A Short Story
She was in Thailand on a two-week volunteer project. First time in Asia, but not the first time traveling abroad. She had spent last weekend in Cambodia with some of the girls in the project, exploring the cuisine, culture and the vast amount of temples. It had been the experience of a life time, and the girls were now suggesting an extension. To combined their resources and make their way to Malaysia. Sarah, one of the girls, had a brother living there. A place to stay, and a cheap plane ride and they’d be off to their next adventure. Off to see another Asian country she wasn’t sure she’d see otherwise.
But it meant calling her job back home, and informing her parents who were anxiously waiting her return. She’d always been one to listen to her parents. Even as an adult, going on twenty-six, she felt as though this was just a step out of her parents graces. But the girls found a flight for less than $100, and Delta had already responded to her request to move her returning flight. And so when one of the girls asked a final time, she beamed at her and shrieked, “Yes”!
She called her boss, leaving a message on his voicemail, and sending an email for clarity while on the bus headed toward the airport. She called her mom, doing her best to explain that she was safe, and she would be back home in seven days. She could hear the hesitation in her mother’s voice as she worked through what they had planned. Unsure of the aftermath when she returned, she told her mother she loved her and ended the call.
Not a moment after she ended the call, she heard what she thought was an explosion coming from the end of the bus. She turned quickly, finding the bus intact, no smoke or fire breathing through its walls. But the bus was swerving, the driver unable to re-gain control. The sheiks that filled the bus knew no language, just fear. It was as if they were on a rollercoaster that they did not give consent to ride. When they finally came to a stop, Abby, who was sitting next to her was practically sharing her seat. She stood quickly, trying to assess what had happened. Had they struck another vehicle, had a vehicle struck them? Was there an explosion behind the bus? The bus driver stood up, and spoke in a language neither of them understood. The girls all looked at each other, unable to speak. Though she was already standing, she couldn’t see a thing, and Abby was blocking her way. “Does anyone know what’s going on?” she asked the other passengers on the bus. They all looked at her, eyes glazed but lacking the fear she felt. She pushed passed Abby and briskly walked down the aisle. She was at the bottom step when she heard the sound of metal pushing at metal. She glanced out, both direction, unable to see any vehicles that might have struck the bus. She was about to get back into the bus when she saw him. The little bus driver laying on the ground, fixing the flat tire that had been the explosion.
Air escaped her lips and her shoulders relaxed as she walked over to him. “Can I help?” she said. He looked up at her from his position on the ground, a quizzical look in his eye. She gestured toward the tire, and repeated her question slower this time. His eyes shifted from her hands to the tire, and back to her hands. Then he stood, and muttered something in Thai. She had tried her best to grasp some of the language while she was here, and in the weeks prior to her journey, but none of it stuck. He pointed towards the Allen wrench, repeating what he had said and she immediately understood. Yes, he wanted her to help. She bent down and started working at the nuts while the driver jacked the tire up into the air. They worked seamlessly together. Pulling off the wheel, and replacing it with the spare that was strapped to the back. No more words spoken, they relied on gesturing and body language. When they finished, he spoke again, and she could tell by his tone he was pleased. She extended her hand to him, the American sign for “high five”, but he grabbed her hand instead, raising it above their head. Smiles spread across both of their faces, the universal sign of triumph. They got back on the bus, and the driver started the engine, ignoring the few that asked him questions in his native language.
As she planted herself next to Abby, she was no longer worried about her mother’s reaction to her decision to stay. No longer looking to explain why she had spent another week exploring Asia, because she learned more in those few silent moments with that bus driver, then she ever would have anywhere else.