Like a frightened child clinging to his mother, my normally silky hair clings to my neck and forehead in thick, grimy clumps. Raucous laughter and pulsing disco music accost my ears and enter my body so that my heart begins to throb to the rhythm of the music, while my head becomes an unwilling prison for the sounds of drunken laughter.
I hold my hands open, palm down, over my eyes as a sort of shield from the punishing sun, and squint down the narrow highway that sits like a ragged gray ribbon along the northern boundary of our town. I glance at my watch and notice the bus is already fifteen minutes late.
A steamy breeze pushes at my face, forcing odors up my nose: the sharp, fetid smell of urine from the soiled public restrooms mingled with the too-sweet scent of cheap perfume. As the oppressive breeze thumps at my body one last time, my nose is surprised to detect the mild, syrupy aroma of piping-hot corn merged with sauteing garlic and onion. My stomach flutters and gasps at the aroma, and, glancing at the empty road one last time, I turn toward one of the crowded food booths tucked haphazardly into the south end of the open-air bus station.
I try to ignore the dust latched on to the bottom of my jeans, oozing between my toes, and sticking to every inch of my sandal-clad feet as I squeeze between myriads of rickety blue plastic tables and matching colossal, wobbly chairs heaving with people. My ears buzz with the cacophony of hundreds of voices competing with the disco music for their companion’s attention. I trip over a toppled chair in my path, nearly knocking over a nearby table roofed with half-empty glass bear and coke bottles.
As I regain my balance, I see that I am, miraculously, standing near the victuals that apprehended my attention. Lined up behind a smudged, sticky glass panel are dozens of arepas—disk-like, thick white corn pancakes stuffed with garlicky shredded beef.
In exchange for a few meager bolivares (Venezuelan money), a clammy-faced, plump woman clad in a stringy white tank top and tight-fitting blue jeans shoves an arepa, wrapped loosely in waxed paper, into my hands. Excitedly, I sink my teeth through the deep-fried shell into the juicy, meaty center. Grease streams past my fingernails and pools in the crevices between my fingers.
Now that my hunger has begun to be satiated, I swivel to see if my bus has arrived, just in time to see it slamming its brakes as it comes to a halt next to the empty highway. Knowing that if I miss this bus, I will have to wait three more hours for the next one, I trip and fumble my way through the bustle of the bus station towards my ride. I send up a prayer for protection as the bus driver hops out of his vehicle to pour water on the bus’s overheated radiator, but I am not so worried when dozens of rumpled people, who have been riding the bus for the last few hours, disembark, tired, yet unhurt.