Xela. Xela. Pasa adelante. I quickly shuffle up the stairs to see a family making their way to the final row of seats. A mother. A father. Their baby. The bus is full. 2 to a seat. The bus takes off and I feel the sudden jolt of the bus as I shakily make my way back. Desculpe, Los Siento I mutter as me and my backpack haphazardly make our way to the back row of seats. I’m grabbing the seat for support but this is nearly impossible as I have my book, Bel Canto, in hand. I begin the first chain of packed rows. 3 to a bench. I look up to see backpack straps sway gently like vines swaying from tree to tree in a forest. The bus rings out with the sound of Latin pop music.
Outside fog covers the fields and the roads. The landscape thick in a white blanket of fog. This does not stop the bus driver from passing semi-tucks and pick-up trucks filled with locals sitting in the truck beds. Nothing is stopping him from his Xela destination, not even the weight of a bus filled to ‘capacity’. Now 3 to a bench. 6 to a row.
I look over to see a small child in a yellow jacket occupying the third seat on the bench next to mine. His eyes begin to roll to the back of his head and before he knows it he’s out. He makes the back of the woman next to him his pillow. She clutches the seat in front of her with both hands, trying not to squish his delicate head nuzzled into her body. His mother in the seat ahead apologizing but the woman doesn’t mind the boy. I can tell she is kind. But this position is not working for her. She gently moves the child out of this position and readjusts the two of them. The child quickly springs up, his eyes dazed, rolling around like a googly-eyed doll. He is furrowing his brow. He looks at me as to say ‘what is happening and who the fuck are you’. I can’t help but to smirk at this cute expression. He now falls back asleep on the chest of the woman next to him. Her arm cradles his shoulders to prevent him from slipping off the seat. One leg lays lazily into the aisle. This doesn’t last for long as more people fill the bus. We are now 7, 8 to a row if we include the people standing in the aisle.
I look forward to see a sea of wobbling heads. Hands gripping the seats in front of them. I do the same. Uncertain as to the purpose of this action. Are we clutching the seats for stability? To make more space? In an attempt to all fit together more comfortably like a game of tetras? I see a mother fighting her way to the back of the bus. She has two children in hand. One she tries to help navigate through the sea of people. The other a sleeping child, 2 maybe 3 years old, that she carries on her waist. His tiny shoe falls off as they nudge past the shoulders of the other passengers. I ask her if she would like to sit down. She thanks me and hands me the sleeping child. In this very moment another woman is directed to sit next to me to make room for yet again another standing passenger in the aisle. My hands are unable to grab this child and navigate the shifting of seats. I quickly hand over Bel Canto and my small pouch to the mother. I have her baby. She has my credit card. If we include the two sleeping children, the two people standing in the aisle, and the seated passengers we are now at 10 in a row.
The minute the child enters my arms I appreciate the strength of this mother. The literal and symbolic strength. This child is heavy. The small child sits upright in my arms with his feet sprawled onto the passenger next to me. He is freshly bathed. His hair is wet and smells like Johnsons’ baby shampoo. I look over to the woman who holds the other little boy in the yellow jacket. He places his hand over her stomach, a sign of trust. We smile at each other both holding children that are not our own. The bus jerks and we all lift off the seats a bit. As we shuffle back into our places I can now we see face of this sleeping child. Unfazed by the bustling around him. He opens his eyes for a moment, looks at me, and falls deeper into my arms. The bus jerks again. He places his little hand over mine. Time passes. My arms fall asleep. The children continue to rest. As we approach Xela the bus slowly becomes less full. The mother and I reach our stop at the same time. She smiles at me with her eyes, or as Tyra would say she smizes at me. I move towards the back and jump off the bus through the alternative entrance. She uses the stairs in the front. We part ways.
It is in this moment that I realize that this was the closest thing I felt to presence in a while. Or at least since I arrived here in Guatemala. I was appreciative of the place I was in, even when it caused discomfort. I felt gratitude. Towards the mother who trusted me with her baby. Towards the women who displayed love for the sleepy boy in yellow. Towards everyone who worked together to arrive at our destination. Towards an experience that forced me to literally sit in the present moment.
Over the last four and a half months my mind has constantly been moving at the speed of that camioneta. My brain has felt like the inside of that bus, full well past capacity. I appreciated the first part of that journey for getting me closer to my destination but I still had another transfer. The next bus I transfer to that night took me home at a more reasonable pace. I hope that I can continue my next 8 months with the presence of that first ride and the pace of the second.
photo credit: Capt. Thor Janson Revue Magazine