The South Bound Bus
October 15th, 2015/ San Julian, El Salvador
The air is stale and hot. And if I’m being honest, it has a thick smell of boiling onions and assholes.
Hold on, I have to back up.
The station. The floor tile was once white, I believe. The layers of stains gave a texture that was clay like. Though I tried to avoid the thought, it seemed evident that at least a portion of those layers of grime was actually human feces. The remaining fluorescent light bulbs that still worked buzzed overhead like a swarm of poisonous amazonian insects. People outnumbered seats four to one.
Hold on, I have to back up a moment.
I arrived at the station four minutes before my bus was set to leave at 11:15. I bought a ticket as the other passengers were boarding. I was frantic, rushing as I dragged my surfboard bag over to the bus. I handed my ticket to the man in the brown hat who looked like an angry bowling ball. He stood in front of the bus entrance. He raised the jowls of his right upper lip exposing a gold tooth. He tore my ticket, handed it back to me, and pointed to the already full compartment beneath the already full bus. I had to move a few black plastic garbage bags filled with the other passengers' clothes to make room for my board bag. I was the last to board, unless you count the driver and the final dozen flies which followed him in. Standing room only now. The old gray bus, which seemed to have lived a previous life in the United States sometime around the time when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, trembled as it lurched forward, clearing rust from its throat the way an old farmer does in the predawn hour. Despite having to stand, I was grateful for having made it in time.
Hold on, I have to back up a moment.
I awoke well after sunrise that morning to the most transparent pair of hazel eyes. I was paralyzed by fright. Too afraid to break my gaze, too afraid to confirm if what I had dreamed so many times had finally come true, or if this, all of this was still in fact a dream. For all the times I had reached out in hopes of touching the void, Now I was terrified that the void is exactly what I would now find if I extended my hand and woke from the dream.
A citric light cut the dim room in two. There was a wholeness, a oneness, which I can only imagine one feels after dying. That wholeness held the moment outside of time. How many minutes, hours, lifetimes passed in that golden citric light I will never know, but when her hand reached up and moved through the thick yellow curls atop my head I could feel at once the unmeasurable distance between us and somehow, somehow, there was no distance at all.
I stood amid the flies on the bus, swaying back and forth. I replayed that bedroom scene, my eyes glazed over and close to rain. The bus took a long sweeping left. An odd way to go, I thought. Perhaps another stop, then we’ll head south. We turned again, this time to the northbound highway. Panic shot up my spine. My mouth went dry. “¿Este es el autobús al sur? I asked over the driver’s shoulder. He wretched the big steering wheel, slowly shaking his head no. I looked back at a sea of sullen round faces. The Northbound bus picked up speed.
“No es correcto.” I said. “No es mi bus.” The driver shrugged his round shoulders. I tapped him, clenching my jaw in embarrassment. I felt the weight of over a hundred sullen brown eyes on me. But what to do? The bus rolled on. A minute later, a man on the side of the highway held up his arm. The driver pulled over in a cloud of dust a half mile outside of town. I shot out the door, opened the luggage compartment below, hauled out my boardbag, and ran south.
It’s a funny thing, running in flip flops, down a coastal road in central America, carrying a nearly seven foot long bag. You feel stupid doing it and you look around and some kids are looking at you with no expression whatsoever, like you’re just another bus. And you start to wonder what they are thinking about. Then you realize that it doesn’t matter, that it almost never matters what a stranger thinks about you or your absurd behavior. And you smile and begin to skip like a child because, really, honestly, what’s the difference? And the kids laugh at you, and it doesn’t matter. And you think about nothing, until of course, your cheap sandal breaks and you rip your big toe open on a rock and the dirt clings to the blood making a muddy mess. And you look at the red mud and think the only thought you can possibly think and that thought is, what a gift. It’s all a gift.
To go forward now, or I guess maybe backwards, with bare feet, in connection with the rich earth. This moment is a gift, and you recognize it as a gift, until you reach the bus station as the south bound bus, your bus, the bus you had bought a ticket for, the bus that is, of course, running twenty-five minutes late, pulls out of the station. So you stand barefoot on the previously white, now shitstained tile, adding a bit of your own blood. And you buy another ticket with what little money you have left, and you wait for the next bus, the one that smells like boiling onions and assholes.