By Beth U
Red bulbs pulse a path down the carpeted aisle. A glittering crucifix dangles from the rear-view mirror. Decal silhouettes of busty women recline on either side of Jesus; their breasts lead the way through Guatemala to the sea. This overnight bus is a game show, or a bordello. We are off, gaining speed: our only view refracted asterisks of red light that streak across the night-black glass.
Suddenly, the driver vaults to his feet, jams his upper body out the window and swats the side-view mirror flat. The bus lurches and, with one hand, he passes a logging truck with half an inch to spare. For a moment, the logger gives chase, both drivers gesticulating and leaning on their horns as the dark whips by and the wind whips in. I mutter under my breath, go go go as the driver guns it through the unseen night. We win! We veer wildly as the driver resumes the middle of the road. His cackle shoots joy into my heart.
The headlights catch a sign that says “se vende pollo,” beneath which slouches a table of bloody, unplucked chickens. I turn my head as we pass and road-dirt settles on their feeble corpses. A boy waves from a fruit tree. The driver switches on the radio; corridos impart their nostalgia and his foot lightens on the gas pedal. Eventually his crooning lulls me to half-sleep.
It’s dawn. The woman across the aisle is agitated. She fidgets between two small children both slumped in sleep. She stands up and reaches over my head to retrieve gum from her bag. She rearranges her children, glares at me, and spits on the floor. Our driver yanks a tasseled horn to warn goats, bicyclists, and the infirm of his rapid and erratic approach. We pull a parachute of dust through each small town, and grab running passengers into our bellowing mass without stopping. We absorb a group of men who wear rubber boots and carry machetes wrapped in cardboard and pink twine. The humid air sharpens with sweat and over-ripe mangos.
As the bus fills, I politely cram against the window. I think I allow enough room for the just-boarding family. I am mistaken. A man eyes the empty space with contempt. He seizes the bar in front me and lowers himself until he hovers a few inches above the seat. He swings his pelvis toward me and then out again into the aisle to gain momentum. Without pausing and with a grin, he takes aim. The impact of his hip on mine jolts me into the corner; my elbow bends through the open window.
Chuckling with satisfaction, he settles his weight against me, and gestures his traveling companions—four young girls—to join him. Each girl wears a white dress overburdened with lace, doubling her girth. The first clamors over his lap and, without hesitation, claims mine. The other three battle for space on top of him and at our feet. We look as though banked in a snowdrift. My lap-mate waves a slice of watermelon in the direction of my face and starts a friendly chat. Juice smears from her arm to my knee where she absent-mindedly rubs it with a finger.
Another logging truck, this time barreling directly at us! We are thrown left as the bus careens onto the shoulder and brakes, hard. The watermelon rind hits the floor with a delayed clunk and I know I am in trouble. So does the girl’s father. He claps a thick hand over her trembling cheeks and pushes her face to the window. Not quick enough. Vomit splatters across the glass and down my neck, and pools on the window ledge. Without a word the woman across the aisle hands over a clump of toilet paper. The father methodically mops the window, his daughter, and, just as thoroughly, me. He gives me one final swab, tips the sodden paper out the window, and tucks the moaning child under the seat. Another sister takes her place.
The driver pulls back into the highway. We all lean back in our seats and sigh as sea shows itself from the top of the next crest.