The shocks on Campinas buses are probably made with plastic slinkies. This thought crosses my mind when, for the third or fourth time, I have to close the book I’m reading because I’m afraid I’ll throw up on it. I’ve been on the bus for only a few minutes and already I feel nauseated. The stops and starts, bumps and sharp turns, the speeding up only to slow down a scant ten meters down the road, have made it impossible for my eyes to stay on the page. In fact, the attempt to read my book today is the closest I’ve ever come to getting the spins while completely sober and after I come to that conclusion, I tuck my book away safely in my bag and stare out the window.
It’s hot today. My skin is sticking to the seat back through my shirt, and it’s a good thing I’m wearing black pants because I’m sure there would be sweat marks in all the wrong places once I stand up. For now, and for the next twenty minutes or so, I think about riding the bus and about how much I hate to do it in the afternoon. In the morning, it’s not so bad. People are quiet and I’m freshly showered and feeling relatively pulled together. But in the afternoon, especially in the heat, I feel like a soggy towel someone’s forgotten to take home after a day at the pond. Why I chose to take the bus this afternoon is beyond me.
The seats are upholstered in an industrial blue pleather that are decorated with what looks like blue, red, and yellow ClipArt pictures of city buildings. Lemon yellow handle bars line the bus, horizontally and vertically, so that it feels I’m sitting inside a moving jungle gym. The floor is shiny tin, hash marks embossed into the metal for traction. The colors remind me today for the first time of the television show Saved by the Bell: early 90′s family-style flash. If Saved by the Bell took place on a bus, this bus would be it.
A black string runs front to back on each side of the bus, well above my head. Taller folks can yank on this to signal to the driver to stop, but most of us opt to press the orange buttons that stick out from the yellow handle bars. Once I hit the button too soon and when the bus stopped, the driver turned to look at me as if to say, “Get out,” and I had to fumble through my Portuguese to explain that I’d been mistaken, that I didn’t want this stop but a later one. A simple “no, sorry” would have sufficed, but when I’m nervous the words fall out without thought to order or purpose. I remember he just shook his head and exhaled as an impatient American might when dealing with a foreigner, “Stupid foreigner.” However, I suspect his head shake might have been because I’m a woman. I hear a lot of that kind of stuff here, just keeping my ears open.
I know my way around now and hit the orange button when I’m supposed to. Today I step off the bus and onto Julio de Mesquita, landing where I have hundreds of times, on the corner across from the Shell gas station, the first place I had coffee and pao de queijo. I tread the same path back to my apartment building that I’ve tread for eighteen months, and when I arrive, Marco starts to chat. I am tired and hot and frankly not in the mood for chatting and when he asks me when I go back to the States, I almost answer him in English. He speaks quickly and I struggle to keep up with him and ask him “What?” more than I’d like to admit. I say a quick but friendly farewell and head into the elevator to take me upstairs and it’s there it occurs to me I have no desire to speak Portuguese today. I think about being ready to say a friendly farewell not just to Marco but to this whole experience. I wonder if I’ll be ready to go, what I’ll be like when it really is time to go.