It was a proper horror show of a ride home from Western Georgia last evening in the marshrutka – the cargo vans that haul us peasants to and fro around this country. The taxi driver to the marshrutka station was a beast, leering and slapping his temples in glee when I answered in the negative to his question about my marital status. “So good! So good!” What leads him to believe this state of affairs could ever result in good for him is chalked up to the mystery of the unfathomable male ego. His parting words to me, clasping my hand between his paws, betrayed the depths of his sorrow at our parting. I could not leap out fast enough.
From there, deposited to the mercy of the marshrutka barkers, manhandled by one particularly aggressive chap towards a van in the back of the lot, who howled in his operatic baritone to the loitering collection of grey-faced and filthy pals ringing the vehicle that he’d hauled in a good one. No sooner were we on the road for the three and half hour journey back to Tbilisi when the doom gurgle in my intestines began its unmistakable call. “No, please no,” I silently prayed, shutting my eyes and practicing yogic breathing – a mistake when the driver next to you is exhaling filterless cigarette smoke into your face.
We paused at a roadside hut halfway through the trip home – a lonely patch of road where the land is still folded in impossibly lush green hills. A pair of near-toothless men in threadbare blazers coated with a cement colored silt occupied the porch of the little structure where a sturdy matron peddled snacks and water and other road treats. Behind, a dilapidated concrete structure that could have been the remains of a bombing run in Kandahar threatened TUALETI in scrawled lettering. Toilets. The gurgle in my intestines was a riot now and there was nothing to it but to hand the 20 tetri piece to the ancient female in the little window, unwind a few wraps from the brown-paper toilet paper roll on her little table, and carry it with me into the trenches. If you are ill enough, any respite is welcome, and I was sufficiently ill.
The remainder of the trip passed in relative peace, accompanied by booming Russian pop music, and interrupted only by the driver mocking me mercilessly for my fright when we nearly hit a cow. He seemed offended, taking my gasping and jerking as a great insult to his professional savvy, and certainly the close call had not troubled the vacantly bored expression on anybody else’s face.
Back in Tbilisi, now feeling near to death with a gathering rumble of flu, I flag a taxi to take me home. “By the Patriarch’s” I say. “No,” he replies, waving his hand dismissively. No? No? He sighs despondently and names a price I’d be perfectly happy to pay, but I knew he thought he was being extravagant so I brought him down one lari. Collapsing into the car he commenced a steady stream chatter in Georgian. You’re from America? Really? But you speak so well! I don’t, I insisted, I don’t understand anything you’re saying. He apologized for saying no at first, though I couldn’t understand why, and I didn’t much care. I was nearly there. Beat down and bedraggled and broken and only relieved that soon I would be back in blissful silence with nobody crowing or leering or blowing smoke in my face or any of that.
I flopped home and succumbed without protest to the tendrils of aches and fever and ennui. Shattered. Today I am feeling about as sturdy as this bridge below, over which my little hooves must trod most mornings. I have high hopes for tomorrow, but today has been a write off. I am not marshrutka ready, this much is clear.