Lucky Day

Our maniacal bus driver and his accomplice

My front row view (note my backpack wedged over the engine)

It all happened so quickly.

The bus driver was a madman, half Formula 1 and half demolition derby driver, except helming a multi-ton relic of a bus with a loud engine, an aggressive horn, and a steroid-enhanced foot working the pedals. When we’d first left Trincomalee he had drawn some Buddhist symbol on the windshield directly in his line of sight (looked like a trident–you can kind of see it in the picture above), and while I initially assumed this to mean he was a conscientious religious man, I soon learned otherwise: that with his maniacal driving he needed all the divine protection he could get.

I was in the front passenger seat of the bus, opposite the driver and directly behind the bus’ perpetually open door, enjoying the tropical Sri Lankan view both ahead and through the window.

On the busy, narrow potholed highway into the country’s interior, we found ourselves behind a somewhat slower fuel truck. A bright red one, with the words “LIQUID FLAMMABLE” clearly written in giant block letters on the back. Yeah.

This is not the kind of vehicle you want to tailgate at high speed, even if you do really, really want to pass him. Alas.

The fuel truck slammed on the brakes. I don’t know why. There was absolutely no way our giant bus could stop in time to avoid a collision, and here I was first in line to smash into the fuel tanker’s rear and ignite the inevitable ensuing fireball. Amazing how quickly your mind can calculate the physics of a situation like this and instantly return the result: you’re screwed.

Our bus driver instantly came to the same conclusion. And he both slammed on the brakes and jerked the wheel hard, directly into oncoming traffic.

The bus lurched so hard that all the wheels on the driver side came off the ground, and I remember seeing the guy in the seat across the aisle from me, who until that moment had been peacefully sleeping, flying out into the aisle. Apart from the danger of the situation, I recall thinking that this was one of the most hilarious things I’d ever seen. The look of pure shock and confusion on his face as he flew to my side and tried to catch himself was priceless.

We came so close to clipping the back of that fuel truck that I could have reached out and touched it without fully extending. It’s amazing that we didn’t roll over at this point given our speed and how harsh the turn. But to his credit, the driver yanked the wheel back the other way and the airborne wheels slammed back down hard, the bus veering from the opposite side ditch and coming to a stop directly in front of another truck screeching to a halt in the other direction.

After a couple seconds of tense silence, we continued. As our driver sidled up to the cabin of the fuel truck, he honked and glared for a few moments. The fuel truck driver glared back. And then everyone went on their way.

So that was the morning.

In the afternoon…I’m actually not entirely sure how this happened. Thanks to a series of serendipities and strange random events, I somehow found myself inside the main monastery seated privately in a small room with the head Buddhist monk for the entire sacred temple region, a spry 92-year old man garbed in monastic orange. Totally amazing.

I’m told this is very rare and that I was very lucky today. I agree.

Comments (2)

LigiaJune 11th, 2011 at 3:23 pm

so funny!! I love your writing:) you should be an author!! nice movement in the story, abrupt, but well placed details, and cool and efficient sentence structure, plus flow of thought!!

Steven WinnJune 12th, 2011 at 12:51 pm

I think “Openshaw” must mean “kissed by the Gods”? You’re not just so lucky, you’re so talented -such a riveting story, Gabriel. After all, it was just a near miss and a chance encounter with Buddhist Bishop. Yet there I was, caught by every word – and still glad that you’re there and I’m not.

May you always be so blessed on your travels.

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