I try to avoid using the local bus system here in Iquitos, Peru.
The last time I rode a bus here I was laid up for over a month. Two years ago the head of the transportation system decided to install speed bumps to reduce the speed of vehicles on the town’s main arteries. Last year I boarded a bus driven by a driver who obviously was impaired by alcohol or drugs.
I didn’t know that when I dropped down in a seat in the back.
Obviously, the bus was behind schedule. Usually, bus drivers compete for passengers—cutting in front of each other as the smaller motorcycles and motorcars try desperately to avoid being run off the road. This day, though, the driver, a lanky pock faced youth with a New York Yankees baseball cap on backwards, avoided taking on more passengers.
He flew down the street like he was on the last lap of the Indianapolis 500.
I guess he didn’t see the speed bump.
I flew out of my seat. My head cracked against the back of the seat to my right. Then darkness engulfed me. When I was able to open my eyes a teenage boy and a stout, middle-aged woman with varicose veins were peering down at me. Somehow either I’d staggered off the bus, or the driver had dumped me on a grassy spot on the side of the road.
I could see the rear of the bus as it sped away.
The two helped me to my feet. They stayed with me until I managed to hail down a motorcar. The teenager even volunteered to accompany me to make sure I got home okay. Thanking them both for their help, I crawled into the motorcar—excruciating pain shooting through my lower back with every move I made.
I told the driver I’d pay him double if he drove slowly.
It took me two weeks before I could walk again without pain. Almost five weeks before I completely recovered. Yesterday I got caught downtown during a frog-choking rainstorm. There wasn’t a motorcar in sight. Finally, a bus stopped in front of me. My shoes made squishing sounds as I boarded the bus. The only unoccupied seat was in the back.
So I stood up front.
Halfway to my house a man and his wife sitting behind the driver got off the bus. I plopped down by the window. Two blocks later the bus stopped at one of the half dozen outside markets in town. A hunchback gray-haired woman with a squawking chicken in each hand dropped down beside me. “Buenas tardes, she said in a pleasant voice.
The chicken in her left hand looked over at me, as if to say, “Will you please save me from this woman.”
“Buenas tardes, Senora,”I said, ignoring the chicken.
Other than the chicken pecking my leg—I guess he’d concluded that I wasn’t going to interfere on his behalf—it turned out to be an uneventful ride home.