On the Bus

Tiempo de lectura: Cerca de 9 minutos.

The streets, roads and dusty lanes of Colombia have been fertile territory for myths and legends since before the arrival of the Spaniards. Tales of ‘La Patasola’, a one-legged wailing banshee that forever sought her child, and of ‘El Duende’, a backwards-footed goblin that led travelers to their doom, nibbled at the corners of journeymen’s ease for centuries. Although these stories mainly troubled those living in or passing through rural areas, the growth of cities brought with it a new breed of urban legend rooted in the primal distrust we still harbor, somewhere deep inside, of modern technology. An example of this is the phantom bus that allegedly roams the city’s streets at night. Supposedly, young women who board it alone are found mutilated in overgrown outlying fields a few days later, a frozen look of abject terror illustrating the moment of their last, tormented breath.

That being said, given that you’re certainly not a young woman (at least not last time you checked) and that it’s 5:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, phantom buses and handicapped gremlins are the last thing on your mind. You’ve been using Bogota’s public transportation system for over two decades, and your greatest concern is that traffic levels have become all but unmanageable since the latest mayor took office. However, home is about 80 blocks away, so your only choice is to wait until the right bus comes along. Walking would certainly take longer than putting up with any traffic jam.

When the bus displaying the route sign you’re hoping for shows up, its advertised fare is 200 pesos lower than the standard going rate these days. This usually indicates that the vehicle in question is older and a bit more uncomfortable than most, but no bus rider in the history of the city has ever given a damn about that. Folks that consider themselves richer and “above” this mode of transportation pay seven times as much to get around by cab, and statistically expose themselves to a higher chance of being mugged or robbed. More power to them, right?

Never one to avoid seeking further discounts, you ask the wizened driver if he’ll let you on for a thousand. The wrinkled, musty-looking man’s eyes never leave the road as he silently takes your bill and slides it in the purse hanging from the bony gear stick. Satisfied, you turn your attention to the cabin; what would make this ride ideal would be an empty seat.

Curiously enough (considering the time of day), there aren’t enough passengers aboard for anybody to be standing. A few available spots are in sight, so you choose one on the left, towards the middle. Both the aisle and window seat are free, and you sigh contentedly as you sprawl out on one with your knee nested on the other. This particular trip should be over in no time.

The driver’s radio is off and your phone’s battery ran out an hour ago, so you pass the time staring out the window and watching vendors ply their wares and car drivers nod along to whatever music they’re enjoying. Your position eventually starts taking a toll on your back, so you straighten up and take the chance to examine your fellow passengers. None of them seem to be riding together, given that everybody’s quietly facing the front of the bus. They are also all uncommonly old—not in the sense that they’re all over 100, but in the sense that nobody seems to be under 75. You find this a bit odd, and for a brief moment the idea that you don’t belong there flashes through your mind. It’s a silly thought, but combined with the bus’s particularly strong (although not necessarily atypical) smell of must and metal it makes you look forward to the end of the trip. Nevertheless, as there are another 30 or 40 blocks to go, you look out the window again, zone out, and let your mind go where it will for a while.

The sight of Pacho’s bakery pulls you out of your reverie twenty minutes later. You get up and make your way past your silent companions to the rear exit, where you hunt for the little silver button that will let the driver know you’ve reached your stop. As you spot it above the door, you realize that nobody’s boarded or left the vehicle since you got on, which is particularly weird for rush hour. Shrugging it off as a weird coincidence, you press down on the button and grab on to the

You are sitting on your seat, facing the front of the bus.

What… what the hell just happened? You look around and see that everybody’s still where they were a moment ago. Trying to make eye contact with them is fruitless, since they all seem to be lost wherever it is that old minds wander. The thought of saying something runs through your head, but you decide against it. What would you say, anyway? You were probably so zoned out that you simply imagined getting up to ring the driver’s bell.

That’s probably it; your daydreams are occasionally so vivid that leaving them is downright startling. Besides, you’re already two blocks past your stop. Call it a “weird thing that happened on your way home” or whatever, but for now you should just get off the bus. There’s no point in having to walk back too far. You (once again) get off your seat and head for the rear exit, somewhat unnerved by the other passengers’ stoic disinterest in everything around them.

There’s the button, right where you remember it. Except that you can’t remember it, of course, since you’ve never actually been back here; you probably saw it when you got on. After grabbing on to the guardrail (these bastards occasionally decide to stop on a dime when you ring), you look towards the driver, put your thumb on the button

You are sitting on your seat, facing the front of the bus.

A piercing chill runs down your spine, and instead of fading away, it spreads through every one of your extremities. It’s not a shift in body or ambient temperature, it’s the chill you feel when suddenly consumed by the level of fear that slightly precedes terror. Something really messed up is going on here. You don’t know what it is, but you want out, you don’t want to be here anymore. A feeling of bitter solitude is now gnawing at your mind; whatever these people around you are thinking, they clearly don’t give a damn about what’s going on with you.

Therefore, you once again decide to avoid saying anything and simply lift yourself off the seat, not processing the fact that you did it with less agility than should’ve been the case. All you want right now is to get off the bus. Besides, it’s already advanced more than ten blocks past your street, which suddenly feels like a distastefully long distance to walk. This is all secondary to the point at hand, however; you have to get off this damn thing.

As you make your way back, an old lady in the back row looks up at you. Her expression tells you nothing, but the way it fixes on you—on your torso, to be precise—as if you were just another chunk of the vehicle further spikes the almost overpowering sense of dread now coursing through your veins. Whatever, you can’t panic, not now. You stand at the back of the bus and, instead of going for the button, yell at the driver. You yell at him to stop, to let you off, that you’ve already rung twice, but nothing comes of it. You curse at him, tell him what he will die of and wish great evil upon his kin, but the door remains unmoved. The man is not listening. Or he doesn’t care. Or he doesn’t want you to get off. But you don’t give a damn what he wants or doesn’t want, so you grab on to the bars, take a step back for momentum, and send a solid kick right into the column of hinges that

You are sitting on your seat, facing the front of the bus.

It takes a moment to register. Maybe more than a moment, maybe it’s a full minute. And as you realize that the bus doesn’t want you to leave, you also realize that your right knee hurts with an unnatural, piercing sharpness. It’s the same leg you used against the door, and now it feels like it’s all but broken. This quickly becomes a distant concern when you attempt to massage it, though, because that’s when you notice your hands.

These are not the hands of a 25 year-old. They are wrinkly, set with well-defined veins and even lightly patched with liver spots. As you study your hands and arms, cold terror envelops every corner your psyche. You touch your face and feel wrinkles and whiskers that didn’t previously exist upon your cheekbones. Your head is patched with a few anemic strands of hair; as your fingertip grazes your coarse scalp, a spark of electricity shoots through it and down into the most private recesses of your being. Your eyes dry up, opened wide and unbelieving, and you feel a seven-ton lump of horror coalesce in your otherwise paralyzed throat.

You must leave this evil bus, you must leave it at once before it finishes what it’s begun. You carefully make your way off your seat—no need for any further injury—and head towards the front, towards the driver. Perhaps you can reason with him, or perhaps you can club him to death with a flashlight or something, since there are always a variety of trinkets and gadgets at the front of t

You are sitting on your seat, facing the front of the bus.

It takes a good five or ten minutes for you to come to terms with what is happening to you, to understand that your life is vanishing before your eyes. Your hands are now like those of your grandmother, your back hurts from its base all the way to your neck, and your eyes can barely focus on the huge signs posted above the windows. Even your mind isn’t as sharp as it should be; it takes you a while to determine that you should make another attempt at the exit.

Perhaps violence is not the answer, perhaps you can gently pull it open. Perhaps if you treat the bus like a living, gentle being instead of like a demonic machine it will let you out, perhaps…

The old woman is looking at you again. You notice her blue jacket, which is much too big for her; if it were a blouse of the same size, it would hang loosely off her gaunt frame. A tiny, hesitant tear forms on her frail face, and then follows a meandering path down her ancient features to land on her wrist with eerie finality. There’s a red Totto watch around that wrist, the sort that is currently all the rage with kids graduating from high school.

You examine the door. Two panes joined by a vertical line of hinges, coated on the right by a rubber pad to avoid contact damage. The door is slightly bent inwards, and as you notice this a glimmer of hope runs through you. If you can just insert

You are sitting on your seat, facing the front of the bus.


You are sitting on your seat, facing the front of the bus.

After a long time, you glance down at your hands. They are the gnarled, rheumatic, blood-splattered claws of a hag that’s seen more than one generation’s share of horrors.

A hag? A hag is not the right word. A hag is a woman, right? At least so it was in mother’s stories. Like those of La Patasola. Your knee still hurts, but not as much as your elbow. It feels like it is shattered. Ah, yes. This bus. You must get off it. You know you must get off it now. You do not remember why you must, but it is imperative that you do. It is urgent. It was urgent. You are so tired.

You try to lift yourself off the seat but your knee buckles under your weight; it is by chance that you fall back on the bench. You must get off the bus. You remember these buses. They used to take you to work. You steady yourself on the bench. You will try to get off the bus. But in a moment. You must rest. The bus can wait.

You are sitting on your seat, facing the front of the bus.

You are sitting on your seat, facing the front of the bus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment may take some time to appear.