On the Road


Every country has its own safety and security quirks – those issues about which it cares deeply and is willing to enforce with (what is for the foreigner) insanely exacting precision. Canadian law, for example, doesn’t permit children to walk across the path of parades featuring large horses and marching bands but that is another story…

On our grade 9 and 10 school trip home from monasteries and mountain climbing in the Pyrenees (I know that’s cool, no? I didn’t climb but watched in AMAZEMENT!) one young man on the bus approached me and said, very politely, “Miss, I really need to go to the bathroom. Do you know when we will stop next?” The male chaperone on our bus was closest to the drivers so I asked him to speak with them. What came back was a question,”They don’t know? WHY?” As delicately as I could, I described the boy’s situation. “Right,” he said and conveyed the message.

A half hour went by… the chaperones had been interviewing the students to the delight of the other kids (God, I LOVE that microphone that comes with the BIG bus) and I had forgotten all about the request from the grade 9 boy. He appeared in the aisle beside my seat and I am not exaggerating when I say that he was shaking slightly. Uh oh! “Um, Miss… now, I really have to go. I drank a litre of Coke at our last stop and that may have been too much.” I passed the message to Michael who had, what I felt, was an unusually long conversation about what should have been a relatively simple matter. Michael came back to where the student and I were talking.

“Bad news,” he said. “The bus drivers say that they can’t pull over on the side of the road. It’s illegal in Spain.”

“Well sure… it’s illegal everywhere but people still do it!” I had become the passionate advocate for this slightly trembling boy.

“I know. I know!” (Michael is Canadian too). “But these guys are seriously not stopping. They asked us to be on the look-out for a proper gas station and then they will stop.” The boy looked stricken. I handed him an empty plastic Coke bottle and said, “Just in case.” That got a BIG laugh from the kids around us. I know my gesture may have seemed a little insensitive but I was thinking that in this land of uberstrict bus laws, the bus-driving fascists would experience strong negative feelings towards a student who used their bus as a urinal.

For a few miles, the students and teachers at the front of our bus strained our necks, left and then right, looking up the highway for some sign of neon… a restaurant or gas station where this boy would be permitted to get off the bus. Five minutes passed… then ten. We were in the middle of nowhere, the Northern Spain version of nowhere (which is, of course, somewhere… I get the irony) and there wasn’t a single gas station in sight.

The boy appeared beside me for the third time and he was not at all well. I could tell that he was now doing everything humanly possible to keep all of his bodily fluids inside his body. He had the Coke bottle in his hand and said, “I am gonna have to use this now.” I actually spent 30 seconds thinking about how we could clear a section of the bus so that he could relieve himself privately.

“Wait. This is insane!” I was definitely yelling by this point. “This boy needs to go and these drivers work for us.” (This is the most North American thing that I have said while living in Spain). The students were nodding in agreement; it was a revolution now. I chose a student – a fantastic and assertive Catalan girl whom I have known for a year – and instructed her to tell those drivers to turn right onto the off-ramp just ahead because this boy needed to go to the washroom NOW! Her eyes sparkling with purpose, she strode to the front of the bus and told the drivers, in scarily precise Catalan, what needed to happen. The bus suddenly veered off the highway, up the hill and onto a smaller local road where the driver parked the bus on the gravelly (and highly illegal) shoulder. The door opened and the grade 9 boy shot past me like a cork freed from the mouth of a champagne bottle… out of the bus, up a hill, and behind some bushes. On his heels were six more boys. The red-faced driver shouted after them, “It was only supposed to be one!”

We three chaperones simply shrugged our shoulders and watched the sun setting all wild pinks and purples over the heads of our boys peeing behind bushes in Northern Spain. The second driver lit a cigarette and pretended to watch the highway for police cars but really, we knew, he just desperately needed a smoke.

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