By Diana, age 18, Romania
A word so simple and yet so challenging. The moment I first stepped foot on that enormous, yellow machine that seemed to tower over me, I thought I had conquered the world. I was ecstatic, and promptly claimed the window seat, gluing myself to its glass and staring wide-eyed at the scenery rushing by. I remember my mother pushing me back onto the seat I had unconsciously risen from to get a better view, and I remember that I was back up and looking out the window in mere seconds. The next thing I knew, we had reached our destination, and I was being dragged (quite easily, might I add) down from the bus and all the way home, while continuously squealing that I wanted to go for another ride.
But that was years ago. As time dragged by, kindergarten became no more than a memory, my first meeting with the bus almost forgotten in favor of the new adventures which surpassed it. Because a bus is precisely that. An adventure, sprinkled with risks, ranging from a pounding headache to brain trauma, murderous intentions, and even physical injuries. A long time ago, a bus was a luxury. Now, it is common. Common, ordinary, bland. People regard it with something akin to pity. "You travel by bus??" they crow, as if only the very poor should ever be seen climbing the stairs of a bus. As if not owning a car or choosing not to drive it is the worst decision you could possibly make for yourself.
In a way, I suppose it is. Because nowadays, a bus's main clients are people either too young to own a car (students dragging their humongous backpacks and complaining loudly about how teachers, parents, and life in general suck) or too old to drive (cue grandmas and grandpas pushing their way by use of shoulders, knees, and overstuffed shopping bags all to get to the nearest empty seat). Taking a bus has turned from a pleasure to full-blown war for the unclaimed seats.
Should you return from school on a gloomy day when everything went wrong, from ruining your favorite shirt to getting a bad mark, there is little if any chance of getting to sit down for the many minutes until you reach the safe haven of your home. If you are lucky enough to even spot a seat which seems unoccupied, it is enough to blink, and in its place you will see a chubby old woman, mouth set in a frown, brows furrowed in disapproval at "young people these days, who can't even offer their seat to an old lady like myself," comfortably seated on the chair you long for, clutching a bag containing her shopping for the week, and bundled up in a fur coat twice her size, thus taking up far more space than needed for you to squeeze your way past her, get off the bus, and breathe some fresh air.
Oh yes, the air ... such a prized privilege for the people who have reached their destination. If there are three things a bus will forever lack, these are seats, space, and most importantly, air. And this is especially obvious during the summer, when ... let's just say flowers are not the only ones to give off perfume. Summer is a season of warmth, sunshine, and people wearing perfume which turns deadly in confined spaces, even more so when heat brings some contribution.
So, how to survive in a place which seems terrifying, even for an 8 year old? I've seen first graders complaining because the bus is not spacious enough for their backpacks, for the ridiculous number of books they have to carry. I've seen 5 year olds make their way cautiously so as to not be squashed by the people around them. The only protection they have are their parents and grandparents, sometimes more effective than a bulletproof vest. Because God forbid that something happen to their darlings, or you'll never hear the end of it.
Suppose you have a lot on you mind, you're rushing towards the closing doors, and you don't remember to triple-check for smurf-sized humans. The tiniest accidental push, a grunt or squeal from the infant, and you're in for the scolding of your life. Your first attacker is (if you're lucky) the mother, who starts screaming about you not paying attention to her baby - at which point she turns her gaze and entire focus on the child in question (who is now happily sucking on his thumb), completely disregarding you and thus giving you a way out from the "crime scene."
However, if the gods really hate you, they make you face the almighty grandmother and her up-till-then-unknown allies. She takes one short, good look at the child, makes sure he's ok, then her attention focuses on ... well, you, of course, the unlucky human being who happened to be at the wrong time in the worst possible place: a crammed bus swarming with old people just dying for a new subject to gossip about.
At the same time, a bus is a refuge ... or at least that's the way I see it. It is a way of transport, and thus a way to leave, to travel, to get away. All you need apart from the bus itself is some music, and there you have it. Perfect haven. You don't need to pay all that much attention to the chatter around you; you can just be a quiet observer. You can just look around and notice a young kid's wonder at the world around him, you can offer him a smile, and get a toothy grin with big doe-like eyes staring into yours. You can see a young couple and feel your heart swell at the love reflected in their eyes when they catch each other's gaze. At that moment, even though you know it is just a fleeting one, and that it will soon be replaced by a frown or hurtful word, you seem to be staring love right in the eye. It might not be grand, and it might just be something you see as the bus passes by. But witnessing these small, simple moments can mean more than just looking out the window, lost in thought and not paying any attention. These small moments are what life is all about; they are the reason why life is worthwhile. Not money, not fame, not having what those around you don't. It's about knowing how to make the best of every day, of every second of your life. It's about smiling without any particular reason, about not being afraid to be different or to expose your feelings. It's about looking at the sunrise and thinking, "today is going to be a good day," about getting on a bus without a set destination and just enjoying the ride without wondering where it will lead.
It can be good or it can be bad, the same way an unfamiliar road might take you to your destination or prove to be a dead end. The moment your journey is complete, all that matters is how you spent the time it took to get there.
So, the next time you get on the bus, don't find a place in a corner and ignore everyone because you think they're annoying. Open your eyes and look around with the curiosity and wonder of a child, see things in their simplicity and not what you think they might mean. It just might make the journey worthwhile.