Catching the early coach in Elhovo

The room, cleared of last night’s casual chaos
returns to sullen anonymity, ignoring
my scuffed suitcase, my travel bag bulging
with hand sanitiser, tissues, toothbrush and paste.

I pause at the door, hand back the key,
launch down steep steps, juggle handles
cling to my mob torch, trip,
recover, rattle over rough cobbles
measure my path under meagre street lights
shaded by fleshy-leafed trees.

Pre-dawn drizzle dampens my face,
clammy air cold on my skin where
my jacket stops short of my jeans,
I crave warmth, light, not these deserted
warehouses, skeleton fence of the old
cattle market -
                       I shiver, walk on,
the coach station should be near.
If not, my whole Bulgarian trip collapses.

Am I alone – not quite – ahead a human shape
dwarfed by distance moves along this dismal
path to the unknown until my feet recognise
the cracked and jumbled footpath outside a closed café,
and I see the station’s tarmac field.

Faces emerge from the shadows
people stand, shuffle forward, a coach pulls in,
its radio punching the silence. A workman,
rucksack weary, asks me a question
in a language I cannot answer.

I climb aboard, settle into a body-worn
seat and sleep.

Anne Peterson