‘Meep… Meeep……. Meeerreeeerrepppppp”… Went the crackling horn as our bus passed another vehicle.
‘Meep… Meeep……. Meeerreeeerrepppppp”… Again as we passed an entire family on a motorcycle.
‘Meep… Meeep……. Meeerreeeerrepppppp”… A dog on the side of the road.
‘Meep… Meeep……. Meeerreeeerrepppppp”… A young lady on a bicycle.
‘Meep… Meeep……. Meeerreeeerrepppppp”… Methodically, his hand hammered the centre of the steering wheel.
‘Meep… Meeep……. Meeerreeeerrepppppp”… wait did he just honk at nothing?
Sighing, I slumped in my seat resting my head against the window.
I was somewhere between Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi Ann.
Gazing out the window I saw a landscape from which the sun had just departed. While it had already slipped behind the hills traces of it still remained; a purple haze in the sky, and a fading golden glow on the rice fields that it had fed all day. And too, the air was still warm, and would remain so for some hours to come. Darkness would soon arrive. I usually welcomed darkness and the rest that comes with it. However, I knew tonight sitting on a bus being driven by the most horn happy driver this side of Saigon, sleep would be unattainable.
I had boarded the almost full bus a good two hours earlier, taking one of the last seats. Second from the front – window seat. I was pleased with my position. And somewhat more pleased when one of the last passengers to board the bus, and take the empty seat next to me, was an attractive local girl.
Soon we embarked on our 11-hour trip. The girl next to me struck up a conversation, firing questions at me in broken English. It was about this time that the honking of the horns started, however I was too engaged in conversation to be too bothered. She was very friendly and interested in practising her English with me.
However her enthusiasm was short lived, the further the bus pressed on the quieter she became. Then I noticed that it was not only the words that were coming out of her mouth that were lessoning, but also the colour in her face. She was much paler than she had when she hopped on the bus hours earlier. As I was studying her face her eyes caught mine. Then she produced a universal look that I immediately understood. I had seen it, and indeed expressed it, many times before. My hand hurriedly shot towards the window. I reefed it open just in time. In a rush, she lent over me, stuck her head out the window and let it all out.
Pulling her head back in she appeared embarrassed and apologetic. She looked as if she were going to cry.
“Are you okay?” I asked. She nodded solemnly in reply, wiping a chunk of vomit from her chin.
The smell of the vomit that had landed on the side of the bus was wafting through the window.
“Do you mind if I close this”? I asked.
She nodded again, then curled into a little ball and shrunk into her seat. She rested her head against my shoulder and was soon asleep or at least pretending to be.
I watched landscapes pass by as the driver hammered the horn. I watched as the purple sky turned to a blue black. And as the night darkened and sleep called me the driver continued to honk. And hoNK and hONk and HONK.
“Meep Meeeeep”. As we overtook another vehicle.
“Meep Meep Meeeeeeep”, went the horn of the truck coming straight towards us.
“Meep Meep” went our driver again.
And then another “Meep Meep” from the truck.
My body tensed and my pulse quickened as we approached the oncoming vehicle at a terrifying speed. Just in time our bus pulled in front of the other bus we were overtaking. We’d narrowly escaped death for about the third time that night.
The further the bus took us forward the more my desire to sleep increased. The girl was still sleeping next to me. The noise did not seem to bother her. I guess it is something that you get used to. I scrunched up my sweater into a ball and placed it against the window. Resting my head I closed my heavy eyes.
For sometime the driver didn’t honk as the road was relatively isolated. I was beginning to feel myself drifting away; my thoughts were shaping into dreams. Then just as I was almost there:
“Meep Meep Meeeep”. The crackling horn sounded again.
My eyes opened suddenly, and then narrowed as I looked at the back of the drivers head. I was giving him my fiercest death stare. My face shrivelled up, a look that comes on cartoon characters faces the moment before steam shoots out of their ears. Then I caught his reflection in the rear vision mirror. I stared at his eyes, narrowing mine even more, hoping that he’d see me.
The bus pressed forward and the horn continued to echo through the air. However, eventually it seemed like the sound was becoming more muffled, or maybe I was just really tired, as soon I found myself drifting away. After a while the interior lights of the bus switched on, waking me. We had pulled into a gas station. My heart twanged with dread. Based on past travel experiences, pit stops at this time usually meant bus repairs, which could mean hours waiting while semi-skilled technicians and random helpers banged and hammered away underneath the bus. Tonight though, I wasn’t too bothered because at least it meant a break from the horn and the chance for sleep.
I watched as the driver and co-driver began examining the bus. Soon, I drifted off. After a while I was woken by passengers climbing back on the bus. A foreigner was the last to get on, taking one last long drag on his smoke before being waved on to the bus by the driver.
The engine turned over and we ventured out on the road again. As we did, I wondered with mild curiosity what the problem with the bus had been.
My question was soon answered.
Not even 50 meters down the road the driver hammered on the horn. The loudest and clearest “meep” I had heard all night filled the air.
They’d stopped to fix the godforsaken horn.
I lay my head against the window, defeated once more.
It had been a long night already, but it had just gotten a hell of a lot longer.