I am perched on the metal bar that has been revealed from worn away vinyl long gone. I’m not really sitting. I’m on the balls of my feet, ready to spring up and jump off this bus if I feel any wheels leave the ground. How many buses have I sat on while the driver has had to finally back down to someone bigger and reverse over a drop that seems a kilometre deep to let the winner pass? Why would I keep getting on these damn buses, I ask myself. This is it. This is the last one. I’m done with this. My heart can’t take it. My partner points out that we also have to get back down off the mountain, and since there aren’t many car hire companies in small Himalayan villages, we’ll have to entrust our lives again into the hands of a bus driver whose vehicle has brakes that are cooled only by a pipe of water leading from a tank on the roof. I always watch the bubbles in the tube behind the driver get bigger and bigger until I know there is no more water in there and hope for a water station to appear around the next sickening bend. I often wish I’d grown up in a more fatalistic culture so I wouldn’t be so fine tuned to imagining what could happen.
No more bubbles. Thank god, a stop. A small chai stand saves my nerves because holding a hot cuppa is the closest I’m going to get to a shot of vodka up here. The scent of the tea masala helps me forget that I have to get back on the bus in a minute, but only until the driver starts shouting and everyone starts running to secure their coveted seats on cold, uncovered bars. OK, I can do this.“When we get there, let’s stay an extra day or two”, I suggest, “We could tramp to the next village”.
I really don’t want to get on another bus for a while. Mountains have always been calming to me and sitting in thin, crisp air, wrapped in down and wool, helps me remember why I have this never ending goal to get up high.“Samosa?”, he asks me holding out a couple of triangles splotched in chutney.
Hmm, maybe some food would settle my stomach. In the very least, I can certainly lose myself in a sharp mouthful of chillies. A nice distraction. I think of the young woman I saw him buy these from and wonder about her. What time did she get up to make this dough? What did she roll it out on? Is she sick of eating samosas herself? Did she grow these potatoes?
The edge of the village. Is this it, I wonder hopefully without trying to get too excited. I ask the woman next to me who has only recently stopped vomiting in red plastic bags and tossing them out the window.“Yes, yes, here!”, she smiles. She’s obviously as relieved as I am .
By the time we climb up to get our bags off the roof, the driver is already filling the water tank for the trip back down and inside the bus, a young boy is punching fresh red plastic bags into the backs of each seat. My blood pressure starts to go down as I enjoy standing in my boots.