ISSN 1989-4163



Weels on the Shoulder

Coos Palmboom

After the plane had safely landed and we’d positioned ourselves in the rather small arrivals lounge in such a way that we could easily be spotted, just off the fluorescent meeting point sign, we came to understand at least ten of our fellow passengers shared our destination. All going to Jane’s party, then, I asked around and indeed, they all were. Wouldn’t want to miss it for the world, a thirtyish woman said, broadly smiling, and then we all started chatting and acquainting. We could have done this three hours earlier, but hadn’t. We were six couples, one lesbian, one gay, one black and two mixed and the rest of us more or less white. But whatever our backgrounds and life choices, none of us seemed the type to pull off a stunt in front of a hundred plus anonymous holiday makers. We got to appreciate this common weakness and laughed sheepishly. But now that we know each other, let the fun begin, exclaimed Berta, a European looking woman in her forties whose French Muslim husband Rashid stood quietly by his wife’s side, claiming not to understand much English. What he did get, though, was Berta flashing her admiration at me. Starshine, the one with the smile, lit up the mood by letting us know it was still a two hours’ drive by bus through the mountains. She was with a Swedish feller, Harold, who was clearly her younger. We were the oldies, at 59 and 55 respectively. I knew Jane’s mum, I declared, I saw Jane grow up during five years. We like each other and we correspond a bit in winter. I’m an uncle to her. Now they all began laying out their own relation to our host, who was celebrating her fortieth birthday at her remote mountain hideout off the Mediterranean coast. Being hard to access, the party was spread over three evenings, with after party invitations available for the unsatiable ones. I was keen on being one of them, but the wife wasn’t up for it. We’d quibbled a bit and then chose to let the party itself decide over goings on. Being older, we don’t quarrel that much anymore, in fact, we have almost eradicated bitching from our existence. I know, when you’re younger you find this boring. I remember.

The driver was stoned. I saw it immediately. He arrived after an hour in a rusty people mover, one of those company coaches which always seem too big for their wheels. I thought they were meant for city transport, I joked. Michele, who was with his Spanish husband, agreed with me, sending me nods of approval. I’m sure the driver knows where he’s going, the husband interfered. Sure, dear, Michele consented, sending me an eyewink in the process. The driver had not stopped being stoned in the next ten minutes that we positioned our luggage and then ourselves in the 21-seat coach. He seemed only more out of his head when he announced we would be picking up more folks down the road. By the way, my name is Michelangelo. After such a statement, nobody was going to say they were Jack or Jill, but we did club a bit closer at the back. Some had used the hour wait to have drinks on the airport café terrace and were now getting ready for a nap.
I hadn’t wanted to tell Trandi immediately about the driver’s state of mind, or lack thereof,
so as not to piss on her weekend, but when we started climbing up the first mountain range it quickly became clear to her there was something not right in the way we were sweeping through the bends, unnecessary wide and loose, perhaps. I noticed he was stoned, I said. That startled Trandi. Why didn’t you tell me? And do what, get off? Get a taxi.
That was not such a crazy idea, and I started wanting it. We can think it over, I offered, there’s a stop later on.
As it was, on our side of the mover we got to sea the canyons a whole lot more than the rockface. After two inadvertent yells, Trandiasked, why are you always so slow in your decisions? We’ll be fine, I assured her, everybody wants to live. I sometimes wonder, my companion let go.

After an anxious ride, we finally arrived at the halfway point. We’re off here, I told around, we want to have a bite and some rest. It’s been a long day for us. For all of us, cried Berta, still totally forgiving me. But how are you getting to Jane’s, then? Starshine asked the logical question. There’s only one bus, Harold claimed. I wasn’t going to ask him where he’d got that information. We’ll get a taxi, Tranditold.
A taxi, shouted Femke, who was with her Belgian wife, that’s terribly expensive. I looked at her smilingly, in the way of willingly, and said, we’re halfway, so it’s two, perhaps three hours of the driver’s time. How much is that here, one hundred? Modern taxis are quite big, added Trandi, you can easily share them between four.
Starshine appeared to want it for a pulsating moment. That’d be fifty pop each, she mumbled. Don’t worry about the money, hon’, Harold stepped in. I want to be there tonight, right? he demanded. No crazy adventures, please.
I think we should stick together, said Linde, who was with Femke. We set off together and we arrive together. Her refreshing simplicity won the day for most of our group. Fair enough, I concluded, returning some head shakes, it’s just us, then. See you later tonight, or else tomorrow.
Now, Paulina stepped forward, an Argentinian blonde in her thirties who lived with her Cuban husband in Paris. Why bother coming at all if you can’t handle us now? she snapped with anger filled eyes.
This is not about you, mediated Trandi, it’s the driver. What about him? He is stoned, did I take responsibility for the observation, he’s driving dangerously.

This created renewed hesitation and panic, and again it was Harold who posed as the spokesperson of those who don’t believe in emotional intelligence.It’s you who’s talking stoned here. And don’t come back, added Paulina. So we stepped out with our bags, feeling stupid in the expectancy we were going to see them again later, us the fools. Well, let them have a laugh. We passed the incoming crowd, not explaining our situation to inquiring eyes, and made our way to a bustling bar across the road, bustling meaning three people, loud music and neonlights. We had a mountain snack and a beer and within twenty minutes our driver showed up, courtesy of the bar owner.
It turned out, two of the second group hadn’t made it to the bus either. I saw him drinking liquor, Delaine, a chubby African American, said. That’s not my idea of a night out. Driver’s the one who stays clean, Macy, his Hispanic partner,girlsplained. And he was already stoned. He was? The four of us quickly convinced each other we had no business with Michelangelo and his rusty people mover. Let’s share, then.

Two thirds of the way, we slowed down in a long curve and came to a stop. Our driverbacked up a bit. Look at that. In the car’s headlights we saw two wheel prints bending to the right towards where a stretch of one foot high stonewall used to be, now a hole in the dark. Something went wrong here, and it wasn’t like this two days ago, he said.
But how? Delaine asked.
The driver must have lost control, ours expertsplained. Wheels on the shoulder, I’d say.Sweep to the left, sweep to the right and slipping brakes. There you go. It’s a classic.
Could it have been, Macy began, then fell silent.
Your van? Of course.
We all knew what we were going to find when we stepped out and moved to that hole and the miniscule barriereither side of it. The darkness seemed impenetrable. Shine your telephone torch. It made sense and it worked. Four intersecting beams managed to reach down to an upside down six-wheel vehicle surrounded by the remains of a rusty people mover carrosserie. Some bodies could be seen, three of them moving and moaning, now that we were focusing. We need to call an ambulance, cried Delaine. Make that a helicopter, I told the driver. There’s no other way to get them out. They all agreed.

You’re nervous, Trandi said. I need to go down. Remember Wild at Heart? These people are dying. I must show them a living person before they go, so they know they are leaving a planet bustling with life, not that lifeless hell they suddenly found themselves in. Don’t touch them. Of course not. And do come back. Might need that heli myself.









@ 2021