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Road Less Travelled

A Local Encounter that Changed my Perspective - Passenger to Passenger.

COLOMBIA | Friday, 19 April 2013 | Views [1118] | Scholarship Entry

The bus lurching to life propelled me into my seat and swirled hot odours of sweat, smoke and goat into my face. I smiled at the man beside me, as my eyes traced deeply etched lines to every corner of his long, dark face. He barely glanced at me before returning his empty stare to the plastic bag resting in his lap, containing nothing but two fish and an orange.

From other seats, silent eyes stared at me with unabashed intrigue. We regarded each other, curious yet comfortable. Finally I looked away at the parched Colombian desert around me and allowed myself the faintest of smiles, feeling nervous excitement rise within me like an old friend.

After only a few kilometres, the bus stopped abruptly. A woman in a long robe stood waiting by the road, balancing a barely-clothed toddler on her hip. The rusty doors shuddered open, and she suddenly thrust her child into the arms of the first passenger before turning back to a bundle of sticks. I watched as, like a pre-rehearsed play, the child was passed from passenger to passenger towards the back of the bus, each person instinctively playing their role with indifference and ease. My turn came and I found myself reaching out my arms and taking the child.
I turned…
No one sat behind me.

Wrestling with growing embarrassment I awkwardly handled the baby, feeling like a very Western kink in an otherwise seamless operation. Sitting back, I allowed her to sink back into my chest. I smelt her dusty, curly hair, and watched as her dirty feet contently kicked at the seat in front, her trusting eyes calmly observing the passengers on the bus, completely at ease in my lap.

A minute later her mother appeared at my side. Her face was plump and beautiful, no older than sixteen. Her deep, intelligent eyes made me shrink, assessing me with calm self-assurance as she sat heavily behind me. She effortlessly pulled her daughter from my lap onto hers, giving a subtle smile. Looking around again and expecting the familiar stares, I found only a contented silence. Just the odd thoughtless glance in my direction. My thoughts wandered briefly to the bus in my hometown – the stark awkwardness, the painful politeness with which the passengers regarded each other.

The man beside me had fallen asleep now, snoring gently as his hat bobbed over his nose. His body slowly slumped onto my shoulder, and I quietly settled into his weight. I closed my eyes and allowed myself a wide grin as a new feeling crept over me. Dare I call it, belonging.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013

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