Ukraine-Poland border, some time between 2 and 4 am:
The night bus to Lviv has been waiting at the border for approximately eleven years. Suddenly and painfully the cabin lights snap on.
Pani Ukrainian Border Guard slowly makes her way up the aisle of the bus, carrying a stack of passports in one hand, systematically staring each passenger hard in the eyes, scrutinizing the passport photo, and glaring once again at the unfortunate traveller, before finally handing back the document.
She reaches my seat, and looks at me long and hard. Then she looks at my passport again, and looks back at me for what seems like an age. Although I have nothing to declare and absolutely nothing to hide - that I can remember - I start to feel nervous.
She asks me to remove my glasses, in heavily Ukrainian-influenced Polish that I find hard to understand. I never wear contact lenses when travelling and I never wear glasses when having my photo taken, so I suppose I bring these things upon myself.
Pani Ukrainian Border Guard stares at me again, and back at the photo.
- Now the fringe!
In the photo I don't have a fringe. In real life I do. I suppose that is to be expected as well. My driving licence has a fringe. Obediently I push back the offending tresses.
Pani Ukrainian Border Guard frowns, concentrating hard.
- Now smile! Like in the photo!
It's all too much. I begin to giggle.
- Date of birth!
Now I don't know if you've ever tried to quote your date of birth in Polish at four in the morning. It's not the sort of thing that just trips off the tongue.
Suddenly I realise that I am a foreign girl with a funny accent, who can't even conjugate her own birthday, travelling across the border at night in the company of two Polish men. I would be suspicious of me too! Maybe I should be! Maybe I have done something wrong after all! I let slip another nervous giggle.
- Why is your passport so old? Why did you change it in 2001?
I try to explain that I used to be on my Mum's passport, and then I had my own for five years, and then I had to get a ten-year one, but she seems unconvinced.
- Repeat your date of birth!
I make slightly less of a hash of it this time, and remember to use genitive instead of locative.
- Dowod osobisty!
- umm... prawo jazdy?
I'm hoping she'll accept my driving licence as a personal ID card.
-Nie! Nie ma Pani dowodu?
You see - I try to explain - in the UK we don't use ID cards. We just don't have them.
-But what is your ID?
Well... my passport.
- No! That's your international ID. What do you use inside the country?
- We don't have them. Nie ma dowodów! Nie potrzebujemy.
At this point the Poles begin to chuckle. How can a British girl, in this part of the world, explain that she simply doesn't need to carry a personal ID card when she pops down the road for a pint of milk? For a brief moment I feel an unfamiliar flush of national pride.
I hand over my driving licence. Pani Ukrainian Border Guard examines it, compares it to my seven-year-old passport photo and - still appearing unconvinced - finally agrees to let it drop.
As she moves on to the seat behind mine, I try not to look at the pistol tucked into the back of her belt.
Ukraine-Poland border, some - considerable - time after 4 am:
The bus finally pulls out of no-man's land and -somewhat jerkily - swings back onto the road.
We push back the curtains and a wan grey light seeps into the coach.
Rolling Ukrainian pastures stretch as far as the eye can see and the rising sun blushes shyly through the dove-soft clouds.
To be continued...