The Bus Ride – Part I - Carolee

    Carolee tried hard to stay awake as the bus jolted along. She had boarded at the Belize City terminal, feeling ashamed of herself as she bounced, pushed and forced her ample figure down the aisle in the struggle to get a seat. When the bus runs became out of control and chaotic, it was a free for all. No longer did people have assigned seats, and it was everyone for themselves. The conductor’s job was to make money, so the more people packed in, the better. Sometimes it felt like the bus’ heavy load slowed it down to a crawl, yet more and more people boarded.

    Today’s ride was packed to the gills. Carolee was happy she got the window seat. That way, the breeze would cool her down, and the funky smells of the sweating humanity that seemed to often pack the bus could be blown away. Once she had the misfortune to sit next to a drunken man who actually peed himself as he snored away – ugh! She wore her long cotton dress, so the seat didn’t stick to the backs of her legs. She had known of someone who had cut their leg on the ripped cushion of the bus seat. The wound had gotten infected and the person had nearly lost their leg. At least by the time Carolee heard the story, that was the case. It didn’t matter if it was true or not, she was not taking chances with the seats or with pretty much anything on the public bus.

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    Behind her, she could hear the rhythmic chew-chew-pop-pop of gum. There were some high school girls sitting at the back, and Carolee wondered how some of them made it out of school. All they talked about was boys, and which bitches they had to deal with every day.

    Today, it was the same chew-pop routine that had lulled her to a slow head nodding limbo of sleep and wakefulness. As her head pitched forward at the sudden jolt of a speed bump, sleep fled. She quickly jutted her jaw, embarrassed that her mouth had fallen open while she slept.

    As she adjusted to being fully, widely awake, she looked out and saw green trees everywhere. The greenery was often punctuated with open spaces where old cars and tires, piles of garbage and more stood out like pimples on a teenager’s face. In this case, Belize was a bit past her teens, but she was continuously plagued by spots. The scenery never changed it seemed, except occasionally, there would be a thick swath of acrid smoke where the garbage lay burning. She often wondered if people realized that if the smell of smoke was so terrible, that it was wrong to burn those items. But then, no-one ever listened to Carolee anyway, so it made no sense to say anything.

    Today as she looked out, she was sorry she had fallen asleep so quickly from the terminal. She loved passing by the cemetery, wondering who was buried where. All the white tombs looked shiny, and the flowers that grew around them, or that had been laid over the resting places were bright and beautiful. Sometimes when it was raining, the crepe paper flowers melted all over the tomb, spilling like violent rivers of blood over the sides. And today, as she had napped, Carolee missed seeing a funeral in progress.

    Disappointed that she had missed the cemetery, she turned to see who had sat next to her. To her surprise, it was a college girl. She was so quiet and meek that Carolee felt like she had to engage. She tried smiling. The girl just stared ahead. Feeling slighted, Carolee decided to shift in the seat, her ample body, encased in its green print cotton pushing slightly against the college girl. The girl shifted almost unconsciously, not even bothering to look at her seatmate. Miffed, Carolee opened her mouth to say something but before she could even break her rule of silence on the bus, the lumbering vehicle ground noisily to a halt. A hissing sound expelled a dark cloud of smoke at the stop, and the louder passengers complained as was the custom.

    The aisle was already jam-packed, including a couple of backpackers who often braved the wilds of the bus ride. They were probably heading to the Xunantunich ruins. Carolee looked disdainfully at them with their obvious tourist-ness: guide book in hand, plus bottled water, and a pack of sweet bread peeking through the mesh tops of their bags. Why even bother travelling if they were going to be so uncomfortable, wondered Carolee. If she were to travel, she would do it in style. She would wear her favorite dress, with the sash that tied in a bow at the front. She would shine her best flat shoes, and maybe she would even wear a hat. She had seen a lady in a magazine that had looked so pretty in a hat, Carolee decided that she would wear a hat someday and be just as pretty. It didn’t matter that the lady in the magazine probably didn’t eat she was so skinny.

    At the thought of food, she perked up thinking of baking some Creole bread when she got home. She didn’t buy pack bread. Oh no, she made her own, and it was good! Lost in thoughts of kneading and baking, Carolee didn’t see who climbed on the bus, and she forgot that she was going to talk to the girl next to her.

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