His parents didn’t encourage him with school, and even though he studied hard and always had the best grades, they weren’t impressed. His mother was old and grey, looking almost sixty when she really was just in her mid-thirties. She was always pregnant it seemed, and Alex realized later how lucky he was to have even finished primary school. After graduating and making good grades in the BNSE, he thought getting a scholarship would have helped him go to college, and his dreams would start coming true.
Instead, his father took him to the milpa the day after graduation, and for two years, it was back breaking work to try and stay fed and clothed. There was never any question that he would be allowed to go to college, and so his high school dreams were dashed. As soon as he turned sixteen, Alex decided to leave his parents and the village, and he headed to town. He knew he was destined to do better, and be better. He worked odd jobs, stocking stores for the East Indian businesspeople along the main street of San Ignacio. He hated how he had to constantly follow potential customers around asking if they needed help. He never liked it when he was shopping, and he hated that he had to do it now that the tables were turned. Sick of it all, he listened to a conductor friend. Convinced that at least he would get to see more of Belize, and meet more people, Alex decided to become a conductor.
At least he got paid better than the $100 a week that the shops paid. What he didn’t realize was how hot and bothersome and annoying people could be. Just like the shopkeepers, the bus owners wanted to make more and more money, so he kept having to ask people to move more to the back so more passengers could get on. People on buses were annoying, loud, and obnoxious, getting under his skin every day. Once in a while, he would meet someone who was actually nice and would smile at him and say please and thank you, but more often than not, it was pure abuse. It pained him to realize that some of the very people who he had admired so often when he was younger proved to be the worst. Under the unforgiving light of the dusty windows of the bus, through black clouds of smoke and in the rancid atmosphere of a typical bus ride, some of those same men and women didn’t seem to be dressed smartly at all. Their clothes were frayed in places, worn thin in others, and their shoes scuffed, their hair in disarray, and often they seemed tired and discontent.
What Alex had not realized was that most of the shiny, healthy, happy suits had private vehicles. The true people he had been admiring were, more often than not, there because of Mommy and Daddy. Everyone else was just a hard worker who got by any way possible. Like him.
This knowledge depressed him, but he decided not to let it get to him. He signed up for evening classes at the local high school, believing that it was the first step in not giving up. This run was his final one, for his diploma awards were happening next week. He was officially a high school graduate, and he had applied for a scholarship to attend sixth form. The dream had held on, and despite being nearly thirty, he wanted better. He knew there was better. So today, he didn’t care how many people he had to stuff into the bus like sardines in a can. He was going to be free.
The bus screeched to a halt, and this particular vehicle emitted tons of black smoke that choked everyone from the back through to the driver. The young man who had been waiting alongside the deserted roadside climbed on and could barely make it to the first couple seats before encountering a wall of human flesh. Alex watched him, saw his youth, envisioned that he was going out to party and enjoy himself. He felt a twinge of jealousy, but caught himself, for he too would soon enjoy the fruits of his hard labor.
“So many people, so crowded in here…too many people…bad idea…” Omar looked around, and through his drug fueled haze, saw accusing stares. He felt the knife in his pocket, turned the blade over and over again through his pocket. He felt hot, prickly hot. “bad idea…bad idea…”
He could do this, all he needed was to grab a passenger, hold the knife to their throat, and demand money…people would give money right? He didn’t have to kill anyone…he should have brought a gun. Why didn’t he bring a gun? “stupid, stupid…”
Who to grab? Where? He looked around him, trying to keep still, and he saw a girl. She looked sad. If she died, she would be sad no more. Some men standing behind him. Bigger than him. No, not good. He should have had another line…or just a little bit more weed. Then his befuddled mind cleared. He had no more, that’s why he needed money…
Ahead stood one more person to pick up, and then definitely no more unless some people got off in the various villages. Alex looked at the driver for confirmation, and saw him nod slightly. The bus slowed, and creaking and groaning, drew to a stop where a stocky man awaited his ride.
What happened next would be confused, and in time, become a story of mythical proportions…
Omar pulled out his knife, and wielding it rather clumsily, attempted to grab Alex. Karina screamed when she saw the weapon, and either anger or adrenaline caused her to jump up out of her seat to try and stop Omar. Alex struggled with the knife wielding psycho, and in what can only be classified as typical survival instinct, those in the back flung open the exit doors filing out, running for their lives.
The backpackers stood in shock for what seemed like agonizing minutes, before unhooking their bags and trying to come to the aid of the conductor and the front seat passengers who joined in fighting off Omar. Blood and fists flew, and in the end, Omar lay in a pathetic heap from where fists and kicks had subdued him. Alex the conductor sat at his usual post in shock, blood streaming from his face where Omar had cut him before Karina had pushed him off. The driver was on the phone calling for the nearest police station. The two backpackers went scrambling for their bags and their first aid kits.
The passenger who had been about to get on the bus stood by the door, mouth agape, taking in the scene. Alfredo and his fellow coworkers surveyed the damage. Alfredo saw Karina standing in shock, wringing her wrists. All she had done was try to push the crazy young man off of the conductor, everyone else had just jumped in to hold him down, punching and hitting for good measure. Whatever she had been running away from, she no longer cared about. She had to go back to her mother.
The hand on her shoulder startled her, and she flinched. Looking up, she saw the face of the man she had been caught staring at. He smiled kindly at her, and the way his eyes crinkled around the edges made her mind reel. She somehow knew the face, she recognized the smile. “Karina?” His question confirmed what she knew. Her half brother, alive and well, in Belize.
Damn craziness happening on the bus, making her late. She hoped that they had gotten the man. She hated that she had missed out on seeing what happened. But what a story to tell. Crazy man with gun on bus. Well, a knife, but gun sounded more dangerous. It would make her ripping her dress as she scrambled through the back of the bus worth it…
Anna Rosita Valencia
There was a story for the kids at home! These things never happened to her, but now there was some excitement. She hoped that Alex would be okay. She liked him, he seemed nice – every time she was on his route, he would smile at her, tipping his head when she would walk onto the bus. She would miss him when she was done with school…or maybe she’d get a job in the city or San Ignacio, maybe they would see each other again…
Wade and Todd (furious whispering)
“I told you we should travel like normal people, FLY!”
“This is just the type of stuff you can’t make up mate…when you’re old and grey, you’ll be telling this story to the kids…come on. It’s exciting…”
“Exciting??!! Had that been a gun, how exciting would that be? Knowing our luck, we’ll have to stay on this side of the road for a long time!”
“Good thing we’ve got all we need on our backs…”
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