Region Inconnue 7

The Chef de la Poste had been on tenterhooks ever since the night before about the convoy’s non-appearance. It was now twenty hours late and, as the telephone lines had been cut, they had no news. Soon after Suery left a message came through to say that it had been attacked. The first few trucks that arrived knew that there had been an attack but could give no account of what had taken place. The drivers sat stiffly in their seats, dazed with fatigue and mantled with yellow dust. The Chef said he would put me on the first of them that had a seat to spare, but in each case the passengers were crammed so tightly in the driver’s cabin that it was difficult to see how he could twist the steering wheel or change gear. The backs of the lorries were jammed with merchandise.
After five or six of them had passed through the checkpoint in this way the Chef decided that he had found a lorry with a hole in the cargo large enough for a human being to crawl into. He made one of the cabin passengers get down from the front and climb into this crevice, telling me to take his place. I did not like the idea of doing this, and said so, but the Chef waved aside such objections saying that I had better take the chance while I could, because if the convoy had been badly shot-up there wouldn’t be many more lorries to come. I therefore swallowed my scruples, put my bag in the back and climbed in, although feeling most uncomfortable about the whole affair. The lorry started off, bucking and crashing over the most appalling road I have ever travelled on. It was extremely difficult to stay in one’s seat. The vehicles in front had raised a pall of yellow dust which, as it grew dark, the headlights were quite unable to penetrate. Shutting the windows hardly reduced the density of the cloud that swirled into the cabin but was quite effective to hold in the terrible heat generated by the engine roaring in low gear. I felt my presence keenly resented. So much so that I spoke to the driver intending to offer to change places with the man who had been sent to ride in the hack, but I got no reply. He looked in fact so grim that I began to feel a little nervous, catching, incidentally, several venomous, sidelong glances from my fellow passengers. After a while the driver took to muttering to the man who was sitting next to him, crushed in between him and the door. A suggestion seemed to have been made and the man nodded in agreement. He opened the door and swung outside, peering back, evidently to see if another vehicle was in sight. Looking, as I thought, intently in my direction he made a sign to the driver who put the gear lever in neutral and pulled the lorry up. I thought that the chances were no better than one in four that they were going to throw me out. However, the driver’s friend jumped down and went to the back of the lorry, after which he came back, got in and we went on as before.
At about eleven o’clock we got into Ban Methuot. The driver suddenly asked me in good French where I wanted to go. I told him the Mairie. He said: ‘We’ve passed it. I’ll go back.’ I told him not to trouble, that I could easily walk, but he put the lorry in reverse and backed down the street till we came to the Mairie. I asked him how much I owed him, getting out a one-hundred-piastre note; he said ‘nothing’ and pushed the money away. Thanking him I held my hand out and felt much relieved when he took it, smiled and said, ‘au revoir’.
I stood there for a moment looking after the lorry as it lurched away up the street. There were one or two street lamps and as it passed under them the curved canopy painted over with Chinese characters reminded me of an old-fashioned Chinese lantern.

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