If you’ve ever been on any form of public transportation, you might have noticed how dirty the floors can be, especially on buses. Well during the winter here in Sofia, the bus grime is amplified by the snowy sludge that people drag onto the bus underneath their feet. It’s really quite disgusting, and is only topped by the amount of black slushy grime that accumulates on the bus’s exterior and windows. It gets so thick that there might as well not even be any windows, since you can’t see through them at all.
Well, last Monday Allison and I found ourselves once again in one of these Sofia City buses. Several inches of snow had already fallen through the night, and fat snowflakes were falling down in sheets of white. We were on our way downtown to meet my language helper at the central bus station, so that he could help us buy tickets for Istanbul next week. We had gotten on the bus near the beginning of its route, so it was only slightly crowded. Allison had found a seat, and I had positioned myself across from her where I could stand leaning on a rail by the heater. If I was going to have to stand up for the whole trip, then I wanted to be able to rest against something. That, and the warm breeze being emitted by the heater felt great on my cold feet.
When the bus got to the next stop, hoards of people crowded into the bus. They crammed in against me from the front and the left, while my back pressed against the side of the bus above the heater, and my right side was leaning on the handrail. As they filed in, several of them asked me to stamp their tickets, because I was also located right next to the ticket-punch. Before long I was starting to feel claustrophobic. And it didn’t help that the bus was putting along at a snail’s pace. We literally spent most of the time stopped in the endless line of traffic. If we had been walking, we probably would have being going at least twice as fast.
Now I had felt a little nauseous that morning when I woke up, and on account of being pressed on all sides, the feeling started to return. But the stoic in my mind said to me: “Just wait it out, and all of these people will get out once we get onto the main road going downtown, and you’ll be able to find a seat then.” As I patiently waited, I could feel my body temperature steadily rising, because the heater beneath me was pouring hot air into the bus nonstop. So I took off my hat and my gloves. After a few more minutes, I will still feeling hot, so I decided to unzip my jacket. At this point I was starting to feel really sick. I was even contemplating trying to make my way off the bus in order to get out at the next stop, but I couldn’t see Allison to signal to her that I wanted to get off, and I was afraid that if I tried to get out of the bus, she wouldn’t have time to get out herself, and would really worry about me after exiting the bus unexpectedly. So I tried to lean my head against the cool glass window behind me and wait it out.
Oh, it felt so good. The nausea was gone. I suddenly felt cool and relaxed. It was great not to be on that hot and crowded bus anymore. And Allison was saying something to me. I opened my eyes and realized that my face was resting on that filthy bus floor, surrounded by strangers’ shoes. “He’s my husband! He’s a Diabetic!” I heard Allison shouting frantically in Bulgarian. I snapped out of my dream when it hit me: “I just passed out on the bus.” When she saw that I had come to, Allison immediately asked me where my pack was. (When she found it later, I was laying on it). I quickly reassured Allison my blood sugar was okay, and that I just fainted from nausea. A man to my left was calling 112 (the Bulgarian 911), while a woman to my right was telling Allison we needed to get out at the next stop and get a taxi to a nearby hospital. A third woman handed me my glasses that had fallen down into the stairwell. I tried to stand up, when the nausea suddenly started returning, and Allison told me (wisely) that it would be better for me to stay kneeling on the ground. I complied.
A few minutes later, when the bus stopped, I flung myself with every ounce out of my being out of the hot and crowded bus onto the snow-packed pavement below. When my foot landed, it slid in the snow, and I scrambled another few feet out of the walkway, as more people packed into the bus. Allison followed me out, and she waited while I checked my blood sugar, to confirm that it wasn’t low. The cold snowy air felt so good on my face. Allison asked: “Should we get a taxi?” I just responded: “No, I need to cool off. It feels great out here.” And so we set off for our apartment on foot. It only took half an hour to get home, even though we spent fifty minutes on the bus. My pants were covered in black bus sludge on the left leg, and my face was still smudged from the grime Allison had wiped away with her hand. Disgusting.
-James, the younger brother