Thursday, 11 November 2010

Chapter 4: The Border

 

This one’s late today, guys, due to a rather poorly baby—but better late than never!

The next thing Sasha knew, a small hand was pulling on her own.

The awkward position she had been sitting in had made her neck stiff and she could feel an imprint, a red tattoo, of the material from the seat pressed into her cheek.

Sasha realised she had slept.

Bleary eyed, she squinted out of the window, somehow expecting to be able to identify where she was. The road gave no clues and the surrounding countryside could have been anywhere in Asia. Small houses, that were really no more than shacks, dotted the countryside. Dirty-looking sheep and cows, with their bones poking painfully through their thin covering of fat, grazed the sparse ground. The Bangkok traffic had disappeared and Sasha felt like they were the only people on the road.

The small hand tugged again.

Surprised, having forgotten what had woken her, Sasha turned to see the bright blue eyes of the blond child staring at her.

"Hello," Sasha said. "What's up?"

Delighted she was awake, the boy scrambled up onto the seat beside her.

"Mum and Dad are still sleeping. They get mad if I wake them."

Sasha smiled, noticing that he didn't have any problems with him waking total strangers.

"And why would you want to wake them?"

The boy stuck a thumb into his mouth, suddenly shy, and mumbled something. Sasha gently prised the thumb back out and told him to say it again.

"Need to go toilet."

"Ah, I see.”

She leant forward and got the attention of the Thai boy in front.

"When are we stopping? This little boy needs to go to the toilet."

The Thai boy said something to the driver and he abruptly pulled over to the side of the road. Everyone on board started to move, roused by the sudden change in motion of the vehicle.

Sasha glanced back to see the child's mother wake. Immediately she looked frantically around her.

"He's up here," Sasha called out to her. "He needed to go to the toilet."

His mother jumped to her feet and moved to the front of the bus.

"I'm so sorry," she said. Her blue eyes were wide and Sasha noticed they were exactly the same colour as her son’s. "Was he bothering you?"

"No, not at all," Sasha said, lying slightly. "I don't think he wanted to disturb you."

"Hmm." The boy’s mother looked down at him disapprovingly, but was unable to hide her smile, and she ruffled his baby-fine white hair. "That doesn't sound like him at all."

The boy grinned around his thumb and his mum took his other hand. The Thai boy pulled open the door and the two of them climbed off.

Recognising a chance to stretch their legs, everyone else began to scramble to the front of the bus. One by one they followed the boy and his mother out onto the road.

The heat hit Sasha as soon as she stepped out of the door. Though she had thought the bus didn’t have air-conditioning, she was clearly wrong.

Without the smog, acting as a filter, the sun in the countryside was much more intense than in the city. The beams beat down on the top of Sasha’s head. Sweat ran down her back, making her thin cotton vest-top cling to her skin.

"You look like you could use some of this."

Sasha turned to see Josh holding out a bottle of water. The sight of it made her realise just how dry her throat was and she took it thankfully.

"I guess I forgot to pack some myself," she said. "I didn't think."

Josh shrugged. "No problem. Keep it. I've got another one in the bus."

The water was on the warmer side of cold, but Sasha took several long gulps. She hadn't had any breakfast and was amazed that she was capable of functioning without her morning cup of coffee.

As if reading her thoughts Josh said, "I don't think it's far to the border. We have to stop before it to get our visas checked and fill in some forms for the Cambodian officials, so we should be able to get something to eat there."

Sasha hoped that her visa was real. Her passport had been left at the desk and she had been called over to pick it up late last night. She had no idea what the visa was supposed to look like, as she had nothing to compare it to, and she simply had to pray that she’d not been ripped off or she’d be left floundering on the border like a refugee.

"I am a bit on the hungry side," she admitted. "But my stomach still thinks it's the middle of the night."

"You've only just arrived then?"

"Yeah, I got in from London yesterday, so I'm still a bit jet lagged."

"I'm not surprised," said Josh. "You didn't like Bangkok much then?"

"Oh, no. I love Bangkok. I've been there a couple of times before, but I'm just in a rush to meet someone."

Josh gave her a grin, but Sasha could see a hint of something else behind it.

"Sounds mysterious," he said. "Is there a story to that?"

"It's going to be a long trip," said Sasha, trying not to sound rude. She couldn't put her finger on the reason, but she did not feel like discussing her situation. "Plenty of time for stories."

She paused and held up the bottle. "Thanks for the water."

"No worries."

Sasha turned and got back onto the bus, happy to escape the direct sunlight and the heat. The Thai boy was rounding the others up, hustling them all like they were sheep being shepherded into a pen.

Josh had been right about being close to the border and within half-an-hour they pulled up at what looked like someone's house. The wooden building was completely isolated. Scrawny chickens ran around the outskirts of the property, scratching in the dusty dirt.

As the troop piled in a friendly Thai woman rushed over to them.

“Come, come,” she said, racing around, pulling out wooden benches from the tables. The inside was clean and spacious. Fans in each of the corners of the room kept the hot air moving.

“Please, sit,” she said.

Her enthusiasm was infectious. Sasha thought the woman probably only got a couple of busloads of people a week.

Sasha stood, feeling awkward. Everyone had already formed their own little groups and she was unsure of where to sit. She felt as if she were back in school and had walked into the canteen at lunch, only to find there was no one there she knew and no free tables. She didn’t want to sit with Josh. Though he seemed like a nice guy, she didn’t want him to get the wrong idea.

The mother of the blond boy sat down at one of the tables and looked up to see Sasha standing there. The woman smiled and gave a slight nod of her head to beckon Sasha over. Relieved at not having to spend any more time hovering, Sasha happily went over and sat down opposite.

“Are you sure you don’t mind me joining you?” Sasha asked. “I hate to impose, just because I am friendless!”

The woman laughed. “No imposition, I promise. It’s nice to have someone else to talk to. As much as I love my family, you can hear the same stories once too often.”

“Hey!” her husband exclaimed, sitting down beside her. “I heard that. Are you telling me you don’t like my stories?”

“The first time they are funny,” she said, patting him reassuringly on the back of his hand. “It’s just by the tenth time I find myself zoning out a little.”

Her husband shrugged his broad shoulders and grinned. His teeth were white and straight in his tanned face.

“Ah, well. What can you do?”

“I’m Laura, by the way,” the woman said. “This is Greg, and that little terror over there is Ben.”

Sasha smiled. “Sasha,” she said.

The Thai woman was walking back around the tables. She put simple plastic menus listing chicken, shrimp, or beef with either noodle or rice in front of everyone.

Within a few minutes everyone had ordered and shortly after, a cold coke was placed on the table in front of Sasha. She drank it gratefully, needing the fluid, sugar, and caffeine.

“I am so impressed you are out here with your son,” Sasha said, speaking honestly. “Everyone I know takes their kids on package holidays to Majorca.”

"We wanted to raise Ben with as much of our own education as we possibly could," said Laura. "There is only so much a kid can learn stuck in a classroom, so we try to expose him to real life and the real world as much as possible."

"Isn't it difficult travelling with a child?" Sasha asked. "I have enough trouble getting myself from A to B, I can't imagine what it would be like trying to keep a small child entertained."

"Ben is great." She smiled at her son who was now crouching in the dirt, trying to poke at the chickens with a stick. "He seems to keep himself entertained and he is so outgoing he makes friends pretty quickly."

"Yeah, I noticed that."

"The Asian people love children too,” she continued. “They are twice as helpful when they see we have a child with us. If there are other kids around he’ll play with them. The language barrier doesn't seem to be a problem when you are six. A ball is a ball, and kids will play with it whatever country they are from."

Sasha couldn't agree more. She hoped that when she had children she would have the insight and ability to be able to show them the world and teach them about accepting other ways of life and cultures.

The food they had ordered was put in front of them and Ben was called back to the table. He sat down and eagerly devoured his chicken and rice, talking between mouthfuls about the places they had been and all the friends he had made.

Sasha still had a western stomach and after having seen the state of the cows and noted that they were a fair distance away from the sea, she too had opted for the chicken, but with noodles. Her stomach rumbled and she could barely get the food in quickly enough. It was amazing how good simple food tasted when she was really hungry.

Glancing around it looked as though everyone else was enjoying his or her meals as much as she was.

Josh, Goose, Dawn, and the two pierced girls were sitting on a table together. The young, dark couple were sitting together on another table. On another table, separate from everyone else, was the dreadlocked man. Sasha couldn’t help hoping that he stayed away from the rest of the group for the rest of the trip. He gave her the creeps.

The driver and the boy were eating with the woman who ran the restaurant. They were all talking loudly, quickly and all at once.

After the group had finished eating, forms were handed around for the Cambodian officials. Each of the travellers filled in reasons for their visits, along with passport and visa numbers. As Sasha copied from her passport, Josh spoke over her shoulder.

"It would probably be a good idea to buy some bits and pieces for the rest of the trip." He pointed over to a chest fridge, which contained bottles of water, very old cans of soft drinks and cans of beer. Wire baskets held packets of crisps and small loaves of bread. "We don't know what the border will be like or how long we will have to wait there."

"Wait there?" said Sasha, surprised. "What do we have to wait there for?"

"For our bus." He nodded over at the driver. "Those guys won't be coming into Cambodia with us. They'll want to get home to their families. It will be Cambodian people who drive us to Siem Reap."

"Of course," she said, feeling a little stupid.

"I wouldn't have known either if someone hadn't told me."

He smiled down at her. She was struck by the dark green of his eyes, the way the corners creased and, combined with dark curly hair that looked like it was spiralling out of control, Sasha realised he was extremely attractive. The thought made her cheeks flush.

Josh must have seen it for he glanced away, as though embarrassed for her. Sasha stared down at the table, lost for words. She was relieved when Goose interrupted them with a shout.

Everyone looked up. Goose was standing by the fridge, a can of beer in each hand.

"Hey guys!” he said. “Looks like I've found a way of making the trip more interesting!"

He went to throw a beer each to the two girls, but they both shook their heads and grimaced.

"I’ll pass. I'm struggling enough as it is," said Vicki.

"If I ever touch that stuff again it will be too soon," Steph added.

Dawn screwed up her tiny nose. “I can’t stand beer. I’m a purely vodka and white wine kind of girl.”

Goose, obviously disappointed, turned to Josh and Sasha.

"You two will join me though?"

"Goose," said Josh, unable to hide the weariness in his voice. "It's barely even lunch time and we've got the border crossing to deal with. Maybe later, yeah?"

"Well, I'm going to have one," he said, cracking open a can. "And I'll take the rest with me for later."

Goose called the owner over, pointed to all of the beer, and pushed a wad of cash into her hand. She looked delighted and started to help Goose transfer the cans of beer into his daypack.

"Is he a friend of yours?" asked Sasha.

"God no! I managed to meet him in a restaurant last night and I made the mistake of letting him know I was travelling to Cambodia today." Josh pulled a face. "There weren't supposed to be any buses running today for some reason, but a stroke of luck got me on this one."

"I offered them a ridiculous amount of money so I could travel today."

"Really? I paid the same price because I already had a ticket to leave the day after. The people who ran the guesthouse told me I could go today instead if I wanted to."

Sasha laughed. "I guess the amount of money I paid was enough in itself to get the locals to give up their bank holiday."

"Bank holiday? Was that the reason they gave you that they weren't travelling."

"Yes, it was." Sasha's brow creased in a frown. "Why, what did they tell you?"

"Nothing really,” he said, shaking his head. “They were very mysterious about it, they even seemed worried. That's why I was so surprised when they said I could travel today after all."

"Oh well. I guess the main thing is that we are here."

"Very true." Josh looked back over at the fridge. "I think we had better help ourselves to some supplies before Goose empties it."

"Good idea."

Sasha got up and together they went to the fridge. They both selected a couple of drinks, crisps and a loaf of bread. The bread was softer and fresher than Sasha had expected, but the idea of eating dry bread didn't appeal to her. It was easy to be picky when you had a stomach full of good food.

She paid for it anyway and put it all in her bag. Whatever happened in the next few hours at least she wasn't going to go hungry.

With full stomachs and paperwork clutched in their hands, they piled back onto the bus.

It turned out that they were still over an hour away from the border, but as they approached Sasha saw that there were large, concrete, multi-storey buildings on the Cambodian side. They stood like a strange oasis in the landscape; a surprising statement of wealth among the wooden shacks, dirt, and poverty. Even the banner-like sign stretching between two huge stone pillars, welcoming them to Cambodia, did not have the glamour of these buildings.

Curious, Sasha pointed them out to Josh.

"They're casinos built for rich Thai business men," he told her.

"Why can't they go to casinos in their own country?"

"Gambling is illegal in Thailand, so they build the casinos here for easy access. Unfortunately the locals don't benefit from them because they are all Thai owned and run."

"That's awful,” she said. “It must be horrible for them to see so much wealth when they have nothing."

"They don't know any different," said Josh with a sad smile. "And their government doesn't exactly do much to help."

The bus pulled over about five hundred yards from the border and everyone got out. One by one, they collected their bags from the roof and hoisted them onto their shoulders. They all thanked the Thai boy and the driver, who simply pointed to the border as if to tell them to go.

Sasha clutched her passport in her hand, feeling slightly sick. What would she do if they turned her away? Nothing had been said back at the restaurant, but these were officials and would be much more likely to spot a fraud. She started to regret her decision to push her visa through so quickly. To try to dispel the worry she conjured up an image of falling into Nick's arms, him ecstatic to see her, but even that didn’t help. The image prompted worries of its own.

Josh must have seen her turning grey for he turned his attention back to her.

"Are you okay?” he asked her. “You don't look too well."

Sasha pushed her passport into his hand.

"Does this look right to you?" she asked. "I had it all rushed through yesterday and I'm a bit worried it might be forged."

Josh flicked her passport open to where the slip of green paper was attached to one of the inside pages. He opened his own passport to an identical page and studied it, a small frown creasing lines between his eyes.

"What do you think?"

Josh looked back up at her. "Well, I'm no expert, but they look exactly the same to me. I'm sure you'll be fine – you’re not the typical illegal immigrant."

He smiled at her and she felt a weight lift from her heart. She chewed her lower lip nervously.

"I hope you are right."

"Stick with me. If they refuse you I'll smuggle you inside my bag."

"You'd never lift me."

"Want a bet?"

Taking Sasha completely by surprise Josh picked her up and flung her over his shoulder. She let out a little shriek and hit him on his back in protest. He set her back down, grinning.

"See? No problem. You're only a little heavier than my pack."

Sasha glanced down at Josh's huge, eighty litre bag.

"Charming," she said, but couldn't help grinning back. She smoothed down her hair and wished her face would go back to its normal colour.

"Maybe for the time being you should just try walking," Josh said. "Come on."

The rest of the group had already reached the border, so they trailed after them. Sasha felt better, but she couldn't shake the feeling of nervous apprehension. She wondered how much of it had to do with seeing Nick again.

She glanced guiltily out of the corner of one eye, catching the sun-freckled skin and strong profile of the man walking beside her. She didn't have time to analyse the little jolt inside her. Before she knew what was happening she was handing in her passport.

The small, dark-eyed man behind the counter stared her. Sasha trembled under his scrutiny and her cheeks burnt red once again. If only she had more control over her body's blood flow, it would make her life much easier. She tried to smile winningly at him, but felt as though she had just grimaced in pain. The man made no move to smile back. He just grunted as he returned her passport.

Relieved, Sasha grabbed her passport back. Josh had waited behind her so that if she had any problems she wouldn’t be left alone on the wrong side of the border. The small act of kindness had touched Sasha and when she set foot on Cambodian soil, even if it was hot and dusty, a sense of belonging and purpose strengthened her.

The group of travellers were ushered towards a couple of large tuk-tuks and the group shared nervous glances.

Steph was the first to voice their doubts.

"We're not going the rest of the way in that?"

"I'd heard horror stories about people being stuck in pick-up trucks for most of the journey, but this is ridiculous," said Josh, shaking his head.

"It would take forever," Steph said, doubt clear in her voice. She leaned over to the driver. "Hey? We go to Siem Reap in tuk-tuk?"

The driver looked at her blankly for a moment before processing what she had said. He burst out laughing, leaving Steph red-faced.

"No, no. Tuk-tuk only to bus station."

The group heaved a collective sigh of relief.

The sigh, however, was premature.

They were whisked through the streets. The tyres churned up the dust and it caught in the back of their throats and bit at their eyes. Sasha clung to the bars of the tuk-tuk, terrified they would tip over if they went around a corner too fast.

Within ten minutes they were deposited at the bus station.

The feeling of disbelief was starting to be all too common. The group disembarked and looked around them for something substantial. The building consisted of nothing more than bare, redbrick walls and a corrugated iron roof. There was no proper floor, only more dirt and dust. A couple of battered plastic chairs were the only furniture.

"I hope the bus isn't going to be too long," said the female part of the dark-haired couple.

Sasha realised this was the first time either of them had interacted with the group and she was surprise to hear not a foreign accent, but a soft Irish one.

"I'm sure it won't be," said her partner, lightly touching the back of her neck. He looked around at the rest of them. "What do you guys think?"

Sasha could see everyone look around at the uncomfortable surroundings, unable to give him the reassurance he was looking for.

“Well, I certainly don’t intend to stay in this dump for any length of time!” Dawn said. “Certainly not when there are perfectly decent hotels round the corner. We could just go to them and hit the bars.”

“I’m up for that!” said Goose, lifting a half-drunk can of beer up in a salute.

Dawn raised her eyebrows and chose to ignore him.

“How about you, Josh?” she asked, unable to hide the hope in her voice.

Josh frowned. "I'm sure we won't be here for too long. And you can’t just go wandering off. We’d never find you again. In the mean time, just use your pack to sit on. At least it is shaded."

Dawn rolled her eyes. “Fine, but it had better not be for long.”

Sasha glanced up at Josh as everyone found themselves their own seats and corners to settle in. Sasha saw him put his pack down where he was and she dropped her one bag down beside it. They both sat down on top of their packs and wriggled down to create small dents and pockets of comfort in the otherwise bursting bags. Though they were in the shade, the corrugated tin roof seemed to store up the heat, turning the little shelter into an oven.

"I hope you are right," Sasha said.

Josh raised an eyebrow and grinned at her. "So do I."

They sat in silence for a moment, taking in their sparse surroundings.

"Go on then," said Josh, "Tell me a story."

Sasha looked up at him in surprise. "What, like the three little pigs or something?"

"No, silly,” he laughed. “Your story."

Sasha stared at the ground. "I haven't really got one. My life is pretty regular really. I work as a recruitment consultant; I live in London; I have a cat. There isn't really a story to tell."

Josh laughed and lifted both hands, palm up, to the sky. "And what about all of this? If your life is so dull, what are you doing sitting in a shack on the Cambodian border?"

"I told you already. I am visiting someone."

"A someone in particular?"

Sasha realised that he wasn't going to give up without getting something out of her.

"Ten days ago my boyfriend, who works in Siem Reap, called me to say that he missed me terribly and that he had bought me a ticket to come out and see him. So I got on the plane and here I am."

Josh looked impressed. "Wow, that's commitment! You flew all the way out here just on a whim? So is that why you were so keen to get to Siem Reap today, because you missed him too?"

"Yes, of course," she said, her face reddening at both the white lie and the fact that she had just admitted to being spoken for. She realised she was embarrassed that she had basically been emotionally blackmailed into getting here so quickly. She would never admit to anyone that Nick would rather have been sunning himself on a beach in Bali then seeing his fiancé for the first time in a year. As she ran the situation over in her head the first thread of doubt wound its way into her heart. She tried to push it away, but it clung on like a poisonous tentacle.

“So how long has he worked out here for?” Josh asked.

“It’s been a year now,” said Sasha, her shoulders sagging.

“And you don’t mind?”

“I encouraged it,” Sasha said, her face falling further.

Josh saw her expression and tried to focus on the positive. “But he must fly back and see you?”

“Well, he was supposed to be on a plane about now, but he decided it would be better for me to come out here. We might end up flying on to Bali”

“Oh, right. That sounds like fun”

Josh could see Sasha’s mind heading somewhere else, but she wasn't allowed to focus on it for too long. Goose, who had been hanging out by himself outside of the shelter, poked his round face into the entrance. The heat and sun were taking its toll on his appearance, and he was red-faced and sweating heavily. Sasha knew the alcohol was probably not helping. He took another long swig from the can he was holding before yelling out to them.

"Hey! You guys! Come and look at this!"

Josh visibly grimaced at the sound of Goose’s voice and Sasha thought that he was just going to ignore him, but then Josh answered through tightened jaw.

"What is it Goose?"

"Come and see. You'll like it I promise."

Josh took a deep breath, trying to control his temper. "We’re fine here, Goose,” he said. “You come and show us."

"I can't," Goose whined. "You have to come here."

Josh looked at Sasha. "He's not going to shut up until I go, is he?"

Sasha smiled sympathetically and shook her head. Josh pushed himself to his feet and she stood to follow him.

"You don't have to come," Josh said. "He's my curse, I have to live with him."

"Don't be silly. Whatever it is it will be more entertaining than sitting there by myself." Sasha didn't even notice that she had just dismissed the other nine people sitting around her.

The pair walked back into the bright sunshine and simultaneously slipped their sunglasses off the tops of their heads to cover their eyes.

Sasha immediately saw what Goose had been getting excited about and her heart melted a little for him. Maybe he wasn't as bad as Josh had been making out?

Surrounding Goose in a semi-circle were a group of children aged anywhere from three to ten. Thread-bare t-shirts and ragged shorts hung from their bodies and their feet were dirty and bare. Their lustrous dark hair gleamed in the sunlight and large dark eyes peeped inquisitively from behind fingers and older children’s legs. They spoke to each other in gabbled Cambodian. One of them said something loudly and they all giggled, their hands over their mouths.

Sasha felt her own face break into a smile. Josh hankered down beside her so that he was on the same level as the children. He reached into his daypack and pulled out the bread and crisps that he had bought earlier. The children immediately left Goose and crowded round Josh. A girl of about four shyly tapped him on the arm, pointed to the bread, and then pointed to her mouth.

Breaking off just enough so that all the children would get some, Josh tore the bread into pieces. Delighted, each child snatched a piece before running off with brothers, sisters, or friends to a safe distance to compare and consume their prizes.

Sasha nipped back into the shelter and took her own bread from out of her bag, along with the crisps and fizzy drinks. Josh saw her and called out to her.

"You might want to save a little of that. We still don't know how long we are going to be here for."

Sasha shrugged dismissively, but then swiftly rethought. She didn't want to appear selfish, but she didn't want to get stuck in this kind of heat with no fluid. A bottle of water, a can of lemonade, and a small piece of the bread went back into her bag and then she took the rest out to the children.

Seeing her return with an arm full of food the children rushed back, smiles lighting their faces. Sasha pulled open the bags of crisps and taught the first child to cup his hands. The others immediately copied and she shook the slivers of fried potato into their hands, trying to be as fair as possible. Josh cracked open a can of lemonade and the children held the can in both hands, drinking from it solemnly, before passing it onto their neighbour.

Sasha knew this would be an image that would stay with her forever. She thought briefly about getting her camera out, but somehow it seemed wrong to want to take 'holiday snaps' of hungry children. They both sat huddled on the ground content to watch the children. The heat and sense of contentment lulled Sasha into a kind of trance, but it was swiftly broken by a yell from Josh.

"Goose! What the hell do you think you are doing?"

His sudden shout made Sasha jump. She looked over at where Goose was standing. What she saw made her jump up, astounded at the idiocy of the man.

"What?" protested Goose. "They like it - see?"

The children around Goose were not holding a can of soft drink; they were holding a can of beer.

Josh strode over and crouched down next to the child holding the can. Gently he took the can from the child's fingers.

"Sasha, have you got any more soft drinks?"

Sasha ran back into the shelter and took the last can of lemonade out of her bag. She took it back out and handed it to Josh. He cracked it open and took a tiny sip, and then made yummy noises. Then Josh took a sip of beer and screwed up his face as though the can contained diesel.

Immediately the child reached for the lemonade and Josh gave it to him before standing up. Goose stood a little way off, watching the scene with a sulky look on his face. Josh walked back up to him and pushed the beer can back into his hands, crushing it and spilling beer down Goose’s front at the same time.

"Hey! Watch it buddy!"

Josh's face got closer to Goose than was physically comfortable for either of them. The stink of stale sweat and alcohol washed over him and he spoke in a low controlled voice.

"If I see you pulling a stunt like that again, I will personally make sure you never get to Siem Reap. Do you understand?"

Goose stared back at Josh for a moment, then, seeing he was serious, shifted his gaze to the floor and pushed his foot around in the dust.

"Do you understand?" Josh said again.

Goose grunted a 'yes' and Josh turned away from him and walked back up to Sasha. The children had lost interest in them by now and had wandered away with their treats. Josh was shaking with anger and Sasha instinctively put a hand on his arm to calm him.

"I hate that there is always one who will spoil it for everyone else," he said.

"At least you were there to stop him."

"The problem is that there are people like him all over the world and quite often no one tells them what they are doing wrong. It’s stupidity and ignorance more than anything else."

Josh was right. Goose wasn't a bad person; he was just thoughtless and spoilt. He was someone who had never had to live with the consequence of his actions, so he did not see the effect that simple ill-mannered gestures had on the people he interacted with day in, day out. It was as if he had blinkers on and could only see what he wanted to see. He was now sitting back down with the two pierced girls who were chatting to him, having perked up after their naps on the bus. Sasha thought that no one else had witnessed the scene outside at first, but then she saw the dreadlocked man sitting alone at the front of the bus shelter. He smiled his strange, fanged smile. Sasha couldn’t tell if he was trying to be friendly or trying to be weird. She didn’t want to judge a book by its cover; he couldn’t help the way he looked. She gave a tentative smile, but he looked back down at the ground, concentrating on the cigarette he was rolling.

No one else appeared to pick up on the frosty atmosphere that surrounded Josh as they went back into the shelter.

Josh was almost tempted to pick up his bag and move it away from where Goose was sitting, but he realised that this was both childish and futile. They were going to be stuck in the very confined space of the bus for the next ten hours.

If it ever showed up.

As if thinking about the bus had conjured it up, a dirty white minibus pulled up outside of the shelter. No one spoke for a moment, a silent pact not to jinx the possibility that this was their ride, but then a young Cambodian boy jumped down from the passenger seat and hailed them from the entrance.

"Hello people!” he said. “Come, come! You want to sit in dirt all day?"

The group shuffled to their feet like old women. Though they were all pleased to see the bus; the size of it, rust, and apparent lack of air conditioning didn't make it look like the most comfortable ride.

"At least it's not a pick-up truck," Josh commented.

They all looked back round at him as if to say, ' well it might as well be'.

Once again packs were strapped to the roof and they all piled onto the bus. The seats were smaller and harder than the previous ones, but the group generally copied the seating pattern of earlier. The one exception was Josh and Dreadlocks. Josh slid across the aisle and into the seat next to Sasha.

He gave her an apologetic smile.

"I know I’m playing musical chairs,” he said. Then under his breath he added, "I just don't think I could stand ten hours sat next to that guy. I fear we would not both make it out alive."

Sasha laughed. "In that case you should definitely sit here."

"Thanks, I'll try not to bore you too much."

Sasha smiled, but didn’t answer him. So far, he’d been the most entertaining part of the journey.

                                       ***

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.

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