His hands dug into the sack he carried, and out came a bible. For the rest of the journey, that man read softly, his lips moving as his index finger traced line by tiny line. Celestino had never learned to read, and his name was a long, hard effort that took over much of a standard piece of paper from left to right. He watched the man, wishing he could read too, but giving up on that, he curled back up with his bag defensively against the window, and once more fell asleep.
It was the smell of clean, sharp, green air that slowly awoke him. Outside of the window he saw trees high up in the sky, tall and imposing, enveloping the highway that the bus fairly flew on. As his bleary eyes cleared and he could see better, he saw his new home taking shape. Everywhere he looked was a thick forest covering most of the land. Once in a while, there would be a cluster of tiny houses, with colorful flowers planted everywhere in their yards. Almost as soon as he began truly enjoying the sight of the settlements, another cluster of gigantic trees and shrubs would take over. Mountains ringed even higher up.
He didn’t realize it, but the bus itself was inside a mountain, climbing every so often. He only caught a glimpse of a very steep cliff when the bus stopped to change gears, and for a brief moment, he felt as though his stomach fell and slid as far down as he was seeing. He quickly turned his head and began looking at the people inside the bus with him. Ahead was a woman holding a sleeping, drooling baby, and a little boy beside her stood on the chair, alternating between licking the fake leather and enjoying his fist. Many older people holding on to bags of items, sitting together, at times closely. Here and there, couples – young and old –arms draped around each other, or just sitting as close as possible during a long journey home or away.
There was a stop for people to step out and stretch their legs. All around the terminal were children holding big tubs of cut up fruit and tamales, dukunu, fresh bread – all manner of items to eat and enjoy on the final leg of the journey. Feeling the jingle and weight of a few rolled notes in his pockets, Celestino decided to buy a juice and tamales. Not caring about the mess of the meal, he dug in hungrily while walking slowly around the bus, being careful not to stray too far away in case the driver decided to leave early.
The tamales were saltier than he was used to, but they were delicious after a long drive. Even the orange juice tasted sweeter than he was used to. There were more delicious looking things on offer, and after seeing the sad eyes of a small girl trying to make sales, he decided to buy one of her wares. It was a still-warm yeasty bread filled with shredded stewed chicken, chopped cabbage in lime and salt, and a slice of tomato. Simple, yet filling and delicious, it was big enough to last through the rest of the bus ride. He wrapped his leftovers and once tucked safely in to his small bag, headed back to his seat.
With a full stomach, and the rocking and constant hum of the bus, he soon went into a deep sleep, holding his bag closely to his chest, afraid to lose the items within.
The shadows were growing longer when he finally awoke. All around him were houses, farmland, the sound of cows lowing, while horses munched contentedly at the grass they trod on. They were closer to the twin towns, and it was over the bridge that he would find a man waiting for a son. Far, far away in the distance, he saw dark mountains forming a circle around the valley where the homes nestled. He was home, somewhere new, but another place to call home. The smell of burning cane brush, and the intense heat of the north was gone. In its place was a crisp, almost chilly air filled with not-so-pleasant smells of the fresh cow and horse droppings. The bus flew down past homes, creating a blur, but it slowed down at a junction to drop off people heading to various villages at the outskirts of the town.
The now crying baby was hoisted on his mother’s hip while the little boy held on to her long skirt as she made her way down the steps and off the bus.
No-one else got on or off, so the driver took off once more, slowing as he rounded the hill where a wooden bridge waited. Below, brown river water ran left to right, and on its banks stood gigantic trees with its lower branches dipped into the water. Cars lined up, waiting for the vehicles from the other end to cross, then slowly making their way across. The bridge creaked and groaned mightily, and Celestino held his bag harder to him, an intense fear gripping him. Nothing happened, except that the bus crossed the bridge and drove slowly down a very busy street to its usual stop.
“Fifteen minute break till Benque!” hollered the conductor, as he waddled off the bus and hoisted his large gut and made his way to the public bathroom.
Celestino got up quickly, feeling the slight numbness that came from sitting for so many hours. He waited till everyone got off that needed to get off, and he slowly made his way down the aisle, and hesitated by the top of the bus steps. Breathing deeply, he slung his bag on his back, and got off the bus.
He suddenly had no idea who he was looking for.
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