The bus system in Bogotá, Colombia is a popular and cheap mode of transportation for residents. They are also a nightmare to ride during rush hour.
He was standing so close to me I could feel his hot breath on my shoulder when he sighed. He wore black rosary beads around his neck and a crucified Jesus dangled near his chest. I slowly counted the beads to avoid accidentally catching the young man’s piercing green eyes. He was handsome, but seemed no stranger to trouble. Maybe not the kind of trouble that would land him in jail, but he definitely kicked over trashcans for fun and occasionally lit things on fire. I didn’t know his name, but I knew he got his eyebrows done, but missed shaving a patch of hair near his cheek.
It’s not that I had a pining interest in the guy, but when you’re shoved up so close to someone, you can’t help but notice the finer details. This man also served as a distraction. As he was facing my front, something hard and long was pressed up against my butt. I hoped it was an umbrella, but I didn’t want to turn around and investigate, fearing the worst. I didn’t know if “buy a girl dinner first,” would get lost in translation, so there was no use in blurting it out to the owner of whatever was urgently pressing against my rear.
This experience of being so physically close to another person that you noticed the stray blackhead on his chin while having someone else’s elbow in your gut is just a normal morning riding the public bus in Bogotá. You don’t need to have a one-night-stand to know intimacy with a stranger. All you have to do is board one of the many stretched, red buses.
My hour-long commute to work begins standing in a mob of people waiting on a platform for the same bus. Riders file into three lines because there are three doors, but once the bus pulls up to the platform, order and overall humanity goes out the window. The three groups swell forward at the sight of the oncoming bus. People from the back rush alongside the line and try to board before the people who had been waiting there the longest. If this was American football, the play would be called the “sideline sneak-a-roo” and the ball would be snapped as soon as the bus doors fly open because that’s the moment when all hell breaks loose. There is so much shoving and pushing, one would think the people boarding were starving and the bus was about to take us all to a grand feast.
While playing goalkeeper on my high school’s soccer team, I once got a yellow card for bending my knees, bracing my shoulder and colliding with an oncoming player. It was a dirty move that was better suited for rugby and I deserved the card. I do this exact maneuver every day during the rush to get on the bus. I don’t get a penalty, it’s just what gets me inside.
Once I am actually inside, I fantasize about wrapping a baby doll in a blanket and bringing it on the bus. This would allow me to sit down, on account of each bus having certain seats designated for the elderly, the disabled and people holding children. Impersonating an old person would just take too much time and I don’t have the kind of money to be investing in fake old people skin. I’m not a horrible enough person to pretend to be disabled, but I am willing to toe the line of decency from the comfort of a seat with a fake child in my arms.
The only reason I haven’t put my plan into action is because I’m scared of my ruse being uncovered. All it would take is one slip of the blanket and the jig would be up. The baby doll’s plastic eyes staring up at my fellow bus riders who would be bewildered at first, then outraged.
Riding the bus in Bogotá isn’t all a negative experience. Sometimes people will board outside of peak hours and perform a little show for the riders. I have seen rappers, guitarists and singers give impromptu concerts on the bus. One time a man drug a harp on the C19 and played a beautiful song. I didn’t give him my spare change because I was impressed with his talent as much as I was impressed with anyone’s willingness to drag a full-sized harp on public transportation.
Riding the bus here in Bogotá requires the patience of a kindergarten teacher and the physical prowess of a linebacker. Whenever I feel myself getting frustrated, I remind myself how privileged I was to always have a car growing up in the United States, then I turn up my audiobook, and cross my fingers that I will be smashed up against someone handsome or someone who smells good, but preferably both.