jump to navigation

більше ліхтарі, більш кулемети 04/09/2010

Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Heading East

Four thinly padded bunks wrapped in a rich burgundy vinyl. Top tiers collapsed against the wall to make benches of the bottom which in turn served as lids for storage. A table ruined any illusion of space between the thin walls, and the aisle was crowded by another two bunks with a smaller table which folded to make the sixth bed.

Polish customs officials, railway matrons and a girl wearing a towel around her neck which she continuously soaked in the toilet sink kept us company. Everyone sat on the opposite end of the car, carrying on in heathen tongues while the train slowly began to rattle away from the station. What had been unpleasantly hot outside quickly became stifling, but neither of our windows opened.

As we sat staring out at an empty wasteland women dragged granny carts down the aisle. These burdens, one consisting entirely of tubs of laundry detergent, were scattered throughout the car. Granny cart would wheel past empty, the cycle would repeat. Towel Girl took another bird bath. When I paid my first visit the floor was so soaked acrobatics kept pathogens from infesting my shoes.

One of the railway matrons paid a visit to look over our passports. She figured out Ireland pretty quickly but had trouble understanding that The United States is not England. After a crash course in world affairs and several repetitions of Ireland/America she wandered off.

Industrial buildings crawled into view, affording us an opportunity to truly appreciate their architecture. Our origins were double-checked and a couple third-generation xeroxed immigration forms in Cyrillic and English arrived. Piercing lights scanned us as the train limped into a yard bridging Poland and Ukraine, outside the village of Medyka. Shrinkwrapped sheets and hygienic kits were handed out as Polish customs and the workers fled. We had traveled eight miles in an hour.

Heading East

Janice made sandwiches to celebrate the setting sun. No one had bothered to turn on the lights and soon we were left in twilight, clawing helplessly at the windows and tempting mosquitos that had bred in the toilet bilge. A Ukrainian soldier found us, barked a command, and pointed to our passports when we waved our arms asking for English. Long stares at our pictures, long stares at our faces, back and forth, waiting for us to make a mistake. He vanished as suddenly as he had appeared, leaving us in the dark with no papers.

Some solider had our passports, some woman had our tickets. If an official decided we needed to pay any impromptu taxes, or if our passports were not in order, there was little we could do. Two men in fatigues appeared and jabbered Ukrainian. They waved their arms when we asked if they spoke English and motioned for us to stand so they could check under our bunks. Janice started telling me about her visit to Auschwitz, how the tourists roam with cameras and houses overlook the grounds. Water was already running low.

So We Waited

A German Shepherd ran past, skidded to a halt and returned to sniff our table. Its minder arrived with a machine gun, regarded us without a word. Through the window soldiers were making their way down the length of the train. Ten minutes later one was inside with a flashlight, said something in Ukrainian, waved Janice off her bunk and had her lift it. He asked us a question staring and awaiting an answer. Two of the railway matrons came to our rescue, everyone walking off together.

Conversation ran blindly through the dark train fighting silence. Two more soldiers passed and waved their arms when we asked if they spoke English. Twenty minutes later more flashlights, more machine guns, up off the bunk again, I open it for them. Twilight had lost to stars but you could still see figures passing outside. The first soldier returned and handed us our papers, everything stamped. He left without a word and slowly the railway matrons and Towel Girl crept from whatever corners had hidden them. Two hours, eight miles, the train began rolling. We unwrapped a bottle of vodka.



1. Brady - 05/09/2010

What a coincidence! Virtually ALL of my stories end with “…We unwrapped a bottle of vodka.”

How very wonderful.

2. blaark - 05/09/2010

Really we should have begun the story with unwrapping the bottle of vodka. I think we were a little paranoid that if we were sitting in the dark drinking soldiers would have expected us to share.

3. crowhouse - 05/09/2010

oh, god. i’m reliving it.

what one of the soldiers asked us was “Skąd?” or “Where [are you coming] from?” i didn’t know that word before. i will know it forever now.

why the hell did i start talking about auschwitz?

and it seemed like there were many more rounds of soldiers and machine guns, each scarier than the last, but maybe that’s just how it felt, sitting in the dark for an hour with all of our paperwork gone, talking about nazis. sigh.

4. blaark - 09/09/2010

I think you began talking about Auschwitz because our brains were desperate for any diversion from the realities which surrounded us. Something about dark train, sealed windows, machines guns, soldiers and German Shepherds made you think about visiting the camps.

It lasted about an hour by my calculations. I actually think I failed to do this retelling any fucking justice whatsoever.

crowhouse - 10/09/2010

sounds like i was driving us right into a parallel of the realities that surrounded us, not really diverting nothing.

i think you did a quite nice job, actually. the next best thing to actually being there.

5. Nancy Arms Simon - 10/09/2010

and to think you used to get nauseous on MUNI!
come to think of it, maybe that’s a reflection on MUNI, not on your tolerance

blaark - 10/09/2010

I’m amazed I fared as well, psychologically and psychically, as I did. The mind-blowing weirdness of the situation must have short-circuited my body’s standard self-defense reactions. If this ride was as gruelingly normal as MUNI it could have allowed thought to occur.

6. not a sentimental pretence but an idea | expatriate - 24/11/2011

[…] i didn’t even tell my friends where we were going that weekend, just that we were going out of town but we weren’t sure where yet. i didn’t want to jinx it until my mom definitely had the tickets; we didn’t buy them until the morning of our departure, mostly because we hadn’t even been certain until the night before. but with a “yeah, fuck it,” it felt safer to just plunge forward without thinking about it too hard, though i also tried not to think about the fact that last time i bought tickets to ukraine at the last minute i ended up in third class steerage. […]

7. the very feeling of not knowing is a painful one | expatriate - 01/01/2012

[…] and i had stuck to the trains, which had turned out to be a heart attack nightmare come to life, but probably because we were in third class. we had taken the domestic train to przemyśl and then […]

8. the proof of our love for matter as such | expatriate - 26/02/2012

[…] of the hotel written in latin and in cyrillic, as well as the cheat sheet of ukrainian phrases that brendan and i had printed out for our trip to kiev over a year before. i pulled out the sheets and desperately tried to find the pronunciation for the word for […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: