I’m a sitting on a bus between a place my guidebook describes as ‘prickling with menace’ and another it calls ‘industrial, poor, dangerous and not recommended for visitors’. The words alone have me feeling a little on edge and uneasy.
It is one of those days when I wonder why on earth this trip seemed like such a great idea a month or two ago.
Since there is no luggage rack, my pack and I are cuddled up together in a single seat – awkward intimates. Since the space would usually be occupied by 2 or 3 people, I’m trying hard to look inconspicuous.
Each person who climbs aboard the bus stares at me, then either smiles or glares, so I suspect I’m not proving all that successful. Otherness is a sheen I can’t seem to shake off with the dust.
My little nook of sweaty vinyl is right above the back wheel, and my rear end resonates with sympathy at every jut and jolt in the road. There are many.
The windows are all down to ease the pressing weight of heat. Each acceleration is like a roller coaster’s swoop into a wind tunnel. My hair lashes my face in angry tangled tails, vindictive and vicious without conditioner.
The aisle is jam packed with people. Shoulder bags administer face smack-snags to the seated; petty punishments from angry elbows.
The bus bucks and bolts round bends, frustrated in its dreams of speed.
Almost all those standing have to stretch uncomfortably for the grab bar attached the ceiling above, and I realize why people in Central America so often laugh when I describe myself as short. They hang as awkwardly as the troop of monkeys that swing and gyrate in the forest fringe of the front window.
Euro dance music, inexplicably resurrected from 1995, blares at full blast. The monkeys are the only ones that look like they’re enjoying it.
A wild-eyed man with long billowing beard preaches with the brawling zeal and fervour of an early evangelist, selling yet another magic balm to cure all in a capful. In a moment of inattention he’s dislodged, disgorged a little chewed up at the back door.
Tired of trying for translation, I’m glad he’s gone. But in seconds his place is taken by a suited man who bangs a bible and asks me questions I don’t understand to answer. Eventually he moves on to gather up other errant sheep but, with a last severe look, he hands me a leaflet that shows someone roasting in hell. I’m naturally thrilled.
The baby in front of me seems to have had an accident. Mum shakes the evidence out on the floor.
I’m feeling antsy, irritable. I tell myself I have cause enough, count my grumbles on too few fingers.
And then it occurs to me that I will never have quite this experience again. I will never again sit with this particular brew of sensations, and this maddening moment will never come back. The thought is enough to remind me to smile, to value just this, to release myself from irritation.
It’s just a minute, just a moment but it reminds me to live, to be, instead of wishing my time away.
The monkeys dance a little more merrily than before.