We walked past the mass of other hitchhikers in Korday, and headed up the road towards Taraz. We figured there was no point in trying to compete with the other hitchhikers, because whenever a car pulled over, it was like a scrum, and not speaking the language put us at a severe disadvantage.
We walked through the wet snow and were picked up faster than expected, by the first Kazakhstani that hasn’t expected money in return. Saken, the driver, took us by surprise at first asking, “Specken ze Deutsch?”
Fortunately though, we dazzled our new host with the full extent of our German lexicon.
Having spent time in Europe, Saken understood the concept of hitchhiking. It was a boring drive, through the dark, listening to a cassette on repeat. This one song, a woody-wood pecker techno remix, was especially painful. I could handle the long daytime drives when I could engage my imagination with the novelty of my surroundings, but night time driving could get very tedious.
Saken dropped us off at what proved to be one of the strangest places either of us has ever stayed. The building, owned by Turkish people, looked like some kind of youth club. There was music pumping out of the main room and there must have been about 20 lorries parked up at the back.
A Turkish man came out to greet us and ushered us inside. The scene that greeted our eyes looked like something straight out of the film From Dusk till Dawn; just replace ravenous, flesh eating vampires with ravenous, flesh eating prostitutes and you get the idea. We’d been dropped off at a brothel.
The ladies of the night, smelling fresh blood, started dancing provocatively around us.
“Rich, I’m scared. What should we do?”
“No sudden movements and don’t make eye contact with anything.”
“I should shut my eyes?”
“No. Keep your eyes open. Just don’t look at anything”
We edged our way, back-to-back, through the room, with eyes open, but trying not to look at anything and found a table. A burley woman brought over a couple of plates of borsch, a cabbage soup, with bread, and placed them in front of us. As we ate, we eyed our surroundings like a pair of anxious antelopes drinking at a watering hole.
After we’d eaten we were led outside and into a small dark and dank boiler room. As the cast iron door slide open, with a deep creaking sound, two rats scampered outside.
We looked at each other.
“More room for us I suppose,” said Michael, as optimistic as ever, and we walked inside.
To the left of the room was a small four step set of wooden stairs into a kind of cubby hole. The cubby hole had a wooden floor with some sheets, a blanket and a pillow, all of which smelled like an old man’s cough. The walls were covered with cardboard and the ceiling had more spider webs than the roof of Little Miss Muffet’s curd and whey pantry.
“I swear those spiders are staring at us” mumbled Mike, out of the corner of his mouth.
“Yeah. And why are those two giggling?”
We could just tell by the mischievous looks in their little spider eyes that they were planning to wait until we fell asleep so they could dance the night away on our faces.
I lay down and considered my situation for a few minutes. To my left was the seedy music pumping out of a sordid brothel; at my feet was a squalid rat den; above me was spider city, where rehearsals for the great midnight dance-off on my face were well under way. And to my right, lay Michael.
Never in my whole life, I thought to myself, have I been so completely and utterly surrounded by such abject squalor and filth.
I shuddered as I contemplated which vulgarity I should try and edge away from.
My eye started twitching. I took a deep breath in, a long breath out and I poured myself a large glass of vodka.