“How lohng ’til we sppose to dishemburk?”
I was, as these stories are wont to begin, spectacularly drunk.
“Dishuhm… er, disembark.” I tried again. “This bus. How long before we dishhembrr… when do we get off?”
“In ten minutes,” Mike stated boldly, equally drunk but far more confident of our whereabouts. He was looking at a Polish route map and estimating the distance between us and our Krakow hotel. It wasn’t far; we could have walked it (we couldn’t have walked it).
“Just three stops,” he reaffirmed, jabbing the map with a finger. He was holding it upside down.
The idea of missing our stop and trying to find our way around the Eastern bloc, in our condition, gave me the heebie jeebies. “Whatever we do,” I leaned in and whispered loudly, in a tone I felt carried a universal weight of massive importance, “we can not fall asleep .”
“Sure,” Mike mused. “I mean, you can.”
“Or I can.”
“But we can’t both fall asleep.”
“No! Heavens, no!” I cried, waving my hands at the sheer lunacy of the idea. “If we’re going to sleep, we’ll have to do shifts.”
Mike took a moment to turn this great suggestion over in his mind.
“It’s a ten minute bus ride.”
“True. Let’s both look out for this stop, then.”
Satisfied with having reached an agreement, Mike and I instantly fell into a deep sleep.
“Um…” That was the extent of my observations on waking up a considerable amount of time later, still on the bus. We were the only people on the bus, save for the guy driving it.
And I knew it was a considerable amount of time later not because it was daylight outside – though that was certainly a tip-off that I’d been unconscious for so long that the planet was now in a different part of the solar system – but because I was no longer drunk.
Finding myself sober is always a troubling development, but doubly so in these circumstances.
I needed counsel. I woke Mike.
“It’s snowing,” were his waking words.
Ah, yes. There was that, too. We went to sleep in the middle of urban Krakow in the middle of the night, and ideally should have woken up in a slightly different part of the city ever so slightly after the middle of the night. In stark contrast, we appeared to be driving through a barren, rural wasteland during some kind of blizzard. The lighting suggested it was mid-morning.
I pressed Mike for further thoughts on the situation. “Oh, have we missed our stop?” was the best he had.
I didn’t dignify this with a reply. Instead, I gave him a look. You know the look; the one that says mate, we’re in the middle of the Polish countryside during a snowstorm, take a wild stab in the fucking dark as to whether or not we’ve passed our inner city hotel.
“So… er, what has happened here?”
“I don’t know,” I replied, a twelve-pint hangover easing comfortably into its new home inside my pounding skull. “I just woke up too.”
“Where are we?”
“Michael,” I said, gesturing at the vast, flat expanse of featureless white land stretched out for miles in every direction for effect. “Given my lack of first-hand experience in this specific part of nowhere, I have as much information as you do.”
“Wait!” Mike exclaimed, “I HAVE A MAP!”
“YES!” Every neuron in my brain lit up at once. It hurt me. “Oh, you little beauty! What knowledge can you glean?”
Mike studied it with great thought, turning the map this way and that. He eventually laid it on his lap, tracing lines across the multi-coloured mess of bus routes with one hand while stroking his chin thoughtfully with the other.
“It’s all in Polish, and we don’t have any point of reference.”
“Right, screw this. Let’s get off the bus,” I said, making motions towards the buzzer.
“Is that such a good idea?” Mike said, tentatively.
“Sure,” I replied. “We’ll just wait for another bus coming the other way and hitch it back to Krakow.”
“Zeke,” Mike solemnly murmured, gesturing at the vast, flat expanse of featureless white land stretched out for miles in every direction for effect. “Does it look like buses roll through here often?”
He had a stirling point. We checked our watches – it was 7am – and subsequently established that we’d been asleep and on the bus for at least three hours, and that was based on the very sketchy and wholly unreliable recollection that we’d gotten on the bus around 4am. For our ten minute journey.
This presented a massive conundrum – did we stay on the bus under the baseless assumption that it’d eventually loop back around to Krakow sometime later in the day? Or did we cut our losses and get off now under the very real possibility that this bus was going to carry on driving until it reached the waterfall at the edge of the Earth, drove gleefully over it and sent us falling into the cosmos under the cynical gaze of Great A’Tuin the Giant Star Turtle?
I mean, shit. I don’t know how the public transport system of Poland works. Evidently.
“I’ve got new information coming in,” I chimed, suddenly aware of an additional factor entering play. “My bladder is casting the tie-breaking vote. We’re getting off this stupid bus.”
“Fair enough. Seems as good an idea as any.”
We hit the buzzer. As the bus rolled to a stop, one of us quizzed the driver as to our chances – and the suggested methods – of making it back to Krakow without freezing to death.
The response was troubling. He was completely nonplussed as to what we were asking. Let me impress upon you how few plusses this man possessed: he couldn’t be less plussed, and such was the deficit of his plusses that it suggested not only was he a different driver than the one who’d started the journey, but that it was possibly the first time he’d ever heard of Krakow (the second largest city in Poland).
The bus stopped on an oddly quaint, little wooden railway bridge situated in the center of Skyrim.
All of my ability to think critically was being sucked into the supermassive blackhangover at the very center of my head. The bus was unbearably stuffy; I really needed some air.
Turns out I really didn’t need some air.
I I took a very shallow breath on leaving the bus, and discovered that it was so cold it instantly rendered my lungs to delicate porcelain which would shatter if I so much as coughed.
Dunno what part of ‘snow storm’ didn’t suggest ‘it’s a bit nippy out’, but my stupid British ass simply assumed it was hovering a degree or two above freezing. I forgot that snow starts at this point, but it also snows at minus forty too, and at every point on the thermometer in between.
My lungs sent their findings up to my screechingly painful brain, which parsed all the information available to it and came to the conclusion that I was must be attempting to self-destruct. It forwarded a warning to the rest of my body, which began to shiver violently.
Mike and I looked at each other, both standing in t-shirts and thin jackets. To our chagrin, we had failed to dress for being stranded in the former Soviet bloc of communist Europe; this may sound like an impossible event to plan for, but I’ve got to be honest, this isn’t a hugely surprising performance for me and I should have seen it coming the second I left my house in England.
“It doesn’t look like there are any timetables,” Mike noted. Had the bus driver just let us out in limbo? This wasn’t good.
“Wait, what is that guy doing?” I said, suddenly becoming aware of a well-dressed Polish man standing patiently on the other side of the road. I was very surprised to see him there, because he didn’t get off the bus with us, wasn’t there when we got off, and as far as I could tell there wasn’t a single house in a hundred mile radius. Perhaps he’d teleported. Maybe that’s what we were expected to do to get around Poland. Europe is a confusing place.
“I’ll investigate,” said Mike.
“I’ll urinate off this bridge,” I reported.
A minute later, as I watched a stream of not-wholly-natural coloured piss melt snow meters below the bridge, Mike joined my side and also prepared to jettison cargo.
“He’s off to work.”
“Oh. Okay. I guess it is about that time.”
“He works in Krakow.”
“I see. And where exactly is…”
“About four miles further up the road.”
“Right. And when’s the nex…”
“These are all great questions, mate.”
“We’re out here for a while, aren’t we?”
“Such great questions. Let’s leave it at that. By the way, I think we’re pissing onto electrified rail lines?”
He wasn’t wrong. We agreed to stop urinating onto live lines before the day came to an extremely abrupt end for us both.
And thinking of the day so far, I tried to console myself with the idea that, at the very least, this had to be the worst our day could get and it wasn’t even 8AM yet. That’s definitely a nice thing to get out of the way before breakfast.
Turns out my optimism is as naive as a Polish bus route is long. The pendulum of the day had not reached its lowest point. Quite the converse; standing on a frozen bridge with my dick in hand was to be the zenith.
Off into the distance, our previous bus trundled out of view, towards our destination. The weirdest thing? This wasn’t going to be the first frickin’ time I’d find myself staring forlornly at the arse-end of Poland’s public transport.
The other thing that was set to bring my mood down even further as the day progressed?
A death camp.
Because… well, y’know. Death camps, man.
Death camps tend to ruin your day somewhat.
Part Two: seriously, death camps.