Saturday, October 15, 2005
On the Bus
You can’t have nightmares if you don’t sleep.
And no sleep was happening on the Cape-Town-bound Intercape Mainliner on the 12th of October.
It was a double-decker luxury (meaning the attendant brings you coffee every few hours) bus that pulled a luggage trailer. We left the Windhoek depot—the massive parking lot behind the tourist information shed—at six in the evening and wouldn’t arrive in Cape Town until 1:30 the next day. I’d left Swakopmund on the 1:15 p.m. bus, meaning I’d be on buses for 24 hours.
I’d left Swakopmund as anonymously as I’d arrived. No one waved good-bye, and no one helped me carry my bags to the bus stop. I’d run into the next-door neighbor, the Internet café owner, the horseback-riding guy, and the laser-hair-removal woman in the morning. They’d said hello but I couldn’t call them friends, except for the neighbor, who seemed to want to be a special friend (the kind that shares).
An attractive, fashionably dressed young Namibian woman had sat down next to me at Windhoek. She’d boarded with a stylish young man sporting tiny dreadlocks, but there had not been two seats left together. She immediately announced that she’d brought nothing to read. She was definitely not interested in my book about antelope in Angola.
For the first hour, the young woman ("Tia") asked me questions about my travels. I told her how the campgrounds in East African game parks are not fenced in, as they are in Namibia’s Etosha. How I had been on buses through Zambia, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. How I’d been chased by a hippo in Uganda.
She laughed a lot and finally said that it all sounded like lies. 20-year-old Tia knew about haircutting and fashion magazines but thought that all of Africa was like the places she’d been—Namibia and South Africa.
I was wondering if she’d ever leave me alone to stare out the window when she giggled and whispered in my ear.
“Marie, did you see the man I got on the bus with?”
“I dumped him last night.” She laughed conspiratorially. I stared at her, refusing to laugh along with this apparently hilarious news.
“But we’d already booked this trip to Cape Town. We weren’t going to cancel. Can you imagine?”
I couldn’t imagine going on vacation with a man I’d dumped the night before, but I waited for her to finish.
“Do you know what he did to me, Marie?” Her eyes flashed with anger. “He never told me I was beautiful. He never told me I looked sexy or that I was hot. Can you imagine?” She was righteously indignant. “I’d go out and buy new clothes and dress really well to meet him and he never even noticed.”
Poor man, I thought silently while I tried not to roll my eyes at her.
She paused. I took a breath and said:
“I have some bad news for you. That will happen a lot in the future.”
She found my “joke” hilarious and proceeded to tell me more about his supposed crimes, which included telling a female friend that she looked nice, while Tia was present.
Pluto Nash came on the video screen and rescued me from Ms. Superficiality. After the movie ended, I pretended to sleep.
Sleeping on buses is tough but usually I am good at it. Not tonight. I just sat there with my eyes closed. Every few hours, an announcement was made that the next rest stop was 15 minutes long. Finally, in the morning, I quit pretending to sleep and dug into my antelope book, refusing to meet Tia’s eyes in hopes that she would be discouraged.
On arrival in Cape Town, I got a taxi to Ashanti Lodge. Shawn met me there ten minutes later. He was working at a lodge a few hours away in Swellendam and would return there the next night.
Shawn had a piece of traveler’s gold—his own car. We drove over Table Mountain to Hout Bay, then returned along the coast via Bantry Bay, Sea Point, Green Point, and the City Bowl. Last time I’d been in Cape Town, everyone had constantly reminded me that the city was beautiful. This time, I was watching the coast and winding roads. These were beautiful, not the buildings incongruously plopped at the base of Table Mountain.
We ate pasta by the water and enjoyed coffee in the lodge. I chewed his ear off about my recent dramas. He was sympathetic in spite of our semi-history. He’s 41 years old, and you don’t get to 41 without recognizing damaged goods when you see them.
“Let me ask you something,” said Shawn. “After all that you went through, would you go back?”
I hesitated because I was embarrassed by my answer. It’s the wrong answer and I would have preferred to lie and not admit to my human weakness. But a lie could lead to potential misunderstanding and further drama.
“Yes, of course.” I am sometimes too accepting of fault in others while being too hard on myself.
I’d failed his litmus test for damaged goods. The pressure was off. We had a great time anyway.
I’d booked a dorm bed because Cape Town accommodation is so expensive. Sleeping in dorms is not for me, and in the morning, Shawn and I drove around to view single rooms in backpacker’s lodges.
We found a place up the hill from Kloof Street. Cape Town Backpackers was too new to be in the guidebooks, and was in the process of opening their adjacent guesthouse. Today. The curtains were still being delivered but would I like the single en suite with balcony in the guesthouse at a special price, same as a single in the backpackers?
Shawn went to a lawyer’s office to sign documents for selling his condo in Hout Bay, while I prowled around the waterfront mall. We met up and went into the Apple Store where I was like a missionary in my zeal to convert him. We had falafel and hung out on my guesthouse balcony while the curtains went up.
I was deliriously happy. I had been numb for a month, and now I was just hanging around, acting normal and enjoying myself.
Shawn left for Swellendam in the afternoon, and I got back to work. But the work ended by half past eight. Sleeping in dorms doesn’t cause nightmares any more than sleeping in buses does, because there’s not a lot of sleep that actually happens in dorms. I’d woken up constantly the night before.
I slept long and comfortably in the converted old mansion.
There were no nightmares.