The great and cruel thing about an indifferent universe is that my recent successes at the bus mean very little in the face of the Sunday afternoon crush. I'm not entitled to ongoing bus success, it turns out, which is how I ended up on the verge of tears and declaring "This sucks!" to a mystified audience.
Which is to say, I had my first true Ugly American moment and I'm really ashamed of it.
I can only blame myself, of course. I know better than to ride a bus anywhere on a Sunday afternoon, when the buses are guaranteed to be rolling sardine cans, but I was in the city and I needed to get home. Having (kind of) mastered the bus, I'm now especially loath to pay an autorickshaw driver to take me all the way to campus, so OK, there might be a little stubborn belligerence at play here, too.
Anyway, after waiting at the Kengeri bus terminal for what felt like a really long time, I leaped at the 228A when it came by, even though a veritable horde was leaping at it, too. And it was already jam-packed.
No worries! I insinuated myself up the steps, gently nudging a woman in a sequined green sari and a man who seemed to think he didn't have to move, though I wordlessly let him know that he did. Teetering almost on tip-toe at the top of the steps, squeezed on every side, I twitched and jerked with every bump of the bus, flailing for something to hold onto and repeatedly falling backward into the two large bags on the floor behind me.
This happened maybe half a dozen times, and I was starting to sweat. I'm not terribly claustrophobic, but that bus ride was slowly tightening an invisible fist around my neck. Things got a little irrational inside my head: Does my travel insurance have any crowded-bus caveats? What if there's a fire?
Uh, spontaneously, Rachel? And inside the bus?
It was then that I felt a sharp smack on the back of my thigh. I looked down and a scowling woman in a navy blue sari raised her hand to smack my leg again, because it was her bags that I kept lurching into. They were filled with flowers, so I guess I understand her distress, but hitting me?
She shoved at my hip to get me away from her two large bags, and I could almost hear this mean little thing inside me snap.
"There's no room, lady!" I declared, helpfully, in English. She scowled and shoved me again, and this was too much. On a bus that crowded she thought her two huge bags were entitled to precious floor space?
Wriggling a sharp, huffy 180 degrees, I grabbed the handles of the top bag, jerked it up and plopped it on her lap. She was angry. I was furious. Everybody around me was staring.
Then, like magic, a path appeared between the women crammed at the front of the bus, and a lady standing halfway up the aisle indicated I could stand in front of her.
Well. If it had been possible to stomp I would have, but I had to settle for sidling between alarmed bus riders in one of my most towering pouts. "This is The Worst," I declared, again in English, not sure what I was expecting with that proclamation.
Once I got to what felt like a square inch of floor space, I announced to the people around me, "Don't worry, I won't touch your stuff!" Again, not sure what I hoped to accomplish with that, so I grabbed the handrail above my head and stared petulantly into the middle distance outside the bus, refusing to let the ready tears fall.
And that's when shame descended. I loathe a scene, and I'd just created a doozy: this shockingly tall, obviously American woman having a spaz at someone who didn't want her flowers crushed and pouting over the crowded reality of Indian public transportation. Nobody who saw it would forget it anytime soon.
As we neared my stop, the conductor caught my eye and pointed to indicate it was where I should get off. I couldn't even offer an annoyed sigh - I know my stop, lady! - so I meekly nodded and tried to inconspicuously work my way toward the door. Thankfully, the woman with the flowers had gotten off several stops before.
I slouched down the steps and trudged along the road toward home.
Maybe I should buy a bike.