I am clutching the seatback handles on a bus speeding through winding roads in eastern Europe.
The bus is more like a van. And I have come to learn seat backs with handles signal an unpleasant journey ahead.
We are heading for Aushchwitz, the German death camp where more than a million people were exterminated like rats.
But I can’t go there, just yet. My mind is preoccupied.
This is not the bus I expected. It is much too small with geometric patterned carpet on the seats and ceilings.
The van reeks of cigarettes and the toothless driver speaks no English. I know this because he yelled with flailing arms at me, and each passenger after me in his native tongue, trying to convince us to pre- purchase return tickets from him. He got no takers.
The windows are coated and dripping with condensation, making seeing the misting gray skies and scenery difficult.
Without warning, the van skids to a stop every so often to pick up a passenger waiting by the roadside. Fearing we will be rear-ended, I close my eyes and say my fiftieth prayer.
It is a long journey.
A plump nun boards the bus, putting me at ease. Maybe she has a direct line to the big guy upstairs. Maybe we’re safer with her on board. The driver seems to ease up a bit, for a while. But then she disembarks and his foot is once again filled with lead.
I pray on.
My son Jake convinced me, last minute to take this trip with him. He sees the fear in my eyes and apologizes again.
Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean blares through the tinny speakers, breaking up the Polish news reports, making us both laugh, and carving a memory that will no doubt last a lifetime.