Sharing a ride with three generations, one screaming in the back everlasting, we are heading to the small village Bortnyky. Speed was not with us, as domestic animals and wild geese roamed the streets. That, and at every turn the baby in the back let out screams of horror, at which the young mother stopped at once to suckle. So there I sat, waiting for the babe to be done sucking as a gaggle of geese approached. The gaggle scattered, as if to surround the car. A mean eye was shot at me, threatening my existence. Then young one burped, seeming satisfied and let go of the teat to return to the loving arms of grandma. Right after, the driver took off, leaving the evil, waggling creatures in dust.
The sun was already going down and darkness began filling the village. Exiting the local shop – to which a lady had haughtily pointed, knowing just enough German to be of help – a drunk man pauses before me. He smiles, shakes my hand and continues. Bedazzled, I finish my snack and walk down the road. To the worker’s dormitory. They had welcomed me, leading me in a fast pace to one of the rooms. Entering, I count about seven beds, of which two seemed unused. Staring out the window, the sun sets before my eyes. Adding layers of colour to the sky. While unpacking, one of the workers walks in with a hot meal. A plate filled with mashed potatoes and meat. Once the hunger was stilled, I went for a shower. Outside in the warm, fresh air. Cold water pouring from a tank over my sore body. Refreshening. A sigh, as I turn off the water and dry up. The bunch of us shared a bunch of clear drinks meant to haze the minds before returning to the rooms.
After a long day of waiting one minute’s, sipping tea, listening to quacking truckers and pushing through the unbearable heat, I had crashed and collapsed in a stranger’s field, crawled up in my tent. Crying for a shower, I lay amidst the vegetables on a small stroke of green. Too exhausted to care. For a minute my mind had paused at the motel a few back. For some reason, after a few glances at the building and the folks stumbling about, the veggie garden seemed more comfortable and clean. And safe. An early rise and departure had made for no attention. As I left the beloved garden, I had no destination yet. Luckily, my next ride, the man with the fedora, would help me with that. Chotyn. A must visit! He had told me as he dropped me in the next city.
Wandering around, I didn’t want to lose my way. Therefore I asked the first I came upon reaching the end of market collection. A small gal, one hand twisted around her bike and with the other fiddling on her phone. She had an impudent and wild look. As I explained, all her attention diverted to me. The family stood a few meters away and pitched in on the translations. Once understood, she was headstrong of getting me to the other side of the city and onto a bus. She did so with long strides, rushing over the long central street. Busy, with people around, I hurried after her. My legs were burning and my head grew weary from the heat, yet I pushed to keep up with her. At the bus stop I explained that public transportation was not necessary. Dismissing, she continued. Ukrainian style, she brayed to get the attention of one the chauffeurs. As they bickered I watched a stray dog attempting to cross the road. With tail behind his legs he returned after a loud honk. Another attempt. Then the girl shouted at me, gesturing I come to her. Before either said a word, she pushed me in the bus. My hand reached hers for a goodbye and gratitude shake, however she rebuffed and slapped my hand instead. A sly grin appeared on her face. The bus came into motion, a bus full with all eyes on me. I felt them burn in my back. Or was that the sunburn?
A low, modified car, with a NASCAR-look pulled over. The door swung open and a skinny lad popped his out. He gestured me to get in, showing little to no emotion. Without change of words, I climbed into the death machine. Who knows why I got in. Not for the security of my life, that’s certain. The entire piece of metal only had one chair. My seating was solid, making the ride less than pleasant. I saw no seatbelts, although that was no news here. The young lad rammed his foot on the gas pedal and raced over the potholes that were the road. Every tear, bump and pothole went through my body, pushing and shoving me around. Flying through corners with sharp turns there was nothing to hold on to, nothing to clutch with my hands groping the interior of the vehicle. Using my feet, I pushed myself to one side to stay somewhat stable. But it was not until I saw the racing maniac start doing the cross sign and heard inaudible mumbling that I began to lose my shit. It was not literal when they said let Jesus take the wheel!!! Again he did so. Confused I sat, cramped in the back. Yet again. It was then, that I noticed this action came with every church we passed. Slightly relieved, I endured the bumpy and shaky ride from the silent man. My guess estimated me a day from the castle.