India – The Bus Ride

Rene, Shanti and I stood at the edge of the road with our bags at dark flagging down every bus that came our way.  The buses didn’t have neon signs on the front telling where they were going.  We hoped messages were conveyed to the driver of the bus that there would be three westerners in front of the chai shop going to Pondicherry.  A bus stopped for us we piled in.  I sat next to an Indian woman, in the one seat on the bus designated for a woman only. 

Within five minutes the TV monitor began to roar with a Bollywood movie.  The woman beside me was very excited.  She told me what a wonderful love story it was.  The bus began to weave back and forth on the switch back roads down the mountain, while the Indian woman translated Hindi into English for me.  My system started to feel overwhelmed.  I closed my eyes as my belly churned.  I took the buttered toast out of my borrowed ziplock bag and threw up in it, except I didn’t aim well.  My pants and sweater were covered, which made me throw up again.  There was a hole in the bag.  Shanti searched through her things and emptied another bag for me.  I used it and went through another.  Rene gave me some toilet paper to attempt to clean up.  For two straight hours as we descended I was vomiting and holding vomit and it was dripping on the floor.  

We came to a stop.  I lifted my shaky body out of the seat and gathered my bags.  Just as I got to the front the bus began to move again.  I asked the driver’s assistant if I could throw out the bags. He motioned for me to chuck them out the window.  This went against all my environmental concerns and concerns for anyone who might be walking below.  I chucked it. One bag came back in and landed on the floor.  I apologized thoroughly.  The assistant said, “No problem, no problem,” and motioned me to sit back down.  I went back to my seat and I apologized to the woman siting next to me.  She said, “no problem, no problem,” as she laughed at the movie.  

About fifteen minutes later we came to a real stop.  We all got off the bus, stepping over a pile of sand, covering a pile of vomit.  I went behind the restaurant that reeked of stale urine, rotten food and mystery odors.  I found a spigot near the floor in the bathroom.  I crouched down and washed my skirt like pants, till I was soaked. I walked back to the parking lot and tried to throw up anything that could possibly be left.  Nothing.

We got back in the bus and the road had flattened and straightened.  Another six hours and we arrived in the dark in Pondicherry. Shanti had called a taxi, which was waiting for us.  He drove us through the city streets and by the ocean.  The closer we got to our guesthouse the more people were sleeping on the streets, in rickshaws and on the beach.  From a distance the headlights accented their silhouettes.  As we got closer I could see bare skin and draped cloth contacting the concrete.  There were no pillows or mattresses and no order to the position in which the slumbered. The cab driver weaved around them with same indifference that he weaved around vehicles and stationary objects in the road.  The bodies remained motionless as we drove around them.  It felt like a graveyard and looked like a scene from a zombie movie.

Shanti stayed in the cab to go to her home in Auroville.  Rene and I got out and sat on a curb outside the unopened guesthouse.  It was 4:30am.  We talked about traveling, taking time to feel one’s alones, the longing for connection, feeling the terror around the illusion of separation, becoming acutely aware of addictions and patterns to fill the void and the ultimate acceptance of what is right here and now.  No matter how we might have wanted something to be different, or how much effort we put into planning our lives, life did its thing.  The only thing we had control over was how we perceived it in each moment.  

We talked on the curb way past sunrise, after the guesthouse opened, long since the vomit had dried on my pants, and while the bodies rose from the pavement and came back to life from the heat of the day.

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