Sasha's alarm startled her from sleep. The small alarm clock played an annoying rendition of 'You Are My Sunshine' in an increasingly high-pitched tone. It was enough to raise even the undead from their unnatural sleep and over the years Sasha had found that this was the only alarm that she couldn't ignore.
Sleep had come easily to her, but she had woken continuously during the night. The strange bed, the hollow slamming of doors and unaccustomed heat had made it difficult for her to sleep undisturbed. She had the seven hour time difference to compete with and her body was telling her that now was the time to go to sleep, not to get up.
Steely determination was the only thing that got her legs swinging off the narrow bed and her weary head off the rock hard pillow.
Stumbling back along the corridor Sasha blasted herself with an ice cold shower, hoping to wash away the desire to crawl back into bed. Her shoulders and neck were stiff from carrying her pack around; her muscles unused to the exercise.
Her pack seemed to have doubled in both size and weight during the night. Sasha briefly debated the possibility of someone sneaking into her room and replacing her own pack with one stuffed full of bricks.
Bracing herself, she heaved the bag onto her sore shoulders. Every muscle groaned in pain as she prepared herself for the hike back down the seven flights of stairs.
Thank God, she could just sit on a bus for the whole of the next day. She intended to do nothing other than stare out of the window, doze and daydream about seeing Nick again.
Thinking about Nick, her heart gave a nervous jolt and her breath caught tight in her chest. She had checked her email again last night, but there was still no reply. Sasha prayed that he knew she was coming and was waiting for her. The idea that she would get there and he was already gone just didn't bear thinking about.
She wished for the thousandth time that he had gone somewhere a little less remote, somewhere that at least had mobile reception.
"Positive mental attitude," Sasha said, under her breath. "Thinking negatively will only tempt fate."
'What about preparing yourself for the worst?' an annoying voice, sounding suspiciously like her mother, chirped up in her head.
"Oh, shut up,” she answered out loud, ignoring the strange look she got from the young Thai girl she passed on the stairs. “He will be there and he will have got my email and be waiting with tickets to Bali in his outstretched hand…"
Sasha allowed herself to slip gently into this daydream as she continued to plod down the stairs, her knees and thighs trembling under the weight.
As she entered the main reception area, she was surprised to be blinking back bright sunshine. Her room and the stairwell had all been windowless and it was so early she had been expecting it to still be dark.
The locals all looked like they had been up for hours. Plates and dishes clattered and banged, and people shouted to each other. The smell of pancakes and toast tempted her, but she did not have time to stop for breakfast. The receptionist nodded as she dropped her key onto the reception desk and made her way through the guesthouse and out into the road.
Her years of London living had made her forget what it was like to have beautiful weather first thing in the morning. As she stepped out onto the street, the heat from the new day warmed her skin and the first jolt of excitement speared through her.
She was on an adventure.
Squinting against the bright light, she looked around for the bus. The street was empty apart from locals setting up their stalls. Sasha struggled again, this time to get out of her backpack and finally she dumped it on the ground. With a sigh, she sat down on top of it and rubbed her already aching thighs. She hadn't realised she was so unfit, obviously, her sporadic gym trips hadn't made much of an impact.
Sasha fished the paperback novel she was reading out of her daypack, but barely had a chance to open it before a minibus came bumbling around the corner.
She stood up and waited for it to stop in front of her. A young Thai boy, who was probably only in his early teens, jumped out of the passenger seat and waved at her.
"You have ticket to Cambodia?" he asked.
"Oh, yes, I do," Sasha answered, thinking, ‘where the hell did I put it?' Frantically searching her pockets, she located the piece of paper and handed it over to the boy, who in turn handed it to the driver. He just took the ticket, not even bothering to look at Sasha.
"This your bag?" the boy asked, as though there was a crowd of people waiting to embark.
Sasha nodded. He lifted it easily onto his back and threw it onto the roof, before securing it to the rest of the luggage that was already there.
"Thanks," she said, wondering if she should tip him.
At the door to the minibus, Sasha ducked her head down and pulled herself up into the vehicle. It was old and rusted and she could taste the scent of diesel on the back of her tongue. When she looked up, she was surprised to see the number of people already seated.
Right at the back of the vehicle was a young family; a blond mother and father and an even blonder boy of about six. They all had their eyes closed. The boy was lying across his parents’ legs, his head in his mother’s lap. Down the centre of six benches, three on either side, ran the middle aisle and on the right hand side sat two girls with piercings. Sasha was sure she recognised them from the restaurant she had eaten in the night before. On the opposite side of the aisle to them sat a couple with dark hair and tanned skin.
In front of the pierced girls were two men, opposite in looks. One was large and meaty with sandy coloured hair. Sasha could not see his face, as he’d twisted round in his seat to talk to the girls behind. In doing so, he was squashing his companion up against the window. The squashed man was glaring his annoyance at the large man and at first didn't notice the new person joining the group. When he looked up Sasha was sure she had seen something like surprise registering in his green eyes.
Across the aisle from the two men, a blonde girl was sitting alone. In front of the two men was a dread-locked man who was also on his own.
Sasha quickly realised all eyes were now turned on her, and she smiled and waved at them all, feeling like she was on a game show.
"Hi. I'm Sasha," she said, resisting the urge to add 'and I'm an alcoholic'.
The green-eyed man seemed to recover and leant out towards her, hand offered.
"I'm Josh," he said with a smile. He was about to say something else when his companion swivelled back around and got in first.
"Goose is the name,” the big guy said, “wear it out if you want."
"Hi Goose," said Sasha cautiously. "I'm Sasha."
"Good to have you along for the ride Sasha."
"Thanks. It was almost a ride I didn't get."
"Well, if you're ever in need for a different ride you know where to come."
Sasha watched, horrified, as he winked lewdly at her. Slowly she turned away, searching for somewhere to sit. Maybe she’d been mistaken and had taken his comment the wrong way?
She hoped that there were going to be better people than that guy on the trip.
The only free seat on the bus was just behind the driver, so she plonked herself into it and then twisted back round.
The two girls, sitting behind Goose and Josh, were the next to speak.
"Hi, I'm Steph," said the one with pink hair. Sasha thought she recognised an American or, more probably, Canadian accent. "This here is Vicki. You'll have to excuse us if we're not too chatty for the mo. We only got in about two hours ago."
Sasha grinned, recognising, in them, herself several years ago.
"No problem," she said, just glad to have some interesting people on board. "Talk when you've recovered."
The two girls grinned back at her before simultaneously plugging themselves into their iPods and shutting themselves off from the rest of the world.
She moved to get her own iPod out of her bag when she realised she was being stared at. From across the aisle she caught the eye of the lone man. He was in his late twenties. His hair was chin length, dirty blond with the front parts of it twisted into dreadlocks. Ice-blue eyes fixed her own with a look that sat somewhere between amusement and hostility. His head tilted to one side in a way that reminded Sasha of an animal listening for its prey. He smiled with his mouth only and Sasha saw that he had one canine that was completely out of line with the rest of his teeth, making it look like a fang.
Although only a fraction of a moment passed it was long enough to make Sasha uncomfortable and she shifted round, moving her gaze to the girl behind her.
She too was blonde, but in a completely different way. Her hair was as fluid as water and she swung it behind one shoulder as she leant forward, holding out a perfectly manicured hand.
“Hi, I’m Dawn,” she said, in an English accent. “It’s good to have another single woman along. I’ve only just got here and it’s all a bit scary.”
Sasha saw her eyes flicker to the dreadlocked man, but she quickly recovered.
The last thing Sasha felt like doing was making conversation with another London girl.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Sasha said and turned back around, continuing to rummage in her bag for her music.
Everyone else on the bus had lost interest in her, the early start taking its toll and they were all now either staring out of the window or asleep.
The boy who had hoisted her bag onto the roof finished securing it and swung open the passenger door, before jumping in beside the driver. The boy turned back to them, a wide smile revealing perfect, small white teeth.
"Okay, all ready?"
Most people managed an obligatory groan and the boy was about to turn back when Josh leant forward.
"Are we picking up anyone else?" he asked.
"No, no. The lady was last."
Relief washed through Josh as he realised that he wasn't going to have to spend the next fourteen hours squashed up against Goose on a tiny bus that didn't have air-conditioning. He pulled his body out of the gap between Goose's large frame and the hard metal of the bus and slid down the aisle to sit next to the scruffy-looking stranger in front of him. Josh knew that he was being inexcusably rude to Goose and could feel the annoyance of the stranger at suddenly having to share his seat, but he was past caring. Josh settled into the spare seat as though it was a feather bed.
He felt like he had just escaped death by torture.
Sasha had watched his antics with obvious amusement and Josh realised that he had not exactly been subtle. He didn't really care; this was a case of survival of the fittest.
Josh still couldn't believe that she was on the same bus as him. It never failed to surprise him how often he ran into the same people time and time again. It was true that most people were travelling the same routes, but they were covering huge distances and there were plenty of other variables to stop people from bumping into one another.
Not that he was complaining. This 'small-world-syndrome' had brought Goose into his life, but now, it seemed, it had also brought the dark-haired girl from the restaurant to compensate.
Josh frowned and forced himself to look away. The last thing he needed right now was another woman. He was no good for anyone and though he knew nothing about the woman on the other side of the bus, he was certain she deserved better.
Despite his best intentions, he glanced back over at Sasha. She was sitting with her eyes closed, her head rested against the window.
Josh sighed and turned to look out of his own window.
The bus rattled and shook going over the fairly smooth roads and Josh wondered what it would be like in Cambodia. Several other travellers had told him that there were no real roads in Cambodia, but he found this hard to believe. People had a tendency to exaggerate their stories for impact.
Because of the early hour, the busy streets of Bangkok were still not up to full speed, but they were getting there and it felt like every minute that passed brought more and more vehicles onto the roads.
At each set of traffic lights tuk-tuks, bicycles, cars, and motorbikes jostled for position. The minibus weaved and swerved between the traffic, threatening at any moment to hit or be hit. Horns blared continuously, not at anything in particular, but simply to be heard. Smog rose from every engine causing a layer of grey to hang above the city, dampening the sunshine.
Josh reached down into his daypack and pulled out a mangy-looking roll stuffed with some unidentifiable meat that he had bought the day before. He didn't know when they would be stopping next and had learnt from previous experiences that it was better to be prepared. Taking a bite out of the stale bread, he chewed the mouthful slowly, contemplating the journey ahead.
Copyright © 2010 Marissa Farrar
All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.