Monday, 27 October 2008

Working in Germany, Part III: Getting Lost

So I had resolved to go out with my friends to celebrate the blissful absence of the Tragedian.

Now, I said that the offices were in Großostheim, but my house was actually in Aschaffenburg, a city nearby; because most of my friends lived in Großostheim, I needed to head down there myself. I checked the time for the last bus home on the internet: 22:45. Not ideal, but better than nothing.

So we went out and watched a football match of our beloved national team at an Italian bar (there seemed to be more of these in this part of Germany than in most Italian cities I've been to. It's hard to believe it, but we even outnumbered the Turks). In keeping with the Italian tradition of good organisation and tolerance, the place was akin to a particularly unpleasant bear-pit. The clientele consisted exclusively of Italian (or half-Italian) bigots as ugly as sin and with brains as substantial as the insides of a cloud. In addition, they were all from the South, and as a consequence, they hated Romans. This almost led to a fight when a Roman born-and-bred player lit up the stadium and led us to victory with two magnificent goals and I stood up and started chanting Roman stadium anthems and loudly commenting on how little this team would ever achieve if it weren't for the Romans.

Following a most distinguished exchange of opinions between me and the locals on the qualities of Roman football and on the identities of their respective mothers, we decide to leave. There are still ten minutes of the match to go, but it is already more than half-past ten, and I have to get going. When I get to the bus-stop, though, the revelation: the sign states that the last bus has passed at 21:30! Why on earth did the internet report it as 22:45 then? I start making further gentle comments on the quality of Großostheim's transport and on the occupation of the bus-drivers' mothers while my friends offer to help me out. They tell me there are more buses passing next to the supermarkets, and one of my friends, a short black-haired girl who worked at a nearby Pizzeria, leads me part of the way in that direction. She leaves me in front of a dark road, saying: "Just follow this to the end. It's all a straight road with no turns. Don't ever leave the walkway, and it'll take you about ten minutes."

I thank her heartily and leave.

I've barely walked thirty seconds when I get to the first bifurcation. Hullo, I say. Wasn't this supposed to be "a straight road with no turns"? She told me never to leave the walkway and never to cross a road. But now the walkway dies on my right into a path of grass and starts again across the road to my left. Starting to feel rather nervous, I take the path to my left. I walk for about a minute, then get to something like a central square with four roads leading into it. I walk straight forwards, and soon I am lost in a maze of alleyways and dark cobbled streets. I keep walking straight, in the vague trepidation that there may be something like a minotaur or a sewer-crocodile waiting for me to pass by. It's a new country, after all; who knows what I could find?

Now, Großostheim is not, as I said, a very big city. As a consequence, after ten minutes walking, I am already starting to reach its edge. The houses are progressively getting lower and the shops are getting sparser until I turn a corner and hey presto, I find myself in the middle of a God-forsaken cornfield! 'Where the fuck am I?', I wonder, hearing the whisper of the wind and the crickets singing in the night. Around me, not a soul; above the cornfield a sea of stars extends itself like I have ended up on a boat on a particularly clear night. Suddenly, a sound: a car is approaching through the mud-path that leads from the corn to the low houses. I'm about to raise a hand to ask for directions, when the car comes closer and I find myself confronted with a black vehicle which must have come from the nineteen-thirties at the very latest, with arching mudguards, vents for the motor and white tires, sputtering away towards my astonished self and, a second later, towards the houses. I am now starting to feel an edge of fear: Have I time-warped somewhere back there in the dark roads? Have I mistakenly stepped into some wormhole leading me to some other place in another time? I look around me, and what with the cornfield and the colonial houses, I could swear I've ended up in a scene from one of those American films about the Great Depression where the golfer or the lawyer what have you rises from the abandonment of his great countryside house to earn riches and glory which will brand him in the golden books of history.

I decide it is time to ignore my original advice and stop going straight (not a difficult decision, considering that to stick with it would now bring me to partake of a cultural soirée with the field-mice and the cobs), so I abruptly turn right, bordering on the sides of the cornfield in the hopes of finding something. It is so dark you'd think the lampposts themselves had gone to sleep. I'd like to call a taxi but, as is always the case in the times when you really need one, I don't have the faintest notion of what the number is.

Eventually I find two bus-stops, islands of modernity which assure me, if nothing else, that I'm still in the 20th Century. But they're not next to the supermarkets at all. This is looking dubious. I wait there for ten minutes, then take a look at the signposts and try to decipher the German. It appears that the last bus was at half-nine here, too.

And now it is beginning to rain.

I throw my head back and sigh. This is starting to get depressing.

It's become patently obvious by this point that the buses are not going to pass by here, so I conclude that I'm going to have to call a taxi. In order to do that, I need to ask someone the number, and that means finding a human being. I'm pretty sure that if I knock on one of the houses at these hours I'll get blasted down with a shotgun, so I take a look around me. Somewhere at my left, in the distance, there are some lights which might signal a highway. I put my hands in my pockets, steel myself and start walking in that direction.

I walk for a several minutes in the rain and cover most of the distance, when I see two headlights coming towards me and in the direction of the bus-stops. At first I think it must be a car; then, as it starts closing in, I see that the headlights are too far apart from each other, and the engine sounds much deeper and more potent. I stop and look at it. Then I notice it has other two small lights up there at the two top corners of it, revealing it is a much larger vehicle than a car, and my heart sinks: the bus is going towards the bus-stops only now that I have left them. Oh God.

I have at most half-a-second to make the decision. I turn around and see the bus-stops in the distance. I'm going to have to run the three-hundred metres in twenty-five seconds if I want to be at the road-signs when the bus gets there. I can make it.

I start power-legging it like a bastard. The rain is whipping on my face and my coat is fluttering on my back like a pair of wings. I am breathing hard. Two-hundred and fifty metres. Two hundred.

I hear the bus roaring behind me. It appears to be going comparatively slow; I'm guessing the driver has seen me running and decided to slow down to give me a better chance of making it. Bless the man!

One-hundred and fifty metres. It's still behind me. One-hundred and twenty-five. My lungs are imploding. I'm not gonna make it. Oh God, I'm going to have a stroke. I become thankful that the place is so deserted.

It is precisely while I'm in the middle of my last and most desperate dash that I hear the motors finally overtaking me, and I turn my head to find out that it's a motherfucking truck! Even as my legs go slack and I begin decelerating into a slow gallop, I am still failing to take it in. There is a very singular moment in which me and the driver cross gazes, and he must be wondering what I am doing there too, because we both seem to read the same perplexity in the other's face. Then the truck roars past, and I have the privilege of imagining him realising what had happened, then breaking into a grin, and finally cracking up like crazy, while I turn around and start raging against the cobs.

After a few minutes of curses, I start walking the road again. I reach the end and, lo, I get exactly at the supermarkets I was looking for in the first place (rigorously after all the buses have passed, of course). I find some people, explain myself after they take me for a mugger, then get a taxi number off them.

I've never been less talkative in a taxi-trip in my life. And if the driver was disappointed, he can go fuck himself.

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