The day had arrived for me to return to Australia after my annual visit to sunny Malta. I had been in Malta only four months instead of the usual six this time, as I had to return to Sydney to attend a family wedding in September.
I was not happy about leaving Malta, early.
I cleaned the house from top to bottom, leaving it clean and tidy and smelling fresh. I had organised for a couple to stay in my Valletta maisonette while I was away and I had made an effort to leave it pristine in the optimistic hope that they would reciprocate for me on my return.
All my bags are packed and I’m ready to go… leaving…on a jet plane
After struggling up the steps of my street, laden with assorted luggage (it is an ancient street with flagstone steps and no cars) I wheeled my large suitcase on its castors and carried the rest of my gear on my back the ten minutes or so to the bus station and then on to Stage 16 where the bus to the airport departs from.
It was hot and I was sweaty. I congratulated myself for my insightful planning as I had left the house wearing shorts, singlet and flip-flops. My jeans, long-sleeved shirt, shoes and socks for the plane journey were in my backpack, along with my toiletry bag, in anticipation of a quick wash and change at the airport before my flight.
On arriving at the bus station, I noticed that the electronic message board at Stage 16 that usually showed the time of arrival of the next bus along with the bus route and timetable was missing. I suspected that it was gone due to yet another accident where an overly enthusiastic driver had pushed his bus forward just a little too quickly and a little too far down the bus parking bay, knocking out the sign.
There was a small group of foreigners with luggage also waiting at Stage 16 and after about ten minutes I asked them if they had been waiting long. They had.
Hmm…. I started to feel uneasy. Things do not always go to plan concerning the public transport system in Malta.
I feel a bad moon arising…I see trouble on the way
I looked around me for any bus company employee I could check with and spied some men who were in bus driver uniforms, standing a short distance behind us. I walked the few steps over to them and asked when they thought the next bus to the airport would arrive. They replied to my inquiry with a directive:
“Go around the corner. Stage 21”.
“You mean that the airport bus will leave from there?”
“Yes. Stage 21”.
The off-duty drivers had been standing behind us and our luggage the whole time, all of us obviously headed for the airport, so it would have been extremely helpful if they had spoken up earlier. It seemed as though Stage 16 was out of action and the buses to the airport now departed from Stage 21.
My new friends and I hurriedly took up our bags and rushed around the corner into the adjacent street to Stage 21. One of our group checked the timetable:
“We are in luck. The bus to the airport is due in just a few minutes”.
I sighed with relief. But soon became anxious again.
Time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking… into the future
Fifteen minutes later I realised that the scheduled bus we were waiting for must have left early or was cancelled. I advised my fellow travellers:
“Yes, occasionally that happens. Sometimes a driver becomes impatient and departs too early or a scheduled bus is cancelled because of a mechanical breakdown or a missing driver. We will have to wait for the next one.”
The next bus arrived after another ten minutes or so. Phew! It was now one and three-quarter hours before my flight departure time.
I was lucky. The bus stopped directly in front of me and I was one of the first passengers to board. That meant I managed to secure a bench seat near the front of the bus, behind the driver and facing the isle, with room to have my luggage beside me rather than having to squeeze into a normal seat facing in line with the direction we were heading.
Because the bus was late, or because the previous one had left early or did not turn up at all, this bus was overcrowded. Passengers were standing in the isle in front of me and packed in together like sardines. Two young women who seemed to be together ended up in a position standing directly in front of me. One was an attractive, slim woman who seemed to be in her mid-twenties. The other was a very large woman of around ninety kilos who was obviously struggling with the heat and lack of space.
After we had been travelling for about ten minutes, the bus rounded a bend a little too quickly and the standing passengers violently swayed to one side; the side I was sitting on. Dear reader, you will no doubt be able to guess which of the two women standing in front of me lost her grip of the strap-type handle hanging from the overhead chrome bar and fell, full force on top of me.
Ninety kilos of her as opposed to around sixty kilos of me- it wasn’t a fair contest.
It all happened as if in slow motion and I can only imagine the look of shock and awe expressed on my face as the looming female hulk, trying her best to stay upright, slowly leaned further and further towards me until I realised there was no escape from an eminent and severe crushing.
Over the few seconds that it took for her to fall forward, with all of her weight behind her, the poor woman’s face contorted as she struggled to keep hold of the overhead strap and maintain her balance. A look of utter defeat then spread across her face as she finally gave up and let go of the strap.
Pressure on my upper torso increased enormously as the obese woman’s breasts pressed me hard against the inside wall of the bus. In my mind’s eye I could imagine the curved shape of my body bulging out from the outside of the bus, as if in some children’s cartoon. The unfortunate woman and I remained face to face and speechless for a few seconds, gazing into each other’s wild and terrified eyes.
“Oh sorry, sorry, sorry. SORRY! I’m really, really sorry. So SORRY”.
I smiled unconvincingly:
“Never mind. It’s OK. Just a little adventure on the journey.”
I realised that the unfortunate woman was even more embarrassed than I was.
Some passengers sitting alongside of me began to chuckle and to titter among themselves in another language. The sight of skinny, little me sitting there in my singlet and baggy shorts, minding my own business, being slowly eclipsed by this huge, round colossus of a woman must have looked hilarious, even though it almost gave me a heart attack.
Total eclipse of the heart
Of course, the traffic on the way to the airport was horrendous. It took about forty minutes to travel the ten kilometres or so to the departure terminal which meant I arrived only fifty-five minutes before my flight was due to take-off. I asked at check-in if I had time for a quick wash and change of clothes.
“Well, boarding should have already commenced. You better get to the boarding gate, now”.
Wise men say, only fools rush in…
I hurried to the departure section only to find a long queue at the hand-luggage x-ray check. I finally got through the checks after waiting my turn in the queue and made it to the departure gate.
There was a delay.
I had to stand in another queue for thirty minutes before they let us on to the small transfer bus that took us across the tarmac to the plane.
I could not help thinking to myself that half an hour would have been more than enough time for a refreshing wash and change of clothes.
We walked out onto the tarmac and boarded the bus. I was standing in my flip-flops in the isle of the transfer bus when the vehicle jerked backwards as it moved off, causing a man directly in front of me to jump onto my foot. He was wearing leather dress-shoes with hard rubber heels. He was surprised by the sudden movement and did not simply step back onto me, mind you, he staggered for a second or two and then jumped backwards, heavily onto my foot.
Fortunately, his sharp-edged heel landed in the centre of the wide leather strap of my new, expensive flip-flops. If it had landed with such force on my bare foot it would have surely broken skin and if onto my toes, I would probably have had to complete the rest of my journey with a broken toe or two.
I should be so lucky…lucky, lucky, lucky
Proceedings up to that point had not resulted in a pleasant start to my journey. However, the flight itself was not too bad. I had a man seated next to me who found the movie he was watching very funny and laughed loudly and regularly for about an hour and a half, but apart from that, the trip was relatively painless. A few movies, some sleep, a few meals and twenty-two hours later we arrived at Sydney. I had even managed to squeeze in a quick shower and change of clothes at Dubai airport in between connecting flights.
We landed at Sydney right on time at 10:05pm. I was grateful that we had arrived punctually, but was still a little nervous as I did not have much time to get to Central Railway Station in order to catch the 11:18pm train to Blacktown, where my mother lives and where I was staying the night.
I was sleeping at my mother’s house the night before the family wedding of the next day and then continuing my journey to the Blue Mountains the day after that. If I missed the 11:18pm train, I would have to wait another hour for the last train of the night before the service ended for that twenty-four hour cycle. The trains would then start again much later the next morning.
My luggage arrived on the carousel at airport baggage collection within fifteen minutes. Wow, a record! I checked my watch. I had forty-five minutes to get to Central and I knew the train from the airport only took ten minutes; plenty of time. I was pleased. I wheeled my luggage through customs and then through the arrival gate, past the throng of happy people waiting for loved ones to appear.
Arrivals terminals at airports are such happier places than Departures terminals. Departure lounges often feature tears and regretful faces whereas at Arrivals, faces are bursting with optimistic anticipation and tears of joy. The happy crowd I passed through on my way towards the exit made me smile. It had been a long journey but I had made it. I didn’t have to rush as I had plenty of time to catch my train and I was in a good mood.
Because I’m happy…happy, happy, happy
I navigated my luggage the entire length of the airport building to the escalators that led down to the airport railway platform, wearing a grin on my face. When I arrived at the said escalators, I was greeted by a large sign over the railway station entrance:
“STATION CLOSED FOR MAINTENANCE. BUSES REPLACE TRAINS”
And I wonder, still I wonder…who’ll stop the (t)rain.
After some inquires, I found the place where the buses left from in time for an attendant to tell me that I had just missed one. I waited ten minutes for the next bus which took me to Central Station. The wait and road trip took forty minutes. So, I missed the 11:18pm train by around five minutes.
I reminded myself that I was almost home and that the ordeal was almost over, in a desperate but futile attempt to cheer up my tired-to-the-point-of-exhaustion, cranky and dishevelled self.
I crossed the station and alighted the lift with my luggage at the correct platform. I waited the fifty minutes or so and caught my train.
Not long now, I thought.
Before too long, we’ll be together, and no-one will keep us apart
At Strathfield station, about halfway along the journey between Central and Blacktown, a voice came over the train intercom:
“Due to technical difficulties, this train will now terminate. Please wait on the platform for a replacement train.”
You are kidding. You…you… “please wait on the platform” yourself, you *#$&%*! I had lost it.
I composed myself for a moment and then asked an attendant when the next train to Blacktown would arrive.
“Oh, in only four minutes.”
Well, that wasn’t too bad, I thought. That was lucky.
After ten minutes, another voice came over the station intercom:
“The train to Blacktown has been delayed a further ten minutes and is now leaving on platform 8. Please make your way to platform 8.”
Oh, for God’s sake!
Come on, come on…and do the locomotion with me
So, I steeled myself once more and struggled over to platform 8 with my luggage just in time to catch the train.
After another twenty minutes or so, I finally arrived at Blacktown railway station, caught the lift from the platform to the concourse, exited the station and engaged a taxi from the taxi rank to my mother’s house.
My mother was awake and waiting up for me. She was feeling a little worried as I was much later than my estimated time of arrival.
She got her question in, just before I had time to stop her.
“How was your trip?”