Impermanence Alarm Bell in a Micro Bus

Yesterday, I took a “micro bus” in Kathmandu.

It’s a syndicated mode of public transport that is not quite luxurious, not quite pathetic. But they do pack you in like a can of sardines, some of them do, on some days.

The most surprising things also happen on micro buses. On two prior rides, I have been casually handed a stranger’s little baby on my lap while I was sitting in the front seat, the most comfortable of seats, which is next to the driver’s seat. The back is where they pack you in like a can of sardines, some of them do, on some days. For obvious reasons, I always try and make sure I get to the micro bus stand early so I can get one of the two front seats, being packed like a can of sardines not being my particularly favorite thing in the world.

But to get back to the point. I am talking about yesterday’s micro bus ride not the two prior rides where I was handed over to hold for half an hour babies of two complete strangers, trying my best to distract them by banging on the dashboard and pointing to scenes passing by.

Scene.

Day time. A mirco bus stand on the eastern outskirts of Kathmandu. There is a row of about eight white micro buses. Four to five men holding bundles of rupees laugh and joke loudly and lewdly. People enter the first micro bus one by one. People avoid puddles formed by the heavy monsoon rain on the paths to the micro bus stand.

A woman enters. She is wearing a colorful sari, bright peacock greens and reds compete. She has a large “tika” (vermilion powder mark) on her forehead, a sign of worship. She has faux diamond studded red plastic bracelets. She has a beautiful, crooked smile, smack in the middle of a few sun hardened wrinkles. Not quite old. Not quite young. Not quite middle aged.

As she puts one foot on the ledge of the micro bus, on a long shaft at the side entrance where a sliding door glides open and shut at every stop, every few minutes, with the right hand that she will in a few seconds place on a handle on the outer edge of the sliding door on the inner roof of the micro bus, she stops her hand briefly, taps the metal ever so lightly a few times and brings it to her vermilion powder decorated head.

In that gesture lasting all but a few seconds, I heard an alarm bell.

“You never know”, it chirped, like one of those cuckoo birds sticking its self out of those cuckoo clocks.

“You never know.”
“You never know.”

The cuckoo alarm clock cried, reminding me of impermanence. We take our lives for granted, but we just never know, do we?

It seems the woman in the red and green sari seems to know only too well the truth of impermanence.

That, and micro buses in Nepal generally do have a high rate of accidents, the fervent rush they are in and the need to pack people in like a can of sardines – for a fistful of rupees. A little faster, a little more, mirroring our world of speed and numbers.

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