise I’m crying like a little bitch. I try to explain to him that I have just binged the last half of the second season of Stranger Things and the last episode was really emotional and I’m just in a really weakened state right now. He just sits there shaking and smiling at me. I don’t know if this classifies as having a chat with a neighbour but it’s probably as close as I’m getting.
Hour 13. Fuck I need a drink.
Hour 13½. Old shaky dude and phone girl get off. I now have the entire back section of the bus to myself. I mark my territory by letting out a fart I have been holding for hours.
Hour 14. I stink. Yesterday, I read some stupid article online about how we are applying deodorant wrong. I had intended to apply it before I went to bed, as the internet had told me was correct, but I had forgotten and in my haste this morning had not done so either. Now my deodorant is in my bag under the bus and I reek like some gross, sweaty, dick-breathed hobo. At least the chances of anyone joining my section of the bus are somewhat lessened, I suppose.
Hour 15. The fog has gone. We’ve stopped for another break at a dingy truck stop. The windows outside the diner are lined with dangling spider corpses – this does not incite me to eat there. Besides, I’m still reeling from the earlier drama involving a salad.
Hour 17. Accidentally fell asleep too early. By that I mean I dozed off because I’m on a moving air-conditioned nap machine. It is now 10.15 p.m. and I’m wide awake, enjoying the titillation of being in my own section at the back of the bus. I feel as though I’m in one of those things they used to carry royals around in. I can’t see the other passengers or the driver, and I don’t care to.
Hour 18. The results of the postal vote for marriage equality back in Australia have been announced and I can’t check the internet. This truly is a cruel hell.
Hour 19. We are now in Slovenia. I am woken by the bus driver, who nudges me saying, “Cigarette, cigarette.” I look up at him from my slumbered curl, confused and wondering why. I can’t humanly smoke this much, but he is my only ally in this world. Stopping for a cigarette break at a petrol station seems illogical and dangerous, but perhaps that’s just the way things are here. I am slowly forgetting the rules of life before the bus. Still land feels foreign to me now. It’s so cold the grass has frosted over and crunches underfoot. I crave the comfort of my dry, vibrating womb.
Hour 20. I have started nesting in the back of the bus, draping my things about like a shanty town. This is my domain. I am the captain now. Life on still land is but a memory, this moving nap machine is my world.
Hour 21. A man has encroached on my territory. As we re-embarked after passport checks at the Croatian border he appeared out of nowhere and lay himself upon the back seat – a seat I had renovated into my bedroom. This did not matter to him. He didn’t ask permission, he didn’t even knock. This world is getting wild. Sometimes I miss the structured rules of still land.
Hour 23. Fell asleep listening to Bjork and had crazy dreams as a result. The world rolls by and in this moving vessel I feel like I’m in the process of chrysalisisation. Chrysalisisation is not a word on still land but I make my own rules now. Bjork is the perfect voice to shepherd me in my transformation.
Hour 24. Time is losing all meaning here. I think I remember what trees look like when they aren’t being viewed from a moving vehicle, but the memory is fading. I recall the touch of land animals: soft, tender. My body is getting used to the mechanical hum of the heart of the bus as it chugs along. Without it I no longer know how I would survive. The core of the bus is the core of me.
Hour 25. I am so tired. Sleeping in bursts is not sustaining me. I need to tend to my shanty town for things have fallen. It was a bumpy road as we entered Bosnia a few weeks back and my foundations did not hold. I have nothing stopping me from repairs except my own free will, which I can feel ebbing away out the tiny crack in the window that I am sure is growing. Is the crack getting bigger or am I getting smaller? The outside world is an old friend I used to know. We used to keep in touch, now and then, but now we don’t even like each other’s Facebook statuses. I shut my curtain and unfollow still land from my life. I don’t need to be reminded of a world I am no longer part of.
Hour 27. I awaken. My body is wrinkled and sore. I need to cook breakfast for the puppies, they will be back soon. My meal is a cup of noodles that I heat up with cold water; there is no hot water here. Waking up to the snowy Bosnian landscape is a nice change from foggy Germany of death. I welcome the new show. Please don’t change the channel. My home is cold. They seem to be pumping cold air onto us now. I will have to remove the dividing wall between the kitchen and the lounge room because it is my jacket. Time moves strangely here.
Hour 28. We are arriving. It is too early, I’m not ready. I’m not prepared to leave the womb. I tried to ready my senses but now I’m being prematurely thrust out into the world, crying and screaming and sticky. I am a mess. On still land my hair would sit in a curly mess but here it springs out like a plant searching for sunlight. Crust has formed a new layer of skin under my eyes. I gather my things in a rush and make my way back out to the world.
As I disembark the bus I reacquaint myself with my feet; I lost feeling beneath my knees some months ago. I remember what the rush of blood through the body feels like. Still land is bright and unwavering in its intensity. There is no hum to the earth. There is no warm breeze on my neck. There is space all around, too much space; where will I lean? I emerge from the bus like a reluctant newborn leaving the safety of his amniotic abode.
This brave new world smells eerily familiar. I look at the snow-laced earth in front of me. I feel the unfiltered sunlight season my skin. I turn back to the creature that held me for all those years and look ahead to the unknown. I am man. I got this.
H. D. Thompson is a writer and performer from the gutters of Melbourne. Has written words for SPOOK, Junkee, The Lifted Brow and reviewed films for Subterranean Death Cult. He can also be found at actuallyharry.com and followed at @actuallyharry. Actually.
Photo used under Creative Commons by timnutt (via Flickr)