Apocalypse, come take me now!


The colours of street lamps and traffic wipe sideways across my face as I slump against the window. I can't sleep. Music that wouldn't qualify for the Eurovision Song Contest has been blaring from the moment we departed Ho Chi Minh City, and the ruthless sociopath driving the bus has an intense relationship with his horn. When a favourite song comes on, the volume is jacked up even further.

At 1.30am, we stop at a food court, contained inside an enormous tin shed, illuminated with a hard white light. Whilst everybody gorges on hot food, I peruse the tables of protein-deficient snacks available. Bugs air-bomb the bright lights.

Back on the highway, I suddenly feel sick. I sit with my arm crooked against the seat in front, sucking in air, moaning softly, clutching my emergency carrier bag.

The boat was to meet us at a small town on the Cambodia/Vietnam border in the Mekong Delta. We liked the idea of landing in Phnom Penh by boat. Yeah, it would be nice.

What's that sound? I lift my head. An elderly lady is laughing at me from across the aisle, nudging the driver, the way you do when you witness something funny. He laughs too. Music plays. Time metastasizes.

It's still dark when we arrive at the checkpoint. The office is small with an open-front that overlooks the road, its yellow glow spilling out onto it. Inside, we wait with vacant faces to begin the next stage of our journey. A TV flickers in the background.

The second phase is by slow boat. In some mythologies, a boatman ferries condemned souls into Hell. Our boatman collects us as a hazy morning light filters through the streets. We follow him on foot to the dock.

The boat is narrow and box-like, with a canopy to shield us from the sun. Six rows of single seats run its length, twelve places in total. Before I realise the bus was in fact the comfortable leg, we pass through a floating village, where fish farmers decided to just one day stay put.

The Delta glistens and drips with steam. Pools of sweat collect in our seats as we slowly chug up the little rivulet towards Phnom Penh. The water level is low and we're flanked by high banks on boths sides, at the top of which you can make out the margins of a corn field or road. Green hunks of river plant flow along in the lazy milk chocolate current. Occasionally, a fishing boat comes puttering past. It's a shame I can't see more; the sun dictates that we keep the plastic curtains closed, giving the light an unreal bluish colour. Our little space turns into an oven.

It's inconceivable that an engine making this much noise should be generating so little thrust. In the breezeless humidity, nothing moves, from the slenderest twig, to the hairs slicked flat on my arm. With my head in my hand, I close my eyes...

Then, I'm jerked awake by the shuddering frame of the boat, fully aware of my rankness before my eyes abruptly roll back into my head and I return to a coma-like state until the next jolt. Time metastasizes.

We dock against a shallow bank. The sun hangs low over the land, unclouded and dazzling. My ears are ringing but it's quiet for the first time in recent memory.

"Bus now, Phnom Penh!"

Only half the group board the bus, having booked through a different operator. As they climb on, a rush of cold air hits me from inside its shell. Stunned and saucer-eyed, I watch them speed off.

"Let's go!"

I turn back towards the water with a shine in my eyes close to tears.



J Wallen

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