A Ride Home
By Stuti Patel
I am standing at the bus stop headed home from the American School of Guadalajara several miles away. An SUV passes me and, through the tinted glass, I see a woman. She’s wearing sunglasses and her blonde hair is black at the roots. Her one hand holds the phone while the other rubs at her wrinkled forehead as she half-listens to the complaints of her children. For a moment, I imagine myself in the car, out of the oppressive heat. The smell of lavender oil. Someone honks. Back to the bus stop.
I should have brought my hat. I see a line of cars melting in the hot, dancing air. I cannot breathe. Heat does that to me. The bus still isn’t here. A dozen other people are waiting for it. I won’t get a seat. The twelve-pound bag pulls on my shoulder and wets my back.
A man next to me takes out a cigarette and starts smoking. Can people smoke in public places? Even if they cannot, can I do anything about it? I move away from him. Now, there’s nothing between me and the sun. Not even that thin, translucent sheet of plastic that roofed the bus stop. Honestly, it is embarrassing how my skin gets darker and darker every day.
I see a bus at the end of the road with the digits 622 printed on its windshield. I count seven pesos and hold them in the palm of my hand. The traffic signal turns green. The line on my side of the road barely moves. The people in the cars look annoyed. I am annoyed at them. Don’t think that others don’t deserve to complain because your troubles are worse.
My annoyance fades away and I am back in control.
I extend my arm and wave it for the bus. A few others do the same. The bus moves to the lane away from us and drives out of sight. Unacceptable. The bus driver does not get to skip stops, does he? I look around, hoping to see a hint of my feelings on the faces of the others who were also ignored by the bus. An old woman mumbles something in Spanish but except for that, not a sign of frustration.
Why am I so intolerant when these strangers are quietly bearing the consequences of the lifestyle choices made by others, including those from my school.
Another bus and the same thing. Then, the third one finally stops.
I say Buenas tardes as I place my coins in the chofer’s palm and Gracias! as he gives me a translucent slip of printed paper.
There’s no place to stand. I have to squeeze myself in between the three rows of people standing in the aisle. I remove my backpack and press it between my legs to make space for other passengers. The bus jerks and squeaks and people start getting in, more than get out, and every now and then, the driver requests us to move to the back. There’s no place left for us to move to but we do, just a few inches, to accommodate the new passengers.
The bus is jam-packed near the front door. People start getting in from the door at the back. Coins are passed towards the front and tickets back to their owners. Why am I told that busses are unsafe when Mexicans are so honest they pay a sum of seven pesos without supervision?
Next time the bus stops, a young man holds up his guitar at the driver who nods in return. The driver turns off the loud mariachi that was playing on the bus. The musician gets in. He plucks each chord on his guitar as he says that he’s a university student who needs some financial help. He then names a few songs and starts playing.
I neither like his high-pitched voice nor his random strumming of chords. I don’t understand the lyrics, but I still pull out a few pesos for him, for it is only luck that has prevented me from being in his place. I’m not sure how he feels when receiving money from someone younger than him. It makes me feel somewhat guilty.
After the man gets off the bus, there’s nothing to distract me from my struggle to breathe in the suffocating vehicle, nothing to keep my eyelids from meeting. So I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and I think about the woman I saw earlier in the SUV. . . about women like her and their immensely fortunate children, about how their empathy and compassion would grow if they would walk and carpool instead of complaining, or if they took one trip like this. How they might be less self-indulgent.
And then, it strikes me: I don’t stop eating chocolate even though I know that there are children that sleep with growling bellies.
Ed. Note: Stuti Patel was born in India and attended the American School of Guadalajara for the past two years. She will enter the University of Calgary in the fall to study engineering.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com