A PASS AT KATARA
We had come down these mountains now and the road had straightened out. We pulled in at Trikala. The soldiers got off – a little sheepishly I thought. As they did the Greeks waiting to board, noticing their pale faces, smiled and slapped them good-naturedly on their backs. This lot getting on didn’t look as though they would have any trouble up on the mountains…they had the faces of born and bred mountain people plus the fact that they smelled like mountain goats. Brown crinkly faced…that rugged weather-beaten look and a distinct lack of the full number of teeth. Actually I think one of the passengers getting on was a goat.
We set off again. The road was being fairly well-behaved right now but we were obviously crossing what looked like the floor of a crater on the moon and there were mountains around us on all sides. It was the mountain traveller’s version of the eye of the hurricane. Of all the peaks around us we were heading for the highest. A sign flashed past a bit too fast for us to read at that moment but it left its image on my subconscious.
“Right, it said ‘pass’ - so we are heading for a mountain pass. That means we are going up into the mountains again.”
“Death, here we come.”
“1705 metres…that’s a bit bloody high isn’t it?”
“Erm…what is that in yards…about the same but a bit more?”
“Yeah, must be over 1800 yards…that’s more than a mile! We are crossing a pass one mile up! Oh shit.”
“You know, there is something about that name too…Katara…that rings a bell.”
Deborah had a good memory for this kind of thing. Odd words would stick in her mind and she would trot them out in our translation courses impressing the professors tremendously and irritating the shit out of the rest of us. I had had this glorious smart-arse experience only once when I was the only one in the whole class, including the professor, who knew that theiko oxi was the Greek for sulphuric acid. It was such a unique occurrence that I should be the one who knew, that no-one believed me, in fact they ignored my shouts of “sulphuric acid! Sulphuric ACID!!!” until the professor took down an enormous dictionary and looked it up to find that I had been right all along! Even then she only gave me a suspicious look as if to say, “what kind of strange life must you have been leading to know that??” She had never much cared for me since the time back in her first year extempore translation classes when I – innocently but erroneously - translated the question, “are you married?” in the text she had given us with the Modern Greek equivalent of “do you fuck?” I mean how was I to know that the Ancient Greek verb gamo which in those days meant “I marry” had changed its meaning in Modern Greek to “I fuck”?
But I digress…
Deborah was deep in thought... "it was in one of those Greek Folk Songs we did last year…hmm…”
“Oh right! ‘I kissed my true love’s lips, tra-la-la…and my lips turned red…hey diddy ho…it was the clap…fiddledy-dee.”
“Got it! It was a song about a woman scorned…katara…yes! It means ‘curse’.”
“Oh well, that’s just fucking brilliant! We are heading up to a pass one mile high which is called ‘Curse Pass’ and the driver is a graduate of the Kamikaze School for Bus Driving.”
I almost but not quite got used in the next hour or so to seeing nothing but extremely thin air, almost anoxic air below us as the middle section of the bus swung out over the side of the precipices. There is a Mickey Mouse cartoon where Mickey, Donald and Goofy go on a camping trip. Their caravan somehow gets separated from their car and careers down the mountain side shooting off the edge of the road and only being pulled back in again by swinging round on the pole of a road sign. This stretch could have been the inspiration for it.
We sat there quiet and tense. I didn’t realise how tense until we came down the other side and I tried to relax my muscles. I was more stiff than I had ever been in my life. It was as if I had climbed over the mountains with my bare hands.
Thankfully, the road levelled out and straightened again. There was one more mountain ahead but the road looked as though it wound round the side of it.
It was getting near five though, so we must be near now. I had actually forgotten in the sweaty panic of our trip through hell that we even had a destination. This part of the road had been cut through the side of the mountain and so it was bendy but they were gentle bends. There was now a palpable sense of expectation amongst the passengers too.
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