The day I arrived I took the bus from the airport into town. I had hardly bought the ticket from the driver when a woman collector got on to check the fares. As soon as I handed my ticket she grumbled in a reproachful tone of voice “Perforatio!!”. The rebuke for not punching the scrap of paper was the only consequence of my offence. The woman, in an offended silence, headed to the punching machine and stretched her arms to reach it because it was placed so high up between two windows that even on tiptoes she was barely able to insert my ticket. I remained with the funny word perforatio ringing in my ear. In the midst of a Slav language it sounded so familiarly romance that I’m even spelling it the Latin way.
On the day of my departure I took the airport bus in the opposite direction. As before, I bought the ticket from the driver and went to the machine to accomplish my duty. Somehow they manage to place them in the most inconvenient spots, and now that the bus was full it was even more cumbersome to punch the ticket. I inserted one end into the slot, but nothing happened.
I gave up after a few useless tries. About ten minutes later I saw a passenger slide in his ticket and push up the lower tab. The thing worked mechanically and not automatically. Yet, I was too lazy to do mine. After all, I had bought the ticket and had a clear conscience even without punching it.
At one stop the collector got on. I reached for my ticket tucked deep into my trousers pocket and handed it to her. A spark of gloat shone in her eyes as she realised it was not punched. She withheld the evidence of my misdemeanour and hurried to the back of the vehicle to report to the head collector. Soon another surly woman was standing next to my seat, blurting out incomprehensible words of which I could only make out two: perforatio and “twenty leva”. She was self-assured in the authority bestowed by her official role and flicked her badge in front of my eyes to prove her identity, if her blue uniform and grumpy attitude had not been convincing enough.
Pointing at a Cyrillic script clause written on the ticket, she claimed a 20 leva fine for not validating it, but no sooner had I started to plea my case than a chorus of voices sprang up in my defence. I stood as an amused spectator of what was an impromptu play sparkled by my knowingly faulty conduct. A raucous argument ensued. On one side a number of vocal passengers were protesting against the enforcement of rules that were not made known in English. On the other, the two steel-faced collectors peppering their now very angry speech with the word Bulgarian made me think they were wielding nationalistic arguments.
Bemused at the outcome of the issue, I watched on without acting or speaking. As a helpless foreigner I was entitled to disregard the head collector’s request to alight the bus and insist on getting to the airport. There I was escorted out of the bus by one of my citizen defenders, a woman who begged me not to give the officers any money or identity documents. She said she’d missed her stop in order to see me out of the claws of those two mastiffs who, after all, I thought with a dash of guilt, were only doing their job.