Rain and Vomit
I’m in the car park on the verge of vomiting. It’s raining, but Doug is pointing his phone at my face, filming me and instructing me to “pull the trigger”. I shove two fingers in my mouth, diddle my tonsils and some of the beer comes back out. It’s only midnight, but we’ve been on the beers since about four. The tuk tuk ride back to my house, on the south side of Colombo, is a blur of nausea. At some point, we stop for tea and samosas (and curry?) but I’ve got the hiccups and it’s hard to eat.
The next day at the beach, a local man approaches us. He speaks very little English but recites our food order from the night before and vaguely points back towards Colombo city. He gives us a knowing smile, as if to say I know what you’re up to, then walks away.
We decide to head down the coast. Doug is beginning a six-week surf trip; I’m getting out of the city for the weekend. We wait in the rain and eventually manage to flag down the number 2: a huge, rattling red bus with breezy open windows and no free seats. The bus doesn’t exactly come to a stop but the driver abruptly brakes, slowing down just enough for us to run along side and jump on. There are two doors, front and back, that never close. People jump on and off hurriedly and with fear that the bus will speed off at any moment. I notice that Doug and I are the only white faces aboard. We careen down Galle road.
Th bus is making erratic stops, allowing people get on but few are getting off. Soon the vehicle is seething with humans, crammed into one another. Every person is pressed up against another person, except the driver who is separated in a little cock-pit of his own. He drives like a renegade—laughing in the face of death—yet he controls the giant mass of metal expertly, hammering it between other buses, cars, tuk tuks, motorbikes, push-bikes, pedestrians, stray dogs, roadside food vendors and the crows that line the highway. The vehicles hurtle down the road in chaotic harmony, pushing stoically down the coast while on the other side an equally determined line pushes north.
Existing inside the bus is a workout. Those of us who are standing in the aisle space cling to the steel beams that hang from the ceiling and run the length of the bus. Because of the constant accelerating and halting, it requires quite a lot of energy just to stand in a position without falling across the other passengers. Naturally, it’s humid and I’m beginning to sweat. Doug laughs that his crotch keeps rubbing against the shoulder of an old man seated in front of him. He has no power or space to prevent it. The beam I’m holding is becoming slippery with sweat from my hands. My guts are beginning to churn and I feel uneasy. But old men and women are managing and I resolve that I must be able to manage too.
Doug and I chat about the glory of travel, about the challenge of situations like these and the pricelessness of it. We agree that it’s a battle against the part of your brain that complains of discomfort and the best solution is to laugh it off and breathe deep, to meditate on the unfamiliarity and exoticism of it all. Accept things as they are; go on without complaint or fuss. The philosophical platitudes that people employ when they are having a shitty time and attempting to justify the benefit of it. Look how intrepid we are.
I’m working my way towards the back door. It’s a real struggle to pass each person. There isn’t space. I feel like I’m climbing on top of people, stepping on feet and squeezing between gaps that cause discomfort. Surprisingly, nobody seems too bothered by me, or at least not angry. The Sri Lankan people, at least those on this bus, seem to be pretty good at accepting the lack of space, physical discomfort and the other bodies breathing, sweating and pushing up against them. Maybe they possess a superior sense of tolerance, respect and civility toward each other. Maybe they are simply accustomed to having this many humans crammed into such a space. Either way, at this stage my fragile brain is too preoccupied with the idea of vomit to care.
I get to the open back door and stand on the stoop. I take deep breaths and try to compose myself. It’s still raining. My hair is dripping wet and the wind presses it against the side of my face. It covers my eyes but I blindly cling to the beam. The road is moving fast and I envision myself slipping down the step, out the door onto the road below. I see my right foot attempt to grip the road, slip away and crumple, along with the rest of my body, into a bloody heap on the edge of the highway. Just spew on the stoop if you have to–my inner pep-talk.
I stare down at the wet road, it’s only a few feet away, moving so fast and muddling my vision. My eyes lose the ability to focus so I close them. I chunder out the bananas and crackers I ate for breakfast. No need to pull the trigger this time. The vom is off-white and chunky, like baby food. It goes all down my left leg, on my boardshorts and foot then settles in the puddle on the bottom step of the bus. I move to kick some of the chunder out the door and scare myself. The bus feels fuller and there is pressure on my back pushing me out toward the road. A motorbike rips up the inside lane past the bus. I vomit again and again, each time feeling as if I’ll fall out the bus and onto the road below.
After a time my stomach feels empty. I push my way further inside the bus, away from the anxiety of the door. People move out of the way and offer me a seat. I feel that I don’t really deserve it but take it anyway. I sit down, close my eyes and try to meditate. I employ some tantric breathing techniques a friend taught me. The goal is to envision a ball of energy in your body and move it up through your chakras. You start at your gooch and work up from there. As soon as my ball of energy gets to my gut I want to vomit. I think I’m doing it wrong. I decide to just breathe instead.
Even though my eyes are closed and taking long, deep breaths, the man sitting next to me decides to engage me in a conversation.
“What is your good name?” he asks politely.
“Nat.” I manage to say unenthusiastically between deep breaths.
I inhale deeply through my nose and say “Australia” with gritted teeth through the exhale.
“Aahhh, Ostraah-lee-aah!” he says excitedly, then pauses to ponder it. Then comes his next logical question:
“Do you have Facebook?”
I close my eyes and pretend he’s not there and that social media doesn’t permeate every social interaction I seem to have these days. But he’s got his smartphone out and he wants to know my details. I think about cultural globalisation–how Facebook seems to have the ability to make the world smaller and less exotic–but I’m sure that if I try to analyse the concept I’ll vomit again. I wonder why he wants the Facebook details of a man with spew down his leg? I guess if we only interact through social media he won’t have to smell my breath. I ignore him and breathe deep until I lose consciousness.