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May 08, 2020

Borderlines: Part I, Amor Fati

As he starts his journey from Italy, an epidemic in China threatens the globe. This is a travel diary from the COVID-19 era.

Written by


Edited by

Gigi Papoulias

Part of A story we shared Publication

Send us your Covid-19 story at astoryweshared@solomonmag.com

Written by


Edited by

Gigi Papoulias

Part of A story we shared Publication

Send us your Covid-19 story at astoryweshared@solomonmag.com

The sun rises upon Athens 106 80 as the smell of coffee caresses the narrow walls of my apartment and time tightens up this ordinary winter morning. Everything seems so distant from the 6th floor when Lykabettos wakes the upper part of this neighborhood with its morning bells.

The students’ footsteps, cars’ rumble, cafés’ music and all the other cluttering whispers, every sound of Exarcheia blend together into a distant, harmonic urban symphony. Athens’ orchestra plays just for those who want to listen at this time, everyone else is too busy running after someone else’s life.

Whatever, time’s up.

The shower’s drops of water slide through my body the same flow my thoughts wander through my mind: quick, thick and messy, my head is a pot of quick-burning memories. There is a question, though, which keeps bouncing inside of me without finding its way out: what’s gonna happen this time? Originally just one of Natasa’s jokes, I can’t stop thinking about it.

They say “travelling changes you”, one of the emptiest clichés ever which created these 21st century touristic pilgrims, who think their 7-day convenience packages will also contain the answers to their life’s questions. Travelling only stimulates what you have inside and accelerates its way out, exactly as cocaine does, and that’s it.

This time I’m leaving only for a few months and mostly for familiar locations, yet I somehow can’t stop questioning: what’s gonna happen?

Well, time to hit the road again, one day at a time.

I get in the ferry, leave my luggage at the storage room and, after rushing up the escalators, I run immediately on the deck. Patras’ maritime breeze penetrates my lungs with the cold fury of January, making me realize I actually got sick but I don’t care the slightest bit.

I haven’t seen the sea since September, I’ve been craving for these views. Those shades of blue which always seduce me with the same charm of an elegant, educated lady, cost me the harshest trip I ever had in my entire life.

I go back inside after a while trying to lie down in the lounge with aiplane-type seats, but the high fever keeps getting worse. The night enfolds everyone in its arms but I literally can’t sleep for more than five minutes before I start coughing my lungs out. On the top of that, I’m shivering from head to toe so I take off my coat and use it as a blanket, which obviously doesn’t help much.

Eventually, the reflection of my devastated face on the portholes fades into the morning light which starts delineating Bari’s coastline. The receptionist tells me they haven’t got any medicine
against seasonal flu and offers me a painkiller, which I refuse.

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When we finally disembark, I try to stop any negative thoughts on the way to the station and keep repeating to myself ‘it’s just a bad flu, stop bitching about it’. The universe, though, in all its incomprehensible chaos, always finds some way of exposing its finest irony.

As I look at the departures board, my train is the only one running late. Alright, that’s pretty common in Italy, although it could’ve been any other train and not mine, but okay.

I reach the elevator just to find out it’s out of order for the first time since I’ve ever travelled from Bari, now eight years already. Sometimes I tend to believe that there is a god and he’s a better screenwriter than the Coen brothers. I giggle and try not to have a mental breakdown thinking about the two flights of stairs I have to drag my 20kg luggage down, plus the other two on the way up to my platform.

Well, I can’t do anything else besides use the little strength I have left, so I rush down and then end up so exhausted I actually fall asleep while waiting for my train.

I wake up a few minutes before the alarm I had set for this eventuality, and I wonder what the hell is wrong with this country. Italian public transportation is the Tenth Circle of Hell, especially when it concerns trains.

Last October, on my way back to Greece after a couple of weeks in Italy, I decided to travel, with a five hour buffer, exactly for this reason. The ferry departed at 7 PM from Bari, three hours away from my hometown, so I bought the ticket for the noon train. It showed up two hours late, stopped countless times to do maintenance because it was falling apart and, eventually, stopped for good around 6 PM at the last station before my destination.

The reason, though, is that they found a corpse on the tracks just before Bari. I ran with all my luggages under a fierce rainstorm for one kilometer to reach the first bus station, where no one knew what time the bus to Bari would show up.

I called a cab, which didn’t arrive for 30 minutes because “it was stuck in traffic” and apparently was “the only taxi available in town at that time”. At 6:45 PM, a bus finally showed up and it took more than half an hour to drive through suburban roads congested by traffic. I obviously missed the ferry.

I try not to be bitter and think about such futile things while sitting on the train, but the air conditioning is broken and cannot be switched off, so I have to travel for three hours with the cold air blowing straight on my head.

By the time I arrive at my parents place, I’ve got a fever of nearly 40°C. The following week, while trying my best to heal as quickly as I could, the news of a brutal epidemic which was already out of control in China was announced: Coronavirus.

After a full recovery, I’m finally ready to start a trip which will take me through four countries and 2,000 km on the seats of Europe’s cheapest buses.

Well, let’s head north.

More to read

“I didn’t know I had to tell my story somewhere”

“I didn’t know I had to tell my story somewhere”

Keita is from the Ivory Coast and has been living in Athens since 2010. As a minor, he decided to leave his family and pursue his dream to play football. But things didn’t quite work out as he expected.

<a href="https://solomonmag.com/author/solomon-mag/" target="_self">Solomon Staff</a>

Solomon Staff


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