“You are on the first bus” said the woman with the stiff curls, and marked my ticket with a 1.
I left the marshutni office and walked over to the only bus, where passengers were milling around the open hatch, fretting about the vodka, green beans, bedspreads and other breakable, perishable and bulky items they wished to transport from Goris to Yerevan.
The driver, fag drooping from his lower lip, checked I was going all the way into the city- sometimes I ask to be dropped off at a gas station close to Ararat, the better to visit Elsa and family. Satisfied, he bunged my bag into the back of his vehicle, sandwiching it between a sack of tired footwear and what might have been a very large sheet cake. He did not ask to see my ticket.
I took my seat over the wheel arch at the back of the minibus and played a little online Scrabble as the bus filled up. The second bus eventually arrived and filled up too. We both set off together.
“Good” I thought “an empty seat beside me all the way to Yerevan”.
It was not to be.
We wheezed up the steep hill out of Goris- I was already fearing for the sheet cake– and stopped at a gas station where two young men were waiting.
Two young men. Tickets 14 and 15. Only seat 15 was free. I was in number 14, but apparently on the wrong bus. Uproar ensued.
How, the bus driver wanted to know, could I have been so stupid as to get on the wrong bus?
The following retorts came to mind. A philosophical question : “what makes the first bus the first bus?” ; a declaration of inclusivity “I see no difference between the first and second buses”; and a practical suggestion “why don’t you get a bloody sign?”
Instead I rather meekly suggested that the second driver (mine) phone the first driver and arrange a handover of misplaced passenger 14 at the Tatev turnoff.
The driver was firm that this was not an option, but he did take the opportunity to call Mrs Stiff Curls and yell, even though it was nothing to do with her. By now other passengers were tutting and men were indicating that if this was to go on much longer, they would need to get off for a smoke
In the interests of peace and progress, the two bony boys folded themselves into the seat beside me and we set off. They were remarkably sanguine I thought for passengers forced each to sit on one thinly-fleshed hip for 250 kilometers.
In fact in turned out that they were only making a short hop to Sisian. I spread out on seats 14 and 15 and felt mollified.
One of the other backrow passengers decided to soften towards me.
“Amerikatzi es” he said sympathetically.
“Yes” I replied in Armenian–the only language used throughout — “But I live in Goris”
His eyebrows indicated that I should then be rather more competent in transport identification. That was the end of the conversation.
When we stopped for a coffee break the driver made an ostentatious point of checking I was on back on board before he set off. “The Amerikatsi might be on the marshutni for Martuni…” I imagined him muttering to the passengers up front.
I know the Armenian words for first and second, although I am certain that no-one uttered them to me or around me, except for Stiff Curls who sold me the ticket. My question remains: how was everyone else so entirely clear about which bus was which? And why, one year in, am I still oblivious, and the only one in all Armenia in a constant state of surprise and bewilderment? I fear I shall never know.
The Glorious View of the Mountains, including Baby Ararat from Seat 14