Bus of Memories
The overnight bus ride from Adelaide to Melbourne is smooth and enjoyable. By smooth and enjoyable, I imply that I’m being entrusted into good hands of a sober driver, I’m being well taken care of, I’m being pampered with great services, and, most importantly, I’m being transported to the right destination of life, not of death.
After being perpetually brainwashed by deathly bus services in Malaysia, I’m still nervous to hop on any similar-looking express bus, but I’m taking a chance tonight. Who knows it’ll be different in Australia? It’s my first time getting on an interstate Express Coach Service, and I’m already feeling wonderfully different. At 80 km/ hour, Firefly Express takes the word “Express” to a whole new level. This bus will drag me to a 10-hour night affair on the road, promising a pleasant journey, ensuring the level of service that is second to none. And if that’s not enough, the bus driver also acts like a sports coach who trains his tough players on how to use a toilet.
“I hope you all will enjoy your ride tonight. Please use the onboard toilet properly. Don’t forget to flush away your bad attitude,” he says on the loud speaker, sending a deep and welcoming message to all passengers, treating us like his naughty children, making me feel nagged and protected by a father. I actually feel so safe listening to his witty ramblings. A nagging father who drives a bus. Perfect.
Right now, I’m sitting alone on an oversized seat, watching I Am Number Four on the tilting TV set. But I prefer to look outside the bus window, gazing hard at the darkness and nothingness of the night. As the bus is carrying my tired body, it is also carrying the heavy bus of memories within me. Like listening to a subtle tune that brings unknown but familiar pleasure, like smelling some fresh aroma that brings mysterious but intimate sensation, these whole bus experiences now bring back all the melancholic, swept-under-the-carpet stories to life. When was it the first time I took a long bus journey like this? It must be years ago.
20 years ago to be exact. I remember feeling nervous when Ayoh and Ma was sending me away to a boarding school in Klang. I had my first long-distant bus journey that night from Pasir Mas, with Ayoh and Ma sitting close to me on that sad-looking bus, bringing along their prayers and blessings for me to carry into my new hostel life. The image of Ma carefully and patiently holding Ise, barely four years old, on her lap on that long rocking bus ride was still fresh in my mind. I was so young and looking forward to my new adventurous game in the west of Malaysia. How innocent!
Now, it’s all coming back to me, all the pain and joy that followed that night, from high school to university, the frequent trips from Kuala Lumpur to Kelantan, the rituals that accompanied each ride, the building anticipation like it was a holy pilgrimage to the holy land, the anxieties I had to consume at the Hentian Putra in Kuala Lumpur running helplessly and looking for the right bus, the strangers sitting next to me (I always hoped the mysterious passenger was a kind auntie who would look tenderly at me and tell me fascinating stories), the struggle with the deadly-freezing temperature, the sad-looking selection of foods at the Merapoh restaurant, the nervousness when I reached the Kota Bharu station in the wee hours of the morning, all happened within a long night of a great battle. Then, a whole new episode of rituals started rolling by again on my way back to Kuala Lumpur, the unfathomable looks on Ayoh’s and Ma’s faces, the alarming hand-kissing moments, the terrible surge of sorrow that was always there with me, the remaining leftover of thoughts, the resistance, the hangover suffocation…
Why should I remember all these naive memories again now? Maybe I should. Because, they are all slowly slipping my mind now, fading away like the swarm of strange commuters at the train station, evaporating like the mist in the morning, flying high and mixing up with all the other stain of life.
It’s still a long way to Melbourne. This bus journey will definitely take my whole night, but I don’t mind this slow ride. I’m listening to the soulful and jazz-ful music of my past life. I want to cherish all these memories, enjoy every last bit of meaningful moments, relish the blessed feelings while they still last, before the grim reality of statistics and bus nightmares in my homecountry starts kicking again in my conscience.