Our taxi leaves us at the entrance of the parking lot from which our bus to Gijón will depart. As if waking up earlier than six in the morning wasn’t enough, when I exit our vehicle I have to open an umbrella, because the rain is beating down. Both the cold and the darkness overwhelm me, and something primal demands I hurry back home to curl up under the sheets and a quilt, next to my beloved girlfriend. The few people walking around, either crossing the road that leads to the entrance of the train station, or marching along the sidewalk, are dragging suitcases, and look as if they couldn’t wait to reach whatever destination they signed up for.
I give Alazne my umbrella and open our second one, because I have to pull out both our suitcases, as well as a backpack, from the taxi’s trunk. Once the suitcases stand on the asphalt, I pay the tired-looking driver. Alazne and I trudge towards the depths of the large parking lot, each of us dragging a suitcase. Ever since she woke up this morning, my girlfriend has been yawning every couple of minutes, and her eyes are unfocused as if she were sleepwalking. I hope that she manages to sleep in the bus, or else she might fail to recover her lost sleep for our entire trip.
I have already spotted our bus parked deeper into the mostly deserted parking lot, but I keep looking down to avoid submerging my shoes in the large puddles. The reflections of the few lights that are illuminating the way at this hour, under a clouded sky, keep darting around like frantic insects on the surface of the water.
“The bus is already there, sweetie,” I say to Alazne, who can’t even hold on to my arm because I need to drag my suitcase while I hold the umbrella. “You’ll get to sleep in a few minutes.”
“It’s so dark…” she complains wearily.
Beyond dark, it feels inhospitable. As if during these hours of the night, particularly under the rain, the universe communicated to us clearly the message that human beings keep drowning with their artificial lights in lamps and screens: that we came to exist due to an unlikely succession of events, and that it will only take one or two other major events for us to disappear as if we had never crawled out of the primordial muck. It’s not resentment nor hate for how much we have fucked up, just mindless indifference.
Cold drops of water on my face wake me up from the trance I was falling into. The driver is standing next to the closed door of the bus while smoking a cigarette. Only three other groups of tired people have gathered for this trip, one of them a family with two young kids. The luggage compartment is already open on the side of the bus, and Alazne and I place our suitcases carefully. I keep shouldering my backpack, as it contains our electronic devices, two water bottles, bags of chips and similar crap. It would have been hard to remember the suitcases given that I only found out yesterday that Asier had stored two, but fortunately they came with a tag in which I wrote our names.
As I step back from the luggage compartment, I take a good look at the bus. It seems tough, almost armored, but I guess these kinds need to be. The seats should allow the travellers to sleep comfortably enough for hours. And the bus also comes with a bathroom.
A couple of minutes later all of us travellers show the printed tickets to the driver, then board the bus. As soon as Alazne and I get on the vehicle, the guy, who looks fed up, flicks his cigarette into a puddle. Once I finally get to sit on my designated aisle seat, and Alazne sighs deeply to my left, her sleepy face reflected on the mirror-like surface of the window, I relax. We’ll distance ourselves from Hondarribia for a few days, which means that those Ukrainian brothers won’t be able to bother me, and in addition I’ll get to return to Gijón, which I haven’t seen for around twenty years.
The driver is driving out of Irún when Alazne wipes the sleep from her eyes and pulls out her tablet from the backpack, as well as the expensive earphones I bought for her.
“I know that a beautiful part of any trip is watching new landscapes passing you by behind the window,” she says. “Those moments work with any soundtrack. But I can hardly believe how exhausted I am. I’m sorry if you end up having to wake me up when we reach Gijón.”
“No, it’s fine. I’ll only wake you up if it’s necessary.”
Alazne puts the earphones in her ears and scrolls through the songs while she frowns, as if picking the right soundtrack for her dreams was crucial. Once she’s content with her choices, she leans back to rest her pretty head. She closes her eyes. A few minutes later her shoulders relax, and she breathes deeply through her mouth.
Bored and unwillingly to fall asleep until I can’t help it, in case I would need to wake up Alazne for whatever reason, I look out of the window at what I can see of the hilly, often tree-covered landscape between Irún and Donostia, which is the next major stop, while the hard rain keeps pelting the glass. I feel vulnerable, as if I need to be careful during these following days or else I won’t know how to return to my life. And any trip reminds me of those I took as a ghost, often on a whim: I approached a group of travellers about to board some bus, I snooped to figure out where it was heading, and I got on. I discovered so many new places, but unless I was feeling particularly lonely, I used to wish I could roam around alone, never coming across other ghosts who might waylay me.
The painkiller has dulled the soreness in my abdomen, and the bruises didn’t seem to have worsened, so I probably won’t die from having been punched in the guts. It would have been embarrassing. And it would have ruined Alazne’s life.
Nobody is talking. Above the bus’ engine I barely hear the muffled dialogue of a movie that one of the other travellers is following through her headphones. I pull out my own earphones and put them on. I play the first song that feels right for my current situation and mood: Modest Mouse’s ‘Edit the Sad Parts’.
We reach Donostia sooner than I would have expected. The hard rain obscures the streetlights, and streets that I have traversed hand in hand with Alazne now feel foreign. I’m not in control of anything, but that’s fine. I just have to press on, unwavering.
Alazne’s head had slid towards the window, and now partially rests on the cold glass. The rain hits the other side as if trying to get her attention. I reach with my left hand to hold my index finger in front of her slightly open mouth. Her breath warms my skin. I lower that hand and place it carefully on Alazne’s right one.
A wall of tall trees with dense treetops blocks the view on the left of the highway, and on the right, beyond a line of scrawny trees, I see hills coated with pine-colored plant life as if it were mould. In the far distance I can make out the faintest traces of a tall mountain blending with the darkness and the clouds. Not a building in sight, nor electric poles. I would have thought that all spaces would be occupied at this point of everything.
A road sign mentions that we are passing by Zarautz. To the right of the highway tower clusters of seven to eight stories tall buildings that remind me of termite nests. The rain is easing off. I spot plenty of traffic on the nearby, smaller roads, as well as people walking on the sidewalks. Although the sky is covered in clouds, the morning is becoming brighter.
Alazne’s face is pale, but her cheeks are now a healthy shade of pink. I realize she was looking at me. She smiles. She squeezes my hand that was holding hers, then she shifts her weight in her seat. I open my mouth to say something, but Alazne closes her eyes to rest again.
The sun has risen and peeks from between the clouds. The bus is venturing deeper into the province, and the highway stretches between tall walls of rough rock. Some unknown group of people must have opened this path through a mountain, many years ago. From time to time I see sheep grazing in the green, steep slopes. The forests are dense, and in the narrow spaces between the trunks there are only shadows. I recall distant memories of me sleeping in the woods, sometimes under a storm, during my first years as a ghost, until doing random stuff like that lost all its appeal.
Someone taps my thigh. I must have fallen asleep. As I blink and look to my left, I realize that Alazne is trying to pass between me and the seat in front. The sun is shining through the windows, which makes me squint.
“I need to pee,” she says.
“Ah, sure…” I say through my dry mouth. “Where are we, though?”
“I don’t know, I just woke up.”
I turn my legs to one side so Alazne can squeeze her lovely body between my knees and the back of the seat in front of me. I stare at her ass as she walks down the aisle towards the bathroom. Once she enters it and closes the door, I try to figure out where on earth I have woken up. The bus just passed through a toll booth, and on the left of the highway I see a succession of industrial buildings with corrugated roofs. Also a few silvery, shining silos. Beyond that strip of civilization, the mountains look huge and close, and so devoid of details that they are almost reduced to silhouettes.
I open the backpack and pull out a bag of chips. I’m tempted to grab my phone and find out if I’ve gotten any calls. The world felt safer twenty years ago, when way fewer people carried phones. I want to be left alone.
I’m groggy until we reach Bilbao, because instead of being surrounded by wilderness, the bus passes by apartment buildings that are so close that I can make out piles of boxes and toys and random crap stored in closed balconies. Whoever is in charge of building shit in this world has understood that this stretch of the highway is on the doorstep of civilization, because they installed noise barriers which would have looked decent enough if they hadn’t been graffittied to hell. Some of the apartment buildings, big and bulky, look so worn and dirtied by decades of water that it worsens my mood. I imagine that the people living in there aren’t happy.
The bus goes through a covered, futuristic tunnel and it exits into a fancier part of the city. We pass in front of the main office of the EITB television channel, with a curved facade made of glass and that reflects the clouds. A few skyscrapers, probably filled with offices, rise over smaller buildings.
Our bus stops at a hub where around seven other buses have parked. Long lines of commuters wait to board theirs. I can hear people talking animatedly outside, so I raise the volume of my music. Although I close my eyes and hope for the bus to get moving again, such a racket comes over the music that I think that some people must be fighting either right next to the bus or inside. I take off my earbuds. A bunch of rowdy teens, or at least they look that scrawny and immature, are shouting about last night’s escapades. They must have boarded the bus to return home. They talk with the disgusting cadence that those kinds of young people have, as if they are drugged and proud of it, and they use the same tired words that some garbage people must be repeating in television.
“What an annoyance…” Alazne says to my left. She squints as if those bastards woke her up.
“Yeah, beyond obnoxious. I wish I could knock them out one by one, street fighter style.”
Alazne smirks and pats me on the chest with the back of her holy hand.
“They wouldn’t stand a chance against you.”
“Oh, I wish that were the case about every nasty person in this world.”
The speakers make a loud hissing sound as they announce the next stop for one of the buses. I jam the earbuds back into my ears and turn the volume up, but it doesn’t block out the screeches of those feral teens.
I hate young people. I hate them because they feel like bulldozing everything that came before them, because they believe they’ll be the ones to turn things around, and because they think they will never die.
The bus is climbing up a road that offers a panoramic view of the Cantabrian sea. Maybe even a hint of the Atlantic ocean in the horizon, but I have no clue where the sea stops and the ocean begins, nor who decided that. I could swear that I haven’t seen before a few of the trees that adorn the nearby hills: their treetops are narrow, made out of clusters of branches and leaves. A bit jungly. Up a head, a few kilometers below our position in the highway, a small city hugs the coast, and from here it barely looks like a white spill.
The style and distribution of the houses in the nearby towns and cities has changed. It’s been a while since we’ve come across any road sign in Basque. We have travelled enough that the weather has changed completely: the few clouds are wispy, and the sun is warming my face.
Alazne is reading some book in her digital reader. We haven’t spoken in around half an hour. My shoulders feel tense from having been stuck in this vehicle, and I guess also from the anxiety I’ve been tolerating recently. Now that I allow myself to pay attention to my body’s troubles, I can tell that my leg muscles are tired of keeping the same posture for so long.
“What are you reading?” I ask Alazne.
“Oh, it’s called ‘The Old Man and the Sea’,” she says, briefly peering up at me before returning to her reader. “It’s really boring, to be honest… My teacher recommended it.”
“One of Hajime Isayama’s earlier works, I believe.”
She offers me a playful smile.
“How did you know it was written by Isayama?”
“Just a wild guess. So are you hoping to broaden your tastes?”
“I’m trying. I don’t think I’m going to get much enjoyment out of this. It’s just a story about an old man and a fish. Not a single titan involved.”
I stare out at the passing hills and fields, basking in the sunlight.
“It’s good to try. You never know what you are going to enjoy. But if something doesn’t feel right for you, just chuck it out the window.”
Alazne looks down at her lap, suddenly somber.
“To be honest, when the teacher and other classmates praise some of the excerpts chosen as good writing or good stories, I feel as if they are joking. Most of them don’t do anything for me. Which means that if I write stuff I do enjoy, those same people will consider it shit.”
“If you write what you want to read, then people who enjoy similar works will enjoy yours. I will like it for sure, and so will others. You just have to find those people.”
“But isn’t that preaching to the choir?”
“Don’t people like the same stuff they have always liked? How many people change their tastes? I don’t think human beings are so malleable, and the worst thing you can do is fake what you like or dislike.”
Alazne smiles with newfound confidence.
“Well, I’m glad to hear you say that.”
She strokes my hand, and I return my gaze to the rolling countryside. A serene silence hangs in the bus; those teens fucked off to their respective houses what feels like long ago. For now I don’t want to drown this silence with a soundtrack.
Alazne pats me on the shoulder. Although I hadn’t closed my eyes entirely, I was dozing off.
“Hey, some signs said that this is the Cabárceno natural park,” my girlfriend says merrily. “I thought it was farther away.”
I look out of the window, but the first things I notice are more of those tall reeds with an eggshell-colored feather on top. They stand near the shoulder of the road as if they were spectating a race. I examine the nearby fields, but I only make out the roofs of some buildings as well as isolated trees. Shortly after, a mound blocks our view entirely.
Alazne sits back.
“I guess most of the action happens further in…” she says, disappointed.
“We’ll come some day, don’t worry.”
My girl keeps looking out of the window.
“You think they have bears?”
“You already have one at home, though. I wish they had dinosaurs.”
She laughs and puts her hand on mine, the one resting on my lap. Then she takes it and intertwines our fingers.
“Keep dreaming, and one day they will,” Alazne says. “I’d rather prefer they revived the megafauna of the Ice Age, though.”
“Like mammoths and shit?”
“And gigantic armadillos, birds the size of wyrms, horse-like creatures much bigger than elephants, and the huge ground sloths, which were like bears, but if bears were sloths.”
I let out a chuckle.
“Fuck, you’d have a bunch of overgrazing beasts dying because modern humans wouldn’t know how to take care of them. I’d like to have a gigantic armadillo for a pet as much as the next person, but I’d say let them sleep forever. They are the lucky ones.”
“No, you don’t believe that,” she says as she squeezes my hand a bit. “Reviving extinct creatures would be nice after all the killing we’ve been doing for thousands of years.”
“Sweetie, I just wanted to chuckle some more at the thought of herds of mammooths bunching up and trampling each other to death. I’m not the right person to judge this subject.”
We are passing by Torrelavega. Some seriously rusted silos, old factories and shiny refineries that are fabricating their own clouds. I’m finishing my ham sandwich. Fuck, this is a long journey.
The bus goes through long stretches of highway in which some tall trees, some of them standing on top of rusted-looking outcrops, block the view. Alazne was resting her head on my shoulder when she suddenly places her right hand on my left thigh and strokes it. My heart skips a beat, and I instinctively cover her hand with my left one.
I look down at her hazel eyes, and she holds my gaze meaningfully. I recognize that smile: she’d prefer we were naked under our sheets, a few minutes away from me closing my lips around her clit, or her closing her lips around my cock, or me pushing my cock into her smooth insides. My crotch tingles.
“I want it too,” I whisper close to her nose. “It’s too bad that people don’t take kindly to being offered such a spectacle in public, at least from strangers.”
Alazne bites her lower lip as she looks down towards the growing bulge in my pants. She contributes to its development by extending a finger and poking my shaft gently. I shiver, and start breathing deeper. I won’t be able to fuck my girlfriend at least until we reach the spa hotel, so this is torture.
I lift my hand from hers and stroke her opposite cheek.
“You keep playing,” I whisper ardently, “and when we get to our room I will tear your clothes off.”
Her hazel eyes glint mischievously.
“Whatever you say, daddy.”
No hint of hesitation nor embarrassment. My mouth gets dry. I will end up fucking her right here, even if they’d kick us out. I take a deep breath. No, I need to lock my feral urges in the oubliette of my mind for a few hours more. I take Alazne’s hand that was inching closer to stroking my dick through my pants, and I move it delicately so it rests on her own thigh.
“At least we can make out, right…?” Alazne asks me in a low voice.
“Yeah, of course,” I whisper back.
My girlfriend’s lips purse slightly and she raises her head until her lips touch my own. She snogs me gently and lovingly. I rest my hands on her shoulders and hold her close to me.
“You know,” she whispers against my mouth, “I find it fascinating how you can display so much affection in public.”
I chuckle dryly.
I can’t sleep. I have been listening to Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ from the beginning, an album that I discovered during my last years of my first life. I have leaned back against the headrest. Although Alazne is sleeping deeply next to me, knocked out as if drugged, my body insists on remaining vigilant. Maybe I fear what will happen if there’s an emergency and my girlfriend is forced to react first. Maybe I don’t deserve to sleep properly, because I’m a deceiving sack of shit who lies to the love of her life. Maybe nobody who has been hunted down by a couple of thugs can sleep well afterwards, hopefully just for a few weeks.
The highway is skirting the coast. An old church sticks out between two trees, and as the bus continues, I get to look down towards one of those semi-deserted towns built maybe in the 1800s, the buildings constructed without following a street plan, every house two stories tall or smaller. Someone came to this area a long time ago and founded a town, and then he died but others kept living in the same community. One day nobody will. The bus passes under a bridge and then I don’t see the town anymore.
Only slivers of the peaks show up from between the solid-looking clouds that roll in slow motion down the slopes of a wall of mountains, which extends from the left of my view to the right. Near the tops of some hills, the mantle of vegetation has ripped to show the mottled rock beneath.
Where am I? Still in a bus. I wipe the drool that had trickled down to my chin. Alazne is snoring softly on my left. I’ll have to take a shit soon. I hope I haven’t farted in my sleep, because I can’t trust this disgusting man-body.
I look out of the window towards a deserted beach delimited on the farther side by a hill that slopes down gently. The clouds are milk-colored, the lines of the waves are drawn with a white crayon.
I keep fiddling with my cell phone. Oleksiy hasn’t called yet, so maybe they haven’t found Kateryna’s suicide note. Maybe they aren’t looking. They’ll format that computer and I’ll never see those two goons again. Why didn’t I format that fucking laptop the moment I found it? Because there was an account made for Kateryna, that maybe she herself had created, and I didn’t want to delete anything that she affected while she still lived. We abandoned our ghost alone in our home.
I look down from the raised highway towards a few white or coffee-colored horses that are walking around on top of a hill. Why am I crying?
Alazne is still sleeping. I hope she’s having nice dreams.
The bus passes by a large rest stop where a queue of cars are waiting for gas, and a dozen trucks are parked. Maybe their owners are sleeping inside. Alazne keeps pressing my hand closest to her as if following the contours of my bones.
“Tell me something, Asier,” Alazne says to me, who isn’t Asier. “Who is this man that you once were?”
“What do you mean?”
“The man who was tied to Gijón and who hurt some woman so much that now her brothers insist on harassing you.”
I take my time to answer. The trees pass by in a blur.
“But I love you, so you aren’t unimportant, Asier.”
“I’m not Asier,” I mutter. “I don’t know him.”
Alazne’s drowsy eyes study my facial features as if to figure out where my current gloom comes from.
“Was the man before the car accident worthy of love?” she asks me.
“I’m sure he wasn’t. I wish I had nothing to do with him. I wish I was someone else, that I occupied some other body, with which I could love you better.”
Alazne strokes my face and kisses me. Her lips are sweet.
“You love me just the way you are. You don’t need to be someone else. You’re perfect for me,” she says, her eyes shining with sincerity.
I keep staring at her while my eyes burn and my heart hurts. Alazne reaches with her hand and she wipes a tear from the side of my mouth.
“If you knew who I am under this skin I’m wearing,” I say softly, trying to prevent my voice from breaking, “you wouldn’t want to have anything to do with me.”
Alazne shakes her head slowly.
“That’s not true,” she replies. “I love you, whatever your name is.”
My throats hurts, and I sniff to prevent some mucus from running down my nose.
“I don’t know exactly what you mean,” Alazne insists softly, “but you are a terrible liar. If you believe that you are wearing a mask, I’m seeing through it. I might not know exactly what that mask is made out of, but I hope that the person hiding behind it spends with me the rest of his life.”
I don’t know what to say in response. I wish I was the person she sees, but I’m not even sure who that is.
“You better kiss me now, idiot,” she says while smiling, “and pass me a bag of chips.”
Those feather reeds are everywhere, whole clusters of them that sprouted from skirts made of grass. They don’t match the rest of the greenery. Why the hell are they there?
White buildings are strewn around the slopes of nearby hills. Why haven’t we reached Gijón already? How much longer can any ride take? How does a bus contain this much gasoline? I want to stand up and walk around. I want to take a shower, I want to sleep, I want to disappear from this world. I didn’t choose to be able to think these thoughts. I don’t know why I am here. I don’t know why anyone is here.
Alazne lets out a noise of surprised delight, then pats me on the thigh. She’s pointing at a blue sign that reads ‘Gijón’.
“We are close enough, then!” she says. “You know, I love the idea of travelling, but these rides are mortifying.”
“Let’s just get there,” I grumble. “I want to take a shower.”
“You are sulking even more than me, my love.”
“I’m not sulking,” I grunt. “I don’t sulk.”
The bus enters a tunnel. The road bends along the dark, narrow burrow only illuminated by yellow artificial lights installed on the sides of the ceiling.
“Hold my hand,” Alazne says, amused. “I’m scared of the dark.”
I grab her hand and I kiss her knuckles.
“You are not.”
“Fine, I’m not scared of the dark, but it’s easier to take if you have someone holding your hand.”
I caress her palm with my thumb.
“I used to be scared of ghosts,” Alazne says as she looks out of the window, even though we can only see the cement-like wall of the tunnel. “Now I’m sorry for them. I wish I could help them more.”
“You’d be helping yourself in advance, I guess. You’ll be a ghost some day.”
My heart gets squeezed. I feel like a kid who just put two and two together and understood that one day his parents would be gone.
The bus exits the tunnel into the daylight, but we are passing through a mountainous area, and there’s another tunnel just up ahead.
“Maybe we are the lucky generation and they’ll discover a cure for telomere shortening,” Alazne says.
“Yeah, maybe.” I swallow, and shift my weight in the seat. The nerves in my legs send electric twinges. “I certainly don’t want you to die.”
“Do you think the first humans on earth knew they would die?” Alazne asks me. “Did it feel surreal to them?”
“I don’t know what a caveman felt.”
“I imagine it felt the same as this. Uncertainty, fear, sadness. Perhaps they had more presence of mind and could understand their mortality better than we can, but beyond that I believe our emotions are universal.”
“I don’t think we understand anything beyond the shows and the commercials and all the babbling.”
The next tunnel looms, dark and wide.
“Oh, I don’t think some people are that blind, deaf and dumb,” Alazne says.
“We’re just characters in a story the universe is telling itself.”
The tunnel swallows us. The lights in front are soon the only thing visible, other than the vague silhouettes of the other passengers.
“How so?” Alazne asks. “I think we move the plot along with our actions.”
“I’m not even real,” I answer in a thin voice. “You wrote me as I am for your writing class, because your teacher asked you to.”
The tunnel begins to spit us out into the daylight again.
Corrugated noise barriers on which locks of ivy have grown. The traffic is getting denser. The highway must have been built real high, because to our right opens a wide view of a valley surrounded by mountains and that contains a few towns. The distinct farming plots and grazing fields look like different districts.
The sun rays are getting stronger. As they warm my face they feel more real than they ever have, as if each ray has an independent and precise heat signature. Each hair on my arms and legs feels like an individual organism, sensing and reacting to the outside stimuli. I’m so fucking sick of this ride that I want to scream. Billboards of all shapes stand out from behind a mass of unkempt vegetation. Leroy Merlin. Alonauto. Caja Rural. Some Asturian beer. None of those companies even exist, this is a deception to give the impression that this reality is solid instead of some dream our brains put together. The world has never looked so depraved, so rotten. And it’s all my fault.
“My love, we are exiting the highway,” my holy Alazne says.
The bus is turning to venture through a narrower road. The horizon is no longer composed of mountains and hills, but instead it’s a collage of buildings, the disgusting refuse of civilization.
“I need someone to shoot me in the head,” I grumble.
“Look, palm trees, in that roundabout! Dwarf palm trees. And those houses over there look beautiful, don’t they?”
“I can’t believe I’ve wasted eight hours of my life. Look at me, I’m a fucking wreck.”
Alazne strokes my hair.
“You just need to stretch your legs and eat something. The worst is over now.”
That can’t be right. The world will remain terrible forever. But the bus is now driving through some legitimate streets, like streets in a city. A couple of people are riding their bikes on a bike lane. It’s adjoined to a large park with freshly cut grass. Some kids are swinging on a swing set or sliding down a slide. All so pleasant and idyllic, almost obscene. My stomach gurgles.
“Not far now,” Alazne says.
The sky is a mix of clouds that threaten rain and blue patches that welcome the sun. The bus stops at a red light. All these people around us, the inhabitants of this city, have no clue of the horrors that await them once they stray from the confines of their human communities.
“So many people I had never seen, just pleasantly enjoying their drinks at some outside tables,” Alazne says dreamily as she stares out of the windows.
“Yeah, it’s amazing what wonders exist out there,” I mumble with a raspy voice.
“Look, little neighborhood shops. They sell furniture, books, groceries… You can cut your hair there.”
I rub my cheeks. They must be covered in days of stubble. I look hideous. My unkempt hair must be a wild mess. It hasn’t been combed nor brushed for as long as I can remember.
“Doesn’t everything just look perfect?” Alazne says as she gapes at the line of trees that separates the lanes. “Look at the way those tall trees cover our entire lane in shadows!”
“I will unleash Armageddon upon humanity,” I say as I hunch over.
“Aww, you are really adorable when you’re exhausted.”
“Adorable? I’m a sitting abomination against nature.”
“Have some self-esteem. And look, we are almost there.”
I ball my hands into fists.
“Why haven’t we stopped already? We have already reached the city! How is this possible?”
“I’m sure the bus station is close,” Alazne says while she observes the buildings that pass by.
“We will never leave this bus. We should have never gotten on it.”
Alazne laughs at my pain.
“Stop being so dramatic. We are all going to be fine.”
The bus turns a corner, and I discover that along the endless new street someone had planted trees made of iron, which are bent in a forty five degree angle towards the traffic. As we pass in front of one of them I realize that they have installed electric lights on the underside. Is this someone’s idea of a streetlight? I have seen this place before, haven’t I? Surely in my nightmares. The outside world and the nightmare realm are fusing at last.
Alazne leans towards me and rubs my shoulder. She lowers her voice.
“My love, you look pale as can be. You are getting sick, aren’t you?”
“I’m not. I’m finally gazing upon the naked horrors of this world.”
She gives me a kiss on the cheek.
“You say the sweetest things.”
“How can so many people exist? Look around. How can the universe process so many entities without overflowing its integers?”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“They are all monsters. I am a monster. Look at me. I’m hideous. A hideous monster is reading the thoughts in your mind.”
A few of the passengers occupying some of the seats ahead of us start maneuvering to get up from their chairs. One of them points at a building that has appeared in the view. It’s by far the shoddiest building I have ever seen, a rundown monster of cement. Some big, rusted letters installed in its facade read ‘ALSA ESTACION’. The ‘O’ doesn’t even have an accent mark. But I can see that this must be it, because some other buses have parked at narrow stops. Our driver, who deserves a medal for having commanded this journey without killing himself, starts veering into one of the empty stops.
Alazne’s eyes have widened, maybe from excitement. She gets up from her seat, then she reaches over to grab our backpack.
“Finally here. I need some fresh air!”
I rest my forearms on the seat in front of me.
“I need to vomit.”