A Bus in Jakarta

Dusk settles upon the old bus like the dust stirred from its wheels. Thick but light and unwavering, the sky feels dull and time seems slow. The inside of the bus is somewhat empty and I manage to lay down across three narrow grey seats, knees bent. It’s barely nine o’clock, but I need to catch sleep whenever I can manage it for the next few days. I use my backpack as a pillow and listen to the hum of the motor until I fall asleep. A skill I have gained from taking very uncomfortable night buses.

A harsh metallic banging shakes the carcass of the bus. It pulses from my feet, through my legs, to my heart and I bolt awake. My imagination doesn’t have time to invent a disaster before I see it. A man has settled his drum, made from two PVC pipes, at the base of my seat. His friend stands beside him, guitar in hand. The clashing continues and I squeeze my eyes shut, but the guitarist begins to sing and I no longer wish for my interrupted, now forgotten, dream.

I can’t understand him yet I know he sings about confessing an unrequited love. His voice was rich and paired with the high strung sound of cheap instruments, the obtrusive yellow lights of the bus, and the impenetrable night around us, I somehow feel that I’m experiencing the most romantic moment of my life. After two songs they collect their tips and leave just as they got on. The bus is soundless. I remind myself to breathe.

I am woken up a second time. My head is now by the aisle, so when I open my eyes I peer straight into the face of a rooster. A live, clucking, petrified chicken trapped within a woven basket. The outer edges of the basket are stitched up around the beast’s body so it is unable to do anything but move its head. Large dark hands cradle the rooster into a thin chest. I sit up to face the Indonesian man holding the rooster. He wants to sit. I have to blink a few times as I scoot over to get my bearings.

The bus is now full. It’s around one in the morning. The man doesn’t have one, but two chickens. His other luggage doesn’t exist. He wants to sit because the bus is full and I’m the person taking up the last 3 seats. As I pull my backpack into my lap he slides the chickens under us, right next to my legs. There is still another hour until Probolinggo so I want to sleep, but my mind is kept up waiting for the chickens to peck my ankles. Every time the bus speeds over a pothole the chickens squeal in surprise and startled myself, I can’t help but chuckle.

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