We never intended to hitch, but a State of Emergency has been declared in Greece, so banks, trains and even bread shops are on strike. We scribble Thessaloniki on a cardboard box and plonk ourselves down at the side of the National Road. It’s scorching hot so we roll our shorts up and expose our thighs to the last vestiges of sunshine. And wait.
Hundreds of lorries stream past, showering our faces with dust. And after two hours a van stops. Mandy rushes over.
‘They look like rapists,’ she says, pulling a face.
‘It’s not far, we’ll be fine,’ I reply.
So we climb in the back.
The man in the passenger seat turns round and grins, his mouth full of silver. He sticks a chubby finger down on the cassette player button and ‘Three Little Birds‘ blasts out. The van reeks of cigarettes so I bury my face in my sweatshirt and breathe in Rive Gauche. There’s a crate of beer and a pile of porn magazines beside me. On top of them is a labrador; a skinny little thing with dark, matted fur. He’s lying on a picture of a naked woman, all overlong limbs and shiny puckered lips. His front paws are covering one of her breasts. I touch his bony head and he whimpers.
‘Leave it alone,’ snaps Jaws, so I remove my hand and the dog stares at me with his big, sad eyes.
‘I wish we could take him with us,’ I whisper.
I fix my eyes on the cross hanging from the front mirror. It’s swinging like a crazy pendulum as the truck careens all over the road.
Mandy glances at me, but I look straight ahead, trying not to cry. Their voices grow louder and Mandy starts to wibble, speaking so quickly I only catch the odd word, and soon we’re whizzing past olive groves, vineyards and tavernas but not seeing a damn thing. And then the light begins to fade. It’s fading fast. Will soon be night. I look for the signs for Thessaloniki. 5k, 4k, 3.We’re nearly there. Almost. Almost. But just before we reach the centre of town, the driver turns left down a side road and into darkness.
‘Where are we going?’ says Mandy, gripping my arm.
‘You sleep with us tonight. Tomorrow, Tirana,’ growls Jaws.
Mandy begins to sob and grabs my hand.
‘Stop!’ she screams. ‘Stop!’
The dog begins to bark but they keep on driving. Faster. Faster. But Mandy keeps on screaming. And the dog keeps on barking.
Then somehow, eventually, the driver slams on the brakes, the locks click up and we fall out onto a dirt path.
‘Slags!’ shouts Jaws as they drive away. ‘Fucking English slags!’
Gripping Mandy’s hand, I glance back, and through the dirt-streaked window of the van, I spot the desperate face of the poor dog.
‘Three Little Birds’ was originally published in Flash Flood Journal, June 2019