the road to Torrozelo

This bus is cool, almost a little too much for my taste. The air conditioning leaves a cold wisp on my skin, the processed air pinching at my nose. Across the aisle from my seat is a man, about sixty I guess, although in truth I have no idea. He is wearing a pale blue-checkered shirt, it looks like the kind of shirt ones wife buys them, a gentle, unthreatening nudge at style. His black shoes are scuffed, his navy woolen jersey folded and tucked neatly into the seat handle in front of him. Their voices are low, gravelly, but nasal. They cut across the low thrumming of the bus engine, so that when they speak it is loud, almost jolting. It sounds like Russian to me, this Portuguese. There are so many shh’s and rolling of the r’s, and the sounds are guttural and thick, as though they are almost swallowed each time, just before they are uttered.

I wonder where all these people are going, why they are on this bus to Torrozelo one bright September afternoon. The formidable looking woman in the second seat back from the driver has a high, blow-dried 90’s mother style haircut, her khaki jacket hangs fussily off her shoulders, the empty arm trailing down into the aisle, while her hands are primly folded in her lap. Where is she going? Maybe she has a daughter-in-law in Coimbra, who at this very moment is hurriedly preparing the house, running back and forth with curlers in her hair, yelling at her children for the third time to dress themselves properly, and at her husband various accusations of blame.

The young man three seats behind me is feigning sleep, but in truth his huge headphones make it impossible to get comfortable. He wears sunglasses, even though there is no sun peeking past the flimsy curtains he has drawn over the large windows. I think he wears them for anonymity, but it could be just the look. Maybe he is traveling to his family home to gloat of his glamorous life in the big city, the cultural capital, Lisbon. Perhaps he spent longer than usual on his appearance today, hoping to impress his humble country parents with his grand, educated talk of art and music and the people he has met. And maybe they will just smile benignly, shrugging their shoulders in a meek expression of ‘well I don’t know much about that’, and offer him some more salted codfish, bought from the next town over especially for his visit. Maybe he will sigh inwardly, bored and guilty, willing them to understand.

Outside the countryside is a muddy green, the land struggling to obliterate the small concrete sheds dotted throughout with its rough brown grasses, slowly, but surely. Inside the bus rocks like a boat gently from side to side, the silent people gazing listlessly out of the scratched windows, impatient, or maybe reluctant to reach their final destinations.

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