by Andrew Evans
Well, I had done it again. I had gotten myself lost, in a new and bustling world city. My lust for adventure and culture had become a source of amusement to my family and friends. I was constantly blundering around blindly, oozing a false sense of confidence in my non-existent orienteering skills.
“Text me, to say if you are still alive.”
My friend had gushingly sent to my phone, with giggling emojis, mocking me. I consulted my fraying map of the city. I did not speak the language. I never did. I always relied on eye contact, hand gestures and hoping that the local folk would know what I was babbling on about.
‘I will learn some of the local language, next time I travel.’
That’s what I always told myself. As my time to travel, crept nearer and nearer, I returned the idiots guides and lingo books to the library, untouched. Like I always did.
This time, I had been staying in a converted old cattle barn, next to some rolling, gorsey farmland. It was beautiful, green, rural and most of all, relatively human-free.
It had been rented to me at a very reasonable price, by the owner Ovidiu and his wife Adelina. There was just one little shop, a good mile long walk, from which you could obtain your basic foods and daily living needs.
A little man, of perhaps some eighty years, was usually propped behind the counter watching football on an ancient black and white portable television. He would bang his fist on the counter in excitement or dismay at the blaring action. Quite a character, but most likeable.
“You want the milk today, sunshine? You like some of fresh bread?”
He was cheerful enough and just left me to fill my basket and pay for my goods. I would walk away as he waved and turned back to the game. A black cat, nosed appreciatively at the foodscraps the shopkeeper had scattered for it outside.
I would walk back down the winding lanes, alongside a small, babbling river. Tufted ducks bobbed up and down as stoat chased shoals of fish in the emerald green fronds of weeds, for dinner. It was the kind of thing I liked.
I had spoken, in my own dialect this very morning, to Ovidiu, who spoke it very well himself. I had asked him, to teach me a little lingo to help me get by. I had also asked him about transport, to take me to the city for the day.
He had told me that there was an hourly bus, which left from the stone bridge at the end of the farm road. I thanked my host and his wife and threw some food and drink into my travel bag and off I went.
Sure enough, on the hour mark, an ancient looking bus bumbled over the stony old road, towards the bridge where I waited. Automatic doors swung open and I was greeted by a burly, sullen looking gentleman. He projected bad temper.
He was stooped behind a perspex screen, revving the engine of the bus impatiently as though I was holding everybody up. I flushed red and became self-conscious.
“Hello!” I beamed.
“Where do you go?” He managed.
“Oh, I want to go to the city and return tonight in about six hours. How much for a ticket please?” I offered my most polite, awkward and probably cringeworthy smile.
“No understand us? Rude you. You not speak this? Not even try?” He grunted, swishing a demonic horsefly away from his unshaven, impatient looking face.
I felt lousy for not practising the phrases that Ovidiu had taught me.
“Erm, no. I no speak you. Hang on a second, sorry..” I mumbled and pulled out my phone. I would temporarily have to use the new language app that I had installed on my phone.
‘Translate? Trans-Great!’ It proudly stated across its blue and red logo.
The screen was emblazoned with a small picture of a chiselled and handsome fellow. He conversed with consumate ease with a smiling, beautiful woman. Evidently from another country. It seemed, she was happily pointing him towards a nice fish restaurant.
The app certainly looked easy. So it was time to get my money’s worth.
‘Ask for a return bus ticket to the city.’
In a few seconds, the app had displayed in the local language, what to say to the driver. I followed the words on the screen and uttered them slowly and clearly. Fairly content, I then passed him my payment card to flash over the scanner.
The driver grunted. “Aaagh! Thug.. Idiot.. Cheeky.. Rude!”
He smashed his fist on the perspex window and started ranting at me and shaking his head in disgust. He proceeded to throw a crumpled ticket in my face. Purple faced now, he muttered something about me needing to go back to my own country.
The driver closed the doors of the bus and we screamed off down the road. I heard a volley of which I presumed to be expletives as I hid my face from passengers. I wobbled to a seat near the window, wondering what on earth I had done wrong.
An older lady on the seat in front of me, wearing a headscarf and holding a small wire basket containing a single hen, turned around to me and whispered.
“He was upset with you. You are not from around here, I see?”
“No lady, I am not. What did I do wrong? Can you tell me?”
“I do not care. Whatever you did has upset him. He is never nice to anyone. You called him a fat old tramp, who collects ticket stubs and was born in a sewer beneath the city. That he also smells of cow dung. You are fluent, but it seems your dialect was confused.” She cackled infectiously.
Her laugh alone, would have made me giggle myself, had I not been fearing for my own safety. Soon enough, the bus slowed, her stop. Off went my translator lady with her hen in a basket.
“Have crap day, Atanasie! Ha, old stub collector..”
She made a rude gesture at the driver, that involved one finger. The driver fumed at the hen lady.
“Aaagh! Piss off, Elena. Witch!”
Elena, grinned at me and flounced off swinging the clucking hen. I sniggered into my palm, but saw Atanasie glowering at me from his mirror.
The bus rolled on as cheery local folk music, blared from the drivers radio.
‘A fat old ticket collecting tramp, from the sewer?’
What on earth? I had never wanted to say that. I consulted the app.
‘Translate? Trans-Great!’ With the happy man and his potential new girlfriend.
A glitch perhaps. Why would it spout all that rubbish and get me into trouble? The bus, bobbled on and I let it go from my thoughts. I was looking out of the window to try and spot the harbour where I was to get off and explore.
It loomed closer now, I could see the pretty boats sailing to and fro on pastel-blue calm waves and it looked just like the picture. I tentatively consulted the app and typed in, ‘Stop here please driver.’
Once again, I followed the language on the screen. I must have done something right as the bus slowed to a halt on my repeating the words.
The driver stopped the engine abrubtly this time, rather than revving and unfastened his seat-belt. He came storming down the bus at me and grabbed me by my collar. I was beginning to choke as I was dragged unceremoniously to the door.
The angry driver threw me off the bus and I landed in a sand dune and rolled down it as though performing a comedy stunt.
“And you? You can piss off too. Ha!”
The bus doors closed again and the grumpy tramp drove off at an angry speed, away from the harbour.
“What the hell is going on?” I said to myself, wiping sand from my now sore eyes and drawing in deep breaths.
A gentleman approached me, he was in a policemans uniform. He began talking in local dialect. My vacant expression, must have given me away as a clueless foreigner immediately.
“Are you alright traveller? You are hurt, yes? What have you done to upset old man Atanasie?”
The policeman helped me to my feet. I explained that I knew very little of the local lingo, so I had consulted a translation app on my phone to help me get around and ask questions. He asked me to repeat what I had told the driver before he attacked me.
“Ah. Oh very dear.” Said the policeman.
My heart sank.
“Oh very dear what, officer?”
“You have told Atanasie, that he is a decrepit cellar man, and that he should drive his dirty old bus off the cliff and drown among the fish. Er.. you go on to add, that his jumper, is a ghastly representation of his grandmothers poor knitwear skills. Or something to that effect.”
The policeman actually laughed to himself.
“Well my travelling friend, a very good tirade of insults. Please, do not consult your phone application for me! I do not want you to do the roasting of me!”
He roared with laughter now. Just as the translator hen-lady, Elena had. At least I had made two people smile today!
“Is there anywhere you would like to go, now you are here in the city?” Said the laughing policeman.
“Just somewhere that sells hot food please officer.” I was blushing now.
The kind policeman, pointed me to a mobile food stall that he said sold the most delicious hot dogs and hamburgers. With local sauces and relish and that I could get hot and cold drinks too. I was to ask for Eve. She would fix me up at a good price.
‘Damn this bloody app. Trans-Great? Its a joke!.’
I crossed the beautiful city square, admiring colourful buildings, historical churches and museums and a quaint wooden built town hall. Dare I risk the darned thing again? I ran a test.
‘Ask for a hamburger, fries, relish and cola.’
In a few seconds, once again, the app displayed and even confirmed, ‘How to ask for a hamburger, fries, relish and cola.’
It had a high rating from other users. Maybe old Atanasie was just a bad tempered, twee little man, as Elena, the hen lady had told me.
So now, a little more confident, with the policeman’s assurances ringing in my ears, I approached the delicious smelling food stall. There stood the young woman I presumed must be Eve. She smiled.
She seemed very nice, aproachable. I took a deep breath and read out the words from the app, I even sounded the same as the AI voice, so there was nothing I could possibly have done wrong… surely.
Switching to my own language, I apologised to Eve for not having more command of the native tongue, but she smiled again, shrugged and set about cooking. Though she had shown a brief look of surprise, as I bleated out my order.
It was no wonder. Eve came over to the bench I had sat on, with her radiant smile, proferring a cardboard food carton and a hot steaming drink of some sort. No ice cold cola then.
“Here is your food, sir. Not my usual custom. I tailored the recipe to your instructions. Thank you though, for your… strange order… and please enjoy.” Eve seemed to be suppressing a giggle.
I tipped Eve a few coins, for her polite service and off she danced to cook up the next customers lunch. Her smile had perked me up. That was three nice people I had met, as opposed to gloomy old Atanasie.
I was famished now, having only eaten an apple and a pear from the trees at the farmstead.
I opened my food box, salivating at the prospect of hamburger, onions, relish, fries. There it was now though, staring back at me. A limp, warm lettuce leaf ‘salad’.
A cold, congealed herring with head still attached and a raw potato chopped in two. This was doused in a sweet thick cream usually reserved for eclairs.
I pulled the lid off my hot, not-cola drink. It was a rancid smelling thin soup with fish tails bobbing up and down in a fetid juice.
‘Fish and sweet cream, raw spuds, hot salad and tail broth? Good lord. What now? I will go and speak to Eve. I can’t eat this!’
Thoughts racing, I made my way over to the food stall clutching the bizarre offerings.
“Eve, I’m ever so sorry, but this is not the food I ordered, did you maybe pass me the wrong box?” I gibbered, as politely as I could.
“Ugh, now he does the complain. All that effort for your strange meal. I did not have to make that awful concoction. I gave you what you ask for, even though is not on menu. You order the breakfast of a demon.”
“Listen you. I sell burgers, the fries, hot dog and local sauce. Did policeman not tell you? I make your awful dish as I keep my groceries here. You were lucky. Timewasting me! Now, you complain. I make what your stupid phone app say. No refund stranger. Now please, go. Take bizarre carton with you.”
She tossed her hair and flounced away. No trace of Eve’s beaming smile anymore. She wore a furrowed brow and looked thoroughly annoyed with me as more customers gathered.
“But I did ask you for a burger and.. oh forget it. I’m so sorry, Eve.” I shouted over.
“Hmph. Is alright.. but still.. no refund.” She raised her eyebrows, turned away and passed her new customer a delicious juicy burger with crisp, golden fries and a zesty looking relish.
Eve was giggling now with local customers and glanced across at me and then quickly away again.
‘Having a good laugh at my expense ‘ I imagined.
I got my phone out of my pocket. I know I had typed in the right words. I read it back before I ordered. What’s the damned app done now? I called up the ‘Translate? Trans-Great’ screen.
‘Full dead herring, old salad, uncooked potato with sweet cream and fish-tail soup to drink. Please and thank you. I am a dumbass non-local person with the funny face.’
The app, gleefully displayed what I had so obviously told Eve, who was now laughing and giggling with her customer and pointing in my direction.
‘I’m getting sick of this bloody app! I’m not using it again. I’ll get by somehow. It’s caused me nothing but trouble.’
I pondered, somewhat rocked by my weird experiences. I was going home in a few days anyway. I forced a sip of the soup and a few lettuce leaves down my throat. I gagged. It was awful.
Not Eve’s fault, but I slung it into a rubbish bin and took a pleasant, calming walk around the harbour.
I still at least, had the nous enough to find a quaint little gift shop, where I purchased postcards and trinkets for my friends and family. I purchased a ham sandwich from the local deli and sat watching the boats.
It was turning into a nice day out after my unfortunate faux pas with ‘Translate? Trans-Great’.
I got by my old way. Hand gestures, eye contact and smiles. I began to relax and watched seals at play and gannets and terns diving for fish. Looking at my watch, it was time to meander back to the bus stop.
Thank god that when it arrived, it was not Atanasie, the bad tempered old stub collecting oaf! I flashed my return ticket and the driver smiled. Wow. A small victory.
‘Well there’s a first! Who needs a stupid app anyway.’ I thought.
I enjoyed looking out of the window as the bus trundled through cobbled streets, past colourful villages and green fields with grazing cattle and even two llama, lolloping about playfully.
We arrived at the road near the farmstead and I successfully asked the driver to stop. There was no fuss and no need for the app. He wished me a good day and chugged away into the distance.
For my last two days, I wandered around the countryside, taking in the sights and sounds. There was an old gothic looking church, a copper mine with stunning caves and wildlife aplenty. I was now quite content. Shame I had to go now!
Ovidiu and Adelina, bought across some lovely home cooked food in the evenings which I gratefully wolfed down. I watched some grainy old movies and slept blissfully in the retro but snug bedding.
Finally, it was time to leave for the airport. Ovidiu helped me with my suitcase and Adelina passed me some of her home made pie which smelled delicious.
“For your journey. So you not eat the dead-fish broth.” She giggled and passed me the generous looking slice of chicken and leek pie.
I smiled at Adelina, there was no malice. They had become my friends. Ovidiu, explained that he would have taken me to the airport but they had to drive to the next town to collect Adelina’s sister, Valeria, who was to spend a few days with them, having just had a baby.
It was fine. I explained that I had a wonderful time and would like to return someday. They were kind and gracious hosts and waved me off to the familiar stone bridge.
“Careful what you eat!” Ovidiu shouted, giving a thumbs up. I grinned, returned the gesture and settled by the wall waiting for the airport bus.
Time passed and as I checked the time, I saw that the bus was over ten minutes late. I felt a slight rush of panic. I looked closer at the sign on the bus stop. There was a notice stuck over the timetable.
“Notice for non-locals. All bus are the cancel for next two week. Unforeseen problem. Have nice day. Regards, Atanasie.”
The bus driver. Bastard! That stub collecting tramp. He had drawn a beaming smiley face on his note, as though he was deriving a warped pleasure from the impending disruption to travellers. Namely, me.
“Bastard!” I shouted. I punched Atanasie’s smiley face picture.
He knew I would need him. He’s done this to get back at me. I was red faced, angry and agitated now and panicking about my flight home. I was completely reliant and at the mercy of the buses.
It was no use. I would have to consult ‘Translate, Trans-bloody-Great.’
I typed in ‘Airport Taxi, Now’.
Hoping for a list of options, one answer came up on the screen. It displayed a little emblem of a jolly looking man with a beard, waving manically from the window of a rickety old cab.
‘Viorel’s Airport Shuttle.’ The link declared.
There was a phone number next to the cartoon representation of Viorel, so I gave it a call. Viorel answered in language I could not understand and I again cursed myself, for not learning some of the lingo. At least it would have showed them a little more respect from my part. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
I gave my usual, withering and humble performance of the poor, lost traveller, whom would be so grateful for help and would pay double fare. The latter part, Viorel certainly understood. He would be with me in twelve and a half minutes and I was to stay at the bridge, which he knew very well.
Well, this was a huge relief. I gobbled half of the pie. It was very tasty and I made a mental note to send Ovidiu and Adelina a nice thank you gift.
I sipped some fresh orange juice and checked I had my passport and flight tickets. I did. I was mightily relieved to see the smiley bearded face of Viorel, manoeuvring his taxi cab around the corner and toward the bus stop at the bridge.
“Ah, you are airport travel man?” He beamed from his wound down window.
He was listening to thudding dance music and bobbing up and down in his seat. His companion, a grinning golden retriver dog, was introduced as Boombox.
Boombox glanced happily at me, from the backseat. Viorel tossed him some fried chicken from what looked like his fast-food lunch.
I confirmed that I was indeed the airport travel man, and Viorel leapt spiritedly from his cab and helped put my bags into the boot. I was grateful even though I was travelling with nerve jangling music and a fried chicken chomping blonde dog, named after an 80s ghetto-blaster.
“Do not mind the Boombox, he love the drive. He find my music tranquil, you see how he smile? I will take him to the lake when you are gone at airport.. Down Boombox, leave airport man alone..
He may nip you, airport man, but is alright, is his friendly gesture. Some chicken my friend?”
He pushed a congealed, sauce bathed drumstick, towards my face which I politely declined, explaining that I had edible pie for lunch and off we sped.
Viorel, sang enthusiastically.
‘Baby, I need your love tonight..’ and that he wanted to take somebody ‘Higher than the clouds above..’
He popped open another beer and I spotted several more empty cans around his feet. I shuddered to think. Perhaps this accounted for his jolly mood and somewhat left-field driving style as we hurtled down the motorway.
“Go with the flow, oh baby, tonight is the night, when we dance among the stars..” He asked me to join in. I said I did not know this one and could we get to the airport.
I would turn a blind eye to his afternoon session, as long as this madman got me to the airport. I was ready for sleep and then home. I was adventured out.
My brain was addled with lunatic characters twirling around my mind. The grinning Boombox, danced on hindlegs in my fogged minds eye. He brandished barbecued chicken drumsticks in each paw. The DJ was a sinister, grinning old Atanasie. A monkey in a stripey outfit banged cymbals and did backflips. Jefferson Airplane music permeated my thoughts, completing my mania. I shuddered out of my chilling daydream.
Presently, Viorel pulled up outside the airport exterior. “Which terminal you need, travel man?” He ventured. The incessant ‘bangers’, still blaring.
‘Gosh.’ I thought. I could not remember. It was all done electronically. It was stored on my phone. I had a digital ticket with all the information on it, that I would scan at the departures gate. I would have to check the boards inside the airport.
Sensing my tension, Viorel chimed in, “You know where to go? You are in correct place, airport man?”
I needed some quiet, away from this portable disco and puddled taxi driver. Along with his overstimulated dog, barking in unison to the drum beats, in between his takeaway food.
I told Viorel. ‘Yes, I was in the correct place and yes, I did know where to go’.
He politely helped me get my bags from the car boot and I patted farewell to Boombox, but withdrew my hand quickly, before I was lovingly savaged.
I made good on my word and paid Viorel double fare, he smiled, wished me luck and sped off to take ‘The Boombox’, for his lakeside stroll.
The loveable dog, as beautifully detached as its owner, barked his approval and they sped away into myth status in my memories. The monkey banging cymbals, remained and did a token backwards somersault as a reminder.
The fresh air was pleasant, as I made my way into the airport lounge to find the digital departure boards. They were all broken. Not one of them displayed any useful flight information. There was just yet another cartoon figure, this one electronic.
A little boy in a hat, crying and underneath, some text declaring.
‘All departure boards not in the use. Upgrade being performed for traveller benefit. Please consult your apps and enjoy your flight.’
I grimaced at the word, ‘App.’
What happened if, god forbid, some of us had disengaged from the matrix?
Still, there was nothing for it, I had fully charged up my phone and I called up my ticket. I did not want to resort to the app yet. The digital ticket was not helpful either. It just showed my country of departure, country of arrival and a ‘Scan here’ style barcode. Damn.
I took a swig of orange juice, found a seat next to a woman who harrumphed and shuffled up the bench. Had I showered? I called up the app. I thought this through thoroughly, given my previous experiences.
I carefully, and with no margin for error, typed in the information displayed on my ticket. Airport of departure, Airport destination, Time of flight and finally, ‘Locate check in desk’.
The app, cheerily buffered and told me it was searching. The information came through with a smiling pilot waving confidently at me from the glowing screen.
‘Proceed to terminal 2. Attend check in point 6. Baggage will be taken through on carousel. Scan ticket. Gate will open. Pass through gate. Please enjoy flight to inputted destination with the thanks of all at Translate? Trans-Great’.
There it was. No margin for error. Decision made. The app had finally come good. Woot. Maybe now I was in a catchment area with multi-lingual service. I finished my juice, ate the remainder of Adelina’s home cooked pie and made for terminal 2.
It was quite simple. I even had time for a nice hot coffee and purchased another juice for the flight. Sighing with relief and feeling refreshed, I double checked the app. Yes. Check in point 6. So, via a lift to the third floor, I made my way to check in point 6. It was quiet at check in point 6.
No representatives from the airline were present. None were needed for this flight, I supposed. It was all digital and the process was slick and the instructions at the departures gate were easy to follow.
I put my bags on the luggage carousel having watched a young couple do the same. I assumed they knew what they were doing. I smiled and they waved at me happily enough. They seemed to scan their digital tickets at the gate. The gates opened and the young couple skipped through holding hands.
The young man looked back, sniggering.
“Boa sorte Amigo. Voce vai precisar disso!”
He chuckled. I did not understand, so I just waved and shouted ‘Goodbye, be well.’
The young couple burst out into raucous laughter and disappeared. I shrugged. My luggage had gone through, so, mimicking the laughing young couple, I scanned my ticket at the gate and waited. Hurrah! Something finally worked. The gate opened and I walked through and into the poly-tunnel leading to the aircraft.
A few more passengers filtered through behind me and we were met by a pretty hostess, ‘Margarida.’ Her badge displayed.
What a lovely name I thought. Her accent, I guessed at Spanish, perhaps Mexican. Strange for a flight back home. Still, she gestured at the steps leading up to the aeroplane and we got on board.
She waved us through the aisles, telling us to enjoy the flight and that a meal would be served and a movie played at about four hours into the journey and perhaps we would take advantage of the time for a nice sleep. Initially, I just smiled and got on board. Not paying much notice to our hostess.
The hostesses then let us know where all the safety equipment was and wished us a peaceful journey and should we need anything, not to hesitate to press the light above our seats. I began to relax and the aeroplane’s engines whirred into action, humming and revving up as we taxied down the runway.
It was a dark night and I enjoyed looking at all the blinking lights of the runway and the control tower. Soon, we thundered down the runway and seamlessly into the night sky. I was going home.
A few minutes in, when we were all settled back and cruising, the pilot came over the airwaves, introducing himself as Augusto. He thanked the passengers for flying with his airline, reiterated that the meal and movie would be shown around four hours into the flight and, just as Margarida had said, Augusto cheerily suggested that we got a nice sleep or enjoy the views.
After all, it was a long and tiring flight to Brazil, what with different time-zones. We would not want to arrive jet-lagged and therefore, be too tired to enjoy his beautiful country. He signed off saying something about lovely flying conditions and he would point out the Amazon jungle, when we neared our destination.
I felt my insides turn to mush.
‘I’m not going home, I’m not going home! I am on a flight to the Brazilian rain forest. Don’t panic.. don’t panic. OK, panic.’
I proceeded to engage with panic and started to call in broken voice, for Margarida, or one of her colleagues. I stopped short as a thought occurred to me.
“The app. That bastard app.”
I cursed audibly to the raised eyebrows of my fellow passengers. Looking across to the other seats, I saw the young couple. They were cackling in hysterics.
“Voce esta perdido amigo?”
Said the boyfriend, as his girlfriend tried to control herself. I would later find out that he had enquired, if I was perhaps lost.
I got the feeling from their earlier mirth, that they knew I was blundering into trouble and that it would keep them entertained during the flight if they kept quiet about it.
So, here I was, on the wrong flight, with no money to return home, flying to a jungle on the other side of the world with a sliver of chicken and leek pie and half a bottle of lukewarm orange juice. I wanted to smash up my phone or cry or demand that Augusto turn the plane around and take me home.
Instead, I called up the app. I wanted to know why it had completely ruined my holiday and had me make a complete fool of myself on every excursion, during what was meant to have been an idyllic trip.
I scrolled down to the terms and conditions. The ones that I had paid no attention to when downloading the app to my phone. The app that was meant to help translate any language into easily understandable wording, to use in any country and to help negotiate any tricky situation. I read on..
‘Dear user, Thank you for installing the Translate? Trans-Great prank app.
We are sure you will have many laughs and fun memories to look back on. We recommend telling your travelling friends to download the app and then you can sit back and enjoy the fun as their travels turn into a huge source of amusement.
Feel free to post any funny and hilarious experiences on our webpage under the section : Holiday Horrors.’
In even smaller type..
‘Please note, this app is not for serious use and any unpleasant situations or scenarios are no fault of the ‘Translate? Trans-Great’ app.
See disclaimers. Happy holidays – Atanasie : Translate? Trans-Great – App Manager.’
It dawned on me that this holiday had taken a horrible and unexplianable twist.
“The bus driver? That bloody no good bus driver!! He’s done this. He’s done me right over. He’s sent me to the bloody jungle. It was Atanasie, all along. From day bloody one!”
I cried out agonisingly. I smashed my phone to smithereens, smacking it against anything solid. Margarida, called for in-flight security.
Most of what I raged about next is unprintable, save to say that if I got through this, I was going to make that fat, nasty, stub collecting old bastard pay for this.
“I’ll get you for this Atanasie, you just see if I don’t. I’ll be back you rotten old…”
The young couple found it all rather amusing.