Having been told to meet our bus in this parking lot to begin the 12-hour trip to Halkidiki, we duly showed up at the appointed time and place. Instead of seeing our bus, however, we saw at least 20 such conveyances, surrounded with hundreds of bag-laden holidaymakers.
The process of transformation had already begun.
The cacophony of voices, calling to each other, crying children, screaming parents, laughing youth, and assorted conversational counterpoints, had already begun to meld together into a collective kind of lowing and mooing. The crowds began slowly to be herded into their various corrals, moving with a kind of unfocused cud-chewing determination, offering the occasional disgruntled "moo" when prodded by any of the herders (i.e., Tour Leaders).
We, the large domesticated ungulates, having renounced our humanity for the sake of a cheap getaway to the Aegean Sea, were now branded and rounded up into the different buses. Slotted into our stalls, the bus slowly rolled off into the horizon.
We spent a few hours uncomfortably in our stalls, occasionally grazing on the feedbags we all prepared while we were still humanoids - at the sound of the first sandwich being unwrapped, the entire herd broke out the food, and the sound of elliptical chewing pervaded the bus, drowning out the music leaking out of the speakers.
When from time to time we were released from our captivity, the movement of the herd was in the predictable pattern. Left to our own devices, the cows spread out from the door of the bus over a wide area, but soon the herd was drawn back together near the door. Stamping our feet against the cold in the night; hiding from the sunlight in the shade of the bus during the day.
As cattle go, we were a very well behaved herd. Back on the bus, we received instructions as to how to telephone (and the herd complied), where and what to eat (and the cows complied), and what to look at (this met with mixed success - we are cows after all).
Upon arrival for pasturing in Halkidiki (which is the Greek word for land-inhabited-by-vacationing-Serbs), some of us reverted in due course to human form. Others, however, maintained the integrity of the herd and moved together in small groups, looking for places to graze, protecting the young in their circles, and mooing in distinctively Serbian tones. When a few got separated from the others, they would begin their bovine vocalizations in order to reconstitute the herd. Cows are generally social creatures and enjoy each others' company. Mini-corrals were organized for short range cattle drives to various new pastures, and the lowing ranks held. The cowpokes could be proud of their livestock.
Finally, after a few days, the process went into reverse and we were led from our temporary stables back to the comfort of the bus-stalls. It was apparent from the first that the social structure of the herd had been changed somewhat, with certain breeds and families choosing to intermingle.
The herding and pasturing was complete. Many of us returned to our lives without even realizing that the bovine transformation ever took place. But others, in terrifying awareness, knew it all too well. The experience, for the uninitiated, can be traumatizing.
Next year I will certainly give thought to joining a flock of birds instead.