The Nice Thing About Strangers

Creative Non-Fiction Short Stories. :) Travel, Oldsters, Love, and Compassion.

Shoulder to Shoulder

On the winding road down the Croatian coast, a couple gazes toward the turquoise sea one usually only glimpses in movies. She sighs, ”We’re driving in the clouds.” But he grumbles: “It’s just a high fog, you know.” She sighs again.

Under the rosary that hung from the rearview mirror and no-smoking sticker mandated by the bus line, the driver expertly lights a cigarette. Nobody moves, except to blink in their nicotine envy.

An antique woman flags down the bus. She climbs the stairs quickly, then returns to feeble as she stares down a tourist occupying the front seat. The tourist hoists his backpack onto his lap to make room, then tries to read his guidebook under a pile of gear. The old woman makes loud small talk with the driver for about five minutes, then he drops her off where she points, though it seems the middle of nowhere. She pats the driver’s shoulder and casts a long glare at the tourist before departing into a field.

The driver stops to fuel up. He puts on a little plastic glove to pump the gas, absurd fastidiousness for the burly road wrangler.  At a border crossing, he paces impatiently. The passengers inside look out at his ceaseless cigarettes and make small moans. As the time drags on he kicks his own tires. Eventually, the guards in their powder blue polyester coats hand over the stack of his passengers’ passports and he leaps into the bus, hoisting the pile at the wayward tourist. “Give.” He points to the rear of the bus, fires up the engine, drives onward. The tourist takes his duty very seriously, very slowly, glancing through each passport to find his own, then attempting to identify his fellow travelers by their photos.

Days seem to pass before someone intervenes. A man in sunglasses, several gold chains, and a matching running suit stands and seizes the documents. He gazes out over the crowd–and his painstakingly-tended chest hair–and starts reading the names aloud.  Owners raise their hands politely. He has little trouble with the local names, spots a German girl without trouble, but laughs out loud before hunting for: “Suzuki? Suzuki?”   

When Suzuki extends his arm and claims his passport, the golden volunteer pats the visitor firmly on his shoulder. Tourists note this as a gesture they might try later, if necessary, to make inroads on such curved journeys.

-Somewhere between Split, Croatia and Budva, Montenegro.


5 comments on “Shoulder to Shoulder

  1. Reblogged this on The Nice Thing About Strangers and commented:

    Here’s a once-upon-a-time from Croatia… (the gesture referenced has been spotted in Colorado as well.)

  2. Kim Karras
    May 10, 2014

    Wow Paige. This is just beautiful. Especially that last line.

    • Thanks, Kim! I was crazy about the little old Croatian ladies. So adorable.
      Happy Mother’s Day to you, by the way. 🙂

  3. Adelemm
    May 16, 2014

    Lovely! Having travelled by bus in Croatia, this brought back memories is is gorgeously written. When was this? Thanks for the like and the follow. Delighted to find your site and have gladly followed. Looking forward to reading more of your beautiful travel writing.

    • Adelemm, I believe it was in 2011 or 2012. I had quite a lot of excursions to Croatia between 2009-2013, and lived there for a few months as well. A lovely coast to enjoy, this was certain!
      Thanks for visiting. I will keep an eye on your adventures out of your comfort zone as well. 🙂

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