Last week, I was traveling back to site on a rickety old school bus when an all too common occurrence occurred: the bus broke down. I did not immediately know it was happening, for I had been taking advantage of the 90-minute ride by getting in a 90-minute nap. But as the motor dwindled from an audible roar to not even a little peep, I started, looked around, and reluctantly removed my headphones–the better to talk to people with.
As I was awaking from my slumber, people had already begun to react to our new situation. A couple men that had been standing in the aisle got out of the bus. I waited to see if they would try to hitch a ride (my secret back-up plan if any other women were doing the same), but they just sat down on the side of the road, laid back, and put their hands behind their heads, as if this were not a terrible inconvenience but a welcomed break. Soon after, more men began trickling out of the bus, joining the originals on the side of the road. The guy that had been selling pastries on the bus also got off to take advantage of the crowd that was forming outside. The men lazily ate pastries on the side of the road as if they had nowhere else to be.
Meanwhile, on the bus, I asked the two women sitting in the seat in front of me, “What happened? Does the bus not work?” (The bus driver was still trying to start the engine.)
“Fijese que,” the older one began (you never want a sentence to start with “fijese que“), “it’s not working. They’re probably sending another bus.”
“What are you guys doing?” I asked. “Are you waiting for the bus or will you try to hitch a ride?”
“We’ll wait for the bus,” she said.
I wanted to stick with the women, but I also wanted to get home. My puppy was waiting for me. I saw some women finally start to trickle out as well, and they were waiting in a group on the road. I decided to join them to see what their plans were.
Almost as soon as I had left the bus, the engine roared back to life. Suddenly everyone was in motion. The women on the road turned towards the bus. The men stood up from lounging on the ground. And we all headed towards the bus, trying to get the seats that we had so carelessly left behind.
When I made it back onto the bus, the two women that I had been talking with before looked at me and said, “Quick! We saved you your seat!” I arrived at the seat, they removed their backpack, and I sat down, thankful for their generosity–we were still about an hour from my site.
We continued on, and though the overworked breaks made the bus reek of burnt rubber, and though each time we stopped to let out a passenger the engine squealed as if it were under serious duress, we made it back to my site. I got off the bus, happy to be back, happy to have made it, but also happy to have the memory of the trip: of passengers unfazed by uncertainty, choosing to relax outside rather than stress inside, and of the two women that befriended me and saved my seat, even though they didn’t have to.
The bus may have broken down, but as Frou Frou so aptly states, “there’s beauty in the breakdown.” And so there was.