We groaned our way along the highway, rocking and swaying with every dip in the road. The air-conditioning had completely given out; I was grateful to be sitting by one of the few curtains, blocking out the mid-day sun. I shifted around the cheap shawl I had covering my bare arms and realized I was sweating so badly the blue dye was wearing off on my sticky arms.
I devolved into lamaze breathing. Well, no, not really—but I did employ the breathing technique I learned in yoga class to release heat: exhaling with a “hah,” like you’re fogging up a mirror (or a steaming bus window). Burning it up in a power lunge or cramped to hell on a sweat-bomb bus, it really does help. It also took my focus of my increasing nausea, not at all abetted by the chorus of gagging and spitting surrounding me. Despite having passed all those littered landscapes, I felt immensely grateful for plastic bags.
Others around me weren’t so lucky. The poor boy left crouching in the stairwell—some kind soul had supplied him with some newspaper to sit on—had been puking more or less constantly the whole ride, now approaching 3 hours. He’d been provided with an arsenal of plastic bags, a supply he apparently exhausted. That’s right—I saw his desperate face, checks full and eyes searching, then heard the sound of splattering on the stairs. A chorus of shouts erupted; the tout appeared with a fist full of newspaper and women waved robed arms in an effort to fan away the smell. It didn’t help much—in the heat, the vomit pile festered, wafting odiferously through the bus carriage in rank waves.
Any minute now, I told myself, we’ll get to Agadir. It wasn’t my destination, only a little more than half-way along, but a big transfer point. Hopefully the stop would be long enough for someone to hose down the floor.
We careened past a cliffside, a gorgeous view that I could almost enjoy through the misery. We passed construction cranes and cinderblocks outside Agadir, a package holiday town more akin to Miami than Morocco. Traversing a tangle of traffic, we pulled into the bus station. Doors sighed open and people pushed towards the front stairs to disembark.
Most of the passengers weren’t staying on for the rest of the ride, so I took advantage of the time before the next batch of grim faces boarded and got myself a primo seat: closer to the front, on the unsunny side, under the blowingest vent I could find. I smiled to myself, privately pleased that I had endured the trip without vomitting. You’re tougher than you think, I congratulated myself. I felt validated, rewarded by the best seat on the bus.
We sat for awhile. This didn’t surprise me; most non-first-class buses don’t maintain timetables, just wait until the bus is full—or overly full—before departing. A new round of unsmiling people trickled on, along with the usual tissue, jewelery and snack sellers that enter through the front doors, shout the names of their goods as though you couldn’t see what they were, then exit through the back doors. Additionally, a sullen woman with a dirty scowl distributed those Xeroxed scraps of paper, telling her story of hardship, to each passenger; as per usual, she made her way back down the aisle, recollecting the papers and giving an even dirtier look to anyone who didn’t give her a couple coins. Though the paper was hand-written in jagged Arabic and I could have feigned ignorance, her bullying expression inspired me to give her some change.
No one, I noted, was coming to clean up the back stairs. I sighed, taking solace in my good seat and that fact that the worst heat of the day had passed.
The tout poked his head through the open door and pointed accusingly at me. “Tiznit?” he bellowed. I felt all eyes on me. “Tiznit,” I echoed with a nod, confirming my final destination. He gave one hard nod and disappeared.
He came back a couple minutes later, placed his hand surprisingly softly on my shoulder and launched into a choppy French explaination I couldn’t begin to understand as he ushered me off the bus. “Tiznit?” I asked feebly, pointing at my well-earned seat, fading as I stepped down the bus stairs. “Oui, oui, Tiznit,” he replied as he dug my dirty backpack out of the luggage compartment, hoisted over his shoulder, and walked me over to another, scrawnier bus. He tossed my bag into its luggage compartment, patting his hand firmly against the dented side of the bus. “Tiznit!” he assured me, and then was gone into the scurry of bodies and glint of steel that filled the station lot.
I stepped disheartened onto my new bus. The seats were scattered with a couple forlorn looking faces. They looked like they’d been there awhile; from the number of empty seats, I didn’t anticipate leaving any time soon. I flopped into a sun-baked vinyl seat and scowled. Through the window, I watched my sense of victory lumber away on the previous bus.
It was an hour before we left the station. Night fell pinkly and hazily between the palm trees and pebbles outside the window. Exhausted, I surrendered to a neck-jerking broken sleep; I woke just as a row of lights was growing closer.
Instead of a bus station, I was deposited on the side of a half-deserted road. Some teenagers hooted at me as I hoisted on my backpack; I gave them the finger and crossed the street to the Teleboutique. I had to call my hosts—at last, I had arrived.