Dear fellow travelers, especially my tropical comrades, let this tale be a warning for us all.
It was 10.30 in the evening after Christmas when five cheery tropical people stepped out of the express train that brought them from Den Haag to Brussels: a boy whose navigation skills is no match to any other (to be called ‘The Human GPS’ onwards), a girl whose looks embodies the quintessential mean girl (‘The Mean Girl’), a girl whose eyes are catlike and adores her bangs (‘The Kittybangbang’), a boy whose name is not unlike his nickname (‘The Octopus’), and a girl whose toes are of the gypsy kind (Gypsytoes, of course).
Our spirits were high. Ten exciting days of venturing across wintry Europe were spread ahead of us. Bratislava! Vienna! Prague! Woo-hoo! Yippieyay! Hip hip hurray! We only had to catch the shuttle bus to the Charleroi airport, spend the night there, and off we would fly to Bratislava at 8 in the morning. Spending the night at the airport, you ask? No biggie! We’ve done that before; we could just find a Burger King or something and sleep or talk the night away. Easy peasy!
One small problem though. We couldn’t find the bus.
The Human GPS guided us across the Zuid Brussels train station, in and out, but to no avail. The Mean Girl, who is also an excellent linguist, succeeded in deciphering the notice board and signs, but could not locate where the bus was. Finally, the Octopus found an information counter and we scuttled there, eager for directions. Instead, we had the shocks of our life.
Shock #1: the last bus had left four hours ago.
Shock #2: the first bus would be at 4 in the morning.
Shock #3: the train station would be closed from 2 AM to 4 AM.
“Calm down everyone, not to worry. We won’t be late, we’re not in a hurry,” the Octopus said.
“But where do we sleep, where do we stay? When the station’s closed, we will go astray,” Kittybangbang cried.
“We will not let the trip go sour. We’ll solve the issue in an hour,” Gypsytoes declared.
Octopus and Gypsytoes ventured out and about to find a 24 hour café or fast food joint, only to receive laughter and scoffs for their naivete, for nothing of that sort exists in Zuid Brussels. The Mean Girl and The Human GPS explored for restaurants within the station, only to find that they were all closed.
So the only option was to stay within the station, hoping that we wouldn’t be kicked out by the guards. Kittybangbang found a nice spot, rows of red metal benches not too far from the vending machine and close enough to know when the gate opens and the bus arrives. That should be fine for six hours of sleeping or talking the night away or even studying, which Gypsytoes, The Mean Girl, and The Human GPS tried to do at one point. Gypsytoes even got the hang of modernity and dependency theory!
Problem solved? Not quite.
Shock#4, and the biggest one of the night: there was no heater in the station.
I repeat, NO HEATERS IN THE STATION! In winter!
It was -2 degrees outside and the cold air crept in to our spot from the open train tracks above. Soon enough we found that sitting on the metal chair was impossible. Despite of the thermals and coats, our buttocks were freezing! Kittybangbang, being the crafty girl she is, picked up free magazines and spread it over the metal chairs. But not too long after, the chill became greater and Gypsytoes had to retrieve into her backpack and took out a pair of ski socks, an extra sweater, a pair of leather gloves, a pair of ski gloves, an extra pair of leggings, a scarf – and wear all of them on top of her tank top, turtlenecks, thermal underwear, and winter leggings. The Octopus opened his suitcase and retrieved a huge blanket, which everyone shared to cover their knees. The Mean Girl decided to jog around the station to keep icicles from forming in her hair. The Human GPS could not take the cold, so he braced himself and took a ride in the super pungent-pee smelling-elevator, the only warm site in the whole station.
But ultimately, we could only squeeze together with our teeth chattering and our lips muttering.
“Never before in my life I appreciate, the convenience that fried rice hawkers can create,” mumbled the Octopus.
“If we were in Gambir I’d be really glad, at least the elevators don’t smell as bad,” the Human GPS spoke.
“I should empathize more with the homeless in retrospect. For them I now have a newfound respect,” said The Mean Girl.
The time stretched perpetually, we could feel the chill seeping into our bones as we were wrapped in melancholy and discovered life altering revelations. Just when we felt like it would stretch to infinity, 4 AM came and the station gates were opened. The night was finally over!
My dear fellow travelers, we survived to tell the tale. We had fun in Bratislava, were amazed by Vienna, and completely fell under the spell of Prague (the tales of which will surely follow). But let this be a warning to all, never again shall the night be repeated!
Den Haag, 8 February 2010
Gypsytoes – of a cold, cold night in December 2009