Oh fuck it. I can do this from my phone.
Imagine a bus. Not the docile Blue Buses in Ann Arbor. Not a Greyhound. Not the bus to Bondi. No sir.
Imagine a bus without air-conditioning zooming across the tropical central Sri Lanka, manufactured probably in the 1980s, somehow surviving almost four decades of abuse by driving maniacs.
Close your eyes. Imagine a bus so packed of people cruising almost impossibly at 70-80-90km/h. Imagine a Lanka-Ashok-Leyland bus. It looks like an old Tata bus that reigned terror in the streets of Kuala Lumpur in the 1980s.
I am standing dangerously by the door. Trees, houses, dogs, lamppost and gods rush by and blur outside.
Inside the hot long metal tube vehicle, I am leaning painfully against the metal side of a seat. My hands are holding on to the above railing, and to my dear life. Immediately in front is an old woman with her oversized bag, conveniently pressed against my groin.
Beside her and next to me are two Sinhalese men. Their sweaty shoulders meet mine.
Behind me is Julien the German and behind him is his girlfriend Annie. We met at a lonely bus stop in Udawalewa, where we waited almost an hour for a bus to Wellawaya, before having to change bus to Ella. Three lonely backpackers just could not ignore each other for long. I for one was relieved somebody else needed to get on the same bus to the same destination. I needed a confidence boost and traveling companions help.
“What’s your name? I’m Hafiz.”
“Youngen?” I mishear.
“No! Youlien,” he almost smiles.
“No! That’s French! In English it’s Julian. In German, it’s Julien.” He clarifies.
Yea, I am not doing this right.
“And I’m Annie,” she laughs after the whole effort at communicating in English. ” A Sinhalese told me in the local language, Annie means to stab.”
That was an hour ago before we boarded the bus, now traveling what seems to be at warp speed.
They say when you travel at such a speed, you would have you body mass stretched. I beg to differ. Those rationalist physicists know nothing. I the empiricist am being crushed in the bus.
If all these scientists want to learn the ultimate secret to space travel, they only need to come to Sri Lanka. After all, Rome was only a child when the Sinhalese built Sigiriya and Anuradhapura. Sri Lankans know something!
Yes, and the warp speed experience would cost you only 100 rupees. That is less than USD1.
I am unlucky enough to stand directly underneath a large speaker playing out upbeat Sri Lanka songs. I feel like I am in a night club somewhere. Zouk Singapore perhaps. Or Zouk Lanka-Ashok-Leyland. My head spins. Where is my paracetamol?
I have been on buses with questionable musical taste in Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia and even in Malaysia, but this one proves the King Effect exists. This, Lanka-Ashok-Leyland from Udawalewa to Wellawaya, is way up there. Way, way up.
And I swear Sri Lankans pronounce these places differently.
The tempo is outrageously fast, adding to the sensation that I am traveling on board the USS Enterprise, with Hikaru Sulu speeding at the steering wheel. Slow down Sulu, you are going to break the diesel-powered warp core!
I am stating to adjust my thoughts to the beats. I can get use to this.
Dum chapati dum chapati dum hilang lee ay. At least I think that is how the song goes.
I can feel the roti I had this morning being churned upside down in my stomach. This is not good.
They say a Ferrari can accelerate from zero to 80km/h in less than five seconds but that is nothing yo. I bet the Italian engineers cannot do what a Lanka-Ashok-Leyland can: an instantaneous stop.
As the damn bus cruises along Sri Lankan narrow road that can barely fit two buses side-by-side, overtaking left, center and right, the driver hits the brakes frantically.
I am compressed from all sides. The seat handle pokes into my side. The woman’s bag gives my balls a good kick. Julien, unable to control for his inertia, slams into my back.
Air runs out of my stomach bypassing my lungs and out of my throat, joining the rubber-filled atmosphere, contributing to carbon concentration in the air, killing the planet possibly by the end of this cursed century.
Cows are crossing the road. Moo-fucking-moo.
Luckily nobody and no cow is hurt, never mind my stomach.
As I gather myself, a mother seated nearby holds on to her crying baby tighter. The infant was only thrown off her lap when the driver braked. To calm the little one down, she pulls up her shirt, exposing her left nipple to feed the baby.
“Don’t look,” I tell myself.
“I’m alright. I’m progressive enough that I don’t mind a woman breastfeeding her baby in public,” I argue with myself.
“Look away you creep,” that little voice in my head persists.
The bus resumes at its previous pace. The music blares ever louder. The crazy driver’s life goes on.
Mine? I think it flew out of the window.
“Are you alright?” Annie asked.
Dum chapati dum chapati dum hilang lee ay.
I need to Shazam that.