He fell asleep against my arm. His little head bobbed against me when the bus hit bumps. His body weight swayed with the bus – sometimes pushing on me, sometimes away from me. I didn’t want to disturb him. I let him sleep. I wondered what kind of life he had. He was not dressed in a school uniform, like all of the other children on this bus. His clothes were a little crinkled. I thought he was about nine or 10 years old. Maybe older, if he was smaller for his age.
It was a chicken bus in western Belize heading to Belmopan, and then on to Belize City. It was a local bus that stopped many times, so the boy never slept against my arm for long. When he realized he’d dozed and was touching me, he straightened up and moved a few inches away from me. But the seats had old cushioning. I weighed more than he did. So once the bus got going again on the winding road and lulled him to sleep, he’d end up back against my left arm. I watched this country, foreign to me, pass by on my right.
The bus was stuffed with people. I was grateful for a seat. There was a notice of “maximum occupancy” straight ahead of me on the passenger side that declared 84 people was the safe limit. But there were more – many more. The aisle was filled with standing people, and many seats had three people squished together – two adults and a child or baby on someone’s lap.
I was the only blonde-haired lady on the bus. No one squeezed next to me, and the boy had sat down once a woman got off at a stop just outside San Ignacio. The boy seemed so glad to sit. He had scored a seat. So many other young people were still standing in the aisle, where he had originally been. He seemed tired.
I had wanted my spouse to grab the seat, but he was a few rows up front and it didn’t work like that. There’s no saving seats on this kind of bus.
The bus stopped and an officer got on. He stood briefly on the steps, said something to the conductor, and left. The conductor told everyone in the middle aisle to exit the bus.
The driver continued a down the road, slowly. The bus passed the officer looking in the trunk of a parked car, with the car’s driver standing next to him.
The bus drove a little more, then stopped again. Everyone who had gotten off the bus, got back on. People laughed. And away we drove. Back down the winding road. The boy next to me succumbing to sleep, his head resting and softly bouncing against my left arm. He’d wake up, straighten up, and the cycle continued for several miles.
Then, just outside Belmopan, the bus stopped and the boy stood. There was a baby in the lap of a woman in the seat directly in front of me. The boy grabbed the baby, about one year old, and carried the baby with his arms around the baby’s chest off the bus. The woman, age unknown, who weighed about 200 pounds, followed the boy and the baby off the bus. Another woman in the seat next to the heavy woman and the baby also exited the bus. The other woman younger, maybe in her early 20s.
The bus was stopped another few minutes. I could not see where the boy, the baby, the heavy woman and the young woman had gone.
Then the bus lurched forward and slowly set off, resuming the journey to Belmopan. The bus passed the group, standing on the side of the road, with several bags at their feet. It must have been their luggage. The bus must’ve stopped so they could get their bags from the back or the top.
The boy looked at me as the bus drove by. I smiled and waved. He just looked. He looked tired.
I don’t know why. But sometimes since that bus ride, I still think of that boy and wonder what kind of life he had. That boy on the bus.