Miriam, sandwich? The man waves one. You want?
She doesn’t. Miriam expects him to see that she is busy, and doesn’t want. She is talking to my wife. My wife is looking out the window. I know the look on her face, having to be polite.
We are polite on holiday. We don’t take drugs, on holiday. It’s like we want time out from our bad habits, but the reason is that we don’t risk bringing drugs with us on cross-border trains – only in our heads, a last glorious ingestion in the station toilets. We also don’t risk buying drugs on holiday. Our experience of this has led to a crushing disappointment in our fellow men, loss of money, and, once, loss of blood (mine). I’m not a fighter, and in any case we are too old to squabble with strangers over the price or the alleged purity, or lack of it, of various powders. So we are more polite to strangers, but more edgy if they overstep the boundaries.
It’s us and them in the minibus. As it was early in the morning, and we were bleary-eyed, that wasn’t apparent when we boarded. It was only on the road that they revealed themselves as a group, and, as collateral, us as outsiders.
Gradually, they shout merrily at one another. It is a small minibus. They extract sandwiches from Tupperware, examine them, and pass them around. It is a confined space. We are hungover. The sandwiches contain salami with a discernible garlic content. There is coleslaw. I know because, in the act of being passed, some of it, reverting to liquid in the heat, drops on my bare knee. I examine it. My instinct is mean, to wipe it on the nearest garment belonging to one of the group, but instead I use the underside of the seat.
Miriam talks to my wife about where we are going on our sightseeing mission. She finally refuses the sandwich, which stops the man we suppose is her husband from offering it. Instead, he says, well don’t ask me later for one, and adds endless variations of this warning.
Miriam’s older relatives, and those of the whole group, and those of my wife, went to where we are going, some of them leaving it, luckily, to tell the world about it. This leaves me as the only true outsider. The minibus driver delivers us to Auschwitz, the museum on the site of the notorious Nazi death camp. In the snack bar there, Miriam buys a Snickers, with me behind her in the line, dehydrated and in search of fizzy water. I say to her, you should have had the sandwich, and she snorts and nods and grimaces and says, yah – who knew, right? She rejoins the group, my wife holding on to my sleeve to make sure we let them get far enough away to be out of earshot, to be miserable on our own terms, and in silence.
Nick Sweeney’s stories are scattered around the web and in print. Laikonik Express, his novel about friendship, Poland, and getting the train for the hell of it, is out with UK independent publisher Unthank Books. His 20K-word ‘novelette’ The Exploding Elephant was published by Bards and Sages in 2016. He is a freelance writer and musician, and lives on the English coast