There’s a certain blackness that can overtake you when you’ve been traveling. For me it nearly always begins with vendors who are either unfriendly or so friendly you feel violated by their greasier-than-a-car-salesman approach. The blackness is a sort of refusal to mesh with the other realities offered by nationals. The blackness hates the smiles of the vendors and their stupid tricks—“Pretty lady! Hi! I like your dress!” “Why are you angry? Excuse me? Smile face!” “Where are you from? America? What state? I am like your neighbor—I’m going to New York!”—and the blackness wants to pluck out the eyes of anyone staring at the backside of the human in which the blackness is manifest.
The blackness is often compounded by leering men and/or crying babies. Crowded transportation does not help alleviate the blackness. The blackness might exist in the heavy bitterness of misunderstanding.
The blackness can barely manage not to snarl when the bus manager says, “4:30 bus? No. Cancelled. You must wait. 6:00.” It growls, though, the blackness, and it sulks. The blackness cannot even find amusement in a Turkish Chuck Norris playing the egg shaker on a flat screen television in the chintzy, sweating waiting room where plugs hang socketless out of the walls. The blackness cannot be happy, even when drowning in the ridiculousity that comes with trying to eat a juicy peach with angry dignity. In fact the blackness finds itself angry when a friendly older woman gabbles at her in Turkish (probably) and pats the seat next to her. The host of the blackness recognizes the woman’s goodwill and knows that in a happier time she would have tried to understand what in the world the woman was saying. She doesn’t. The blackness is much more consuming.
I like to think the more depraved of my readers have felt that sort of all-encompassing frustration/exhaustion/apathy. Or maybe that’s just me, travel or no travel. An older Turkish man helped me on the busy tram today—letting me step on first in the crowded train, helping me move my luggage to a corner, reading off the stop names as if I were too deaf to hear the tram’s loudspeaker say exactly the same thing or blind so as to be unable to read the signs of each stop. I would have been touched by his kindness if he hadn’t kept bumping his crotch against my butt and, when I shifted as much as I could, my hip. It was crowded, so it could have been an accident. The gender make-up of the train: 80% men to 20% women, only one of whom was traveling without a male companion, maybe three without headscarves.
Luckily the blackness rarely lasts long: who has the energy for that? That was my last day in Istanbul before hopping on a night bus. The bus ride turned out to be even more ridiculous than the Turkish Chuck Norris or the obnoxiously juicy peach:
1. The bus stopped four times in the first four hours and once when I went to the bathroom, a Turkish girl in a bright pink headscarf stole my seat, refusing to leave it until the bus attendant made her.
2. In baggage control during the border crossing into Greece (at 1:00 in the morning), only I and one other man were “chosen” by the bus attendant to have our bags searched. While a taciturn Greek lady dug through my underwear and Tums, the bus attendant said to me, “Disco!” and shook his hips a little.
3. In the morning, the bus attendant waggled his hips at me again and asked me to go drinking and dancing with him in Athens.
4. At some point during the ride I found a business card from someone named “Murat Bahri Sarihan” in my backpack. Handwritten on the back: “for you! Next time contact pls” and an email. I have no memory of this man or receiving his business card. Small mercies.
5. When the bus finally stopped in Athens, the terminus was a gravel parking lot on the side of the highway. No buses, no metro, no ATM to help pay the taxi drivers obnoxiously “offering” their services. The bus attendant opened one of the luggage hatches to reveal a man in his underwear, groggy from sleeping on a mattress beneath the bus. I got directions to the metro and walked—and by “walked” I mean “fled”—twenty minutes to get there.
But Greece is great! I live in a refurbished train car and have played soccer already, watched Greece’s bland defeat at the hands [er, feet?] of the Colombians and I am already in love with baklava.