They warned me. They let me know me that catching the number three bus was a risky undertaking with potentially dangerous consequences. Suﬀocated on the way in and pickpocketed on the way out. But I laughed and insisted, like a temperamental idiot, on giving it a go. I bought my ticket at the ticket booth and waited for the bus. I could probably have reached any country in the Arab world in less time than it took the auspicious bus to turn up. And no sooner had that ungainly and unattractive thing lumbered into view than a human flood went streaming toward it, shouldering and kicking each other, some taking shortcuts by jumping acrobatically in through the windows. I don’t even know how I got on. All I knew was that my body was wedged in tightly between scores of other bodies moving toward the bus: I certainly wasn’t walking. So how did I get on? I really don’t know.
In front of me was a woman with a child on her back of about four years old, indiﬀerent to what was going on around him, munching on a greasy doughnut and slurping from time to time on the snot running out of his nose. To my left was someone with body odor so nauseating it could knock a person out. And behind me was someone pressing up against me in a weird way. I could feel his breath burning my ear. The decrepit bus moved like a time-ravaged tortoise, the driver pulling over to let scores more humans on at every stop. I don’t know how the bus had room for that colossal number of passengers.
The man’s breaths were still too close to my ear. I tried to pull away from him a little, but it was so jam-packed in there—such claustrophobia, such a stink of sweat and farts. The man was blatantly rubbing himself up against me, and if I stayed silent any longer it would be taken to mean I was enjoying the game. You bastards—even on the bus?
“Hey, brother . . . Oi, you! Can you give me some space? It’s rude, what you’re doing, shame on you. You really can’t think of a better place to do that than here?”
“I’m not doing anything, it’s just crowded in here…and anyway, someone’s squashing me from behind, too, and I’m keeping quiet. I’m putting up with it.”
“If you’re enjoying this game that’s your business, but I’m not.”
“If you don’t like it, get oﬀ the bus and take a taxi.”
Growls and snarls and expletives rumbled around the bus. The driver thundered,“Silence! Or I’m rerouting the bus to the nearest police station!”
For God’s sake! I desperately wanted to get out of there. What devil gave me the idea of taking this damn bus? The tortoise stopped for the tenth time. No, it wasn’t a tortoise anymore: it had become a mythical beast now, devouring this immense quantity of people.
I heard a raised voice. Crammed in this tight between the passengers, there was no way I could see who was at the front or the back of the bus.
“Brothers, sisters, I’m a ruined man: I have ten kids…and nothing to feed them…”
Another voice yelled, “Ruined and poor, you bastard, and you father ten kids? You should be strung up, not bailed out!”
“The rich fill their time with their sports clubs and foreign travel, while these lowlife scum fill the void between their wives’ thighs and play checkers.”
“I know him, he lives in Derb Ghallef. He’s not married! He’s always showing up with some new story to get people feeling sorry for him.”
The smell of sweat and farts, that kid in front of me savoring his snot feast with such an appetite that I felt sick to my stomach, the increasingly scary panting of the beast behind me, and before I knew what I was doing, I shouted, “I want to get out!” And finally I did it. I don’t know where exactly, but whatever. I filled my lungs with air. Polluted air, sure, but a hundred times better than the air inside that bus.
I flagged down a taxi. I thanked God when I arrived home. When I went to pay the fare, I discovered my wallet was gone. It had disappeared from my bag.
Blood Feast: The Complete Short Stories of Malika Moustadraf will be published on February 8, 2022!
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