Bus from Kigali to Musanze: A Haiku
Elbows in my ribs
Middle seat, bus pulls left
Are we now spooning?
It’s 18:45, and I’m the filling in a Rwandan man sandwich, wedged into the middle jump seat between two oversized, besuited men. And I can’t figure out what to do with my arms.
On the bus again (my old friend). I finished up business in Kigali, and caught one of the last buses out of Nyambugogo, never an easy feat at the end of day. The bus park was caught in a dust cloud as the morning rains had subsided into afternoon scorch, and I pressed through the crowds to try and get a ticket home. I ended up on a Fidelity bus, never my first choice of the half-dozen bus companies that run Toyota Coasters on the mountain route. But the office ticket line at my usual choice, Virunga Express, was a mosh pit crush of humanity and I didn’t feel like reliving Rage Against the Machine circa 1999 to get a $2 ticket home. With Fidelity, I seal my own fate and resolve myself for the journey ahead: a dozen “extra” stops on the way, as patrons click coins against the bus chassis and windows, and the driver eases the groaning vehicle to the side of the road for passengers to clamber out, usually over or through the human settled in the aisle seat. Virunga does a straight shot, with all passengers aware that the bus makes one stop: at the destination, not some dark wooded encampment in between. But, beggars who want to get home like, now, can’t be choosers.
I’m going to regret this, I thought to myself as I angled up to the Fidelity supervisor, a young man that I’ve met several times, who calls me “my dear sister” and flirts mildly whenever I ask him for a ticket. I get a ticket (thankfully) but end up in the Aisle Seat of Doom, a sort of Inquisition-era torture device constructed like a folding metal taco with a middle bar that invariably lines up with your backbone. I make do by stuffing my jacket between my back and the seat, depositing my backpack on the floor between my legs and my moto helmet on my lap. On both sides, v-spread knees box me in, enveloping me in makeshift seatbelt: the Crowded Bus Embrace. It’s like cuddling, and you’re perpetually stuck as the large spoon. Where do my arms go? On their knees? Dangling between their thighs? I settle awkwardly with my hands folded, supplicant, on top of the helmet. I contemplate the helmet as we lurch forward, the bus braking because of a slower truck ahead. What would people do if I actually put the helmet on and spent the next two hours channeling Daft Punk up the hill? It would actually be pretty safe, right?
We pull another sharp turn as the driver makes a getaway pass attempt to get around a Primus beer truck creeping up the mountain at 5km/hr. Suddenly I’m Santa on December 23rd and one neighbor is in my lap and the helmet has migrated toward the small woman crushed into the window seat. She hands it back.
The lights in Musanze town
Ahead of me, the road opens up and I can see the dark snake of pavement wind up the next pass. In the past months, light poles have been a) installed, b) hooked up to power, and c) turned on (East Africa for the Win!), and they form an evenly-spaced necklace of yellow diamond lights curving upwards. Tonight, the bus doesn’t bother me. The knees and elbows and strange body odors and the man yelling into his phone and the pineapples that are dangled in my face when we make a stop and the window opens to road hawkers. The next year, in its honeyed brightness, lies ahead, enticing and exciting, leading up and over and out. Freedom, in the shape of this helmet. A few months until home, a few more until a new version of this current life.