My last morning in India started earlier than I had hoped. I never sleep all that well the night before a big day of travel. At 5:30am I finally decided to roll out of bed and into the script of the morning’s departure preparations. This is always a dreaded day for me. I know it’s not going to end smoothly whenever it finally does come to an end; jet lagged, tired, and most definitely uncertain about whether or not I am really ready to be back in the US.
Historically this day, my departure-from-India day, has always had some measure of unplanned excitement. In 2008 it was a delay at the end of the runway for an unconscious passenger (the one sitting next to me) to be evacuated from the plane. In 2013 it was an epic amount of emotions built-up after an extended stay that made simple cognitive processing seem nearly impossible and a middle of the night visit with a friend under the bridge near the airport. In 2015 it was a missed flight out of Chennai. This year I had everything lined up for a smooth exit. I had planned to say my goodbyes to my friends at rehab at 8am as they all convened for work and then catch the bus at Bagayam to the New Bus Stand where I would catch another bus to Chennai. In Chennai, I had arranged to meet with friends and spend the day with them. They had graciously agreed to drop me at the airport in the evening for my 9:45pm flight to Dubai.
The first few steps in my plan were executed nearly flawlessly. I didn’t even cry (very much) when leaving rehab. I made it safely to the New Bus Stand where my next step was to fine an A/C express bus to Chennai. (I was given explicit instructions on this as well as where to find the buses that fit that criteria.) Despite the fact that the buses were not where I was told they would be, I was successful in finding a choice bus for my three hour travel to Chennai. I was actually pretty proud of myself for finding such a dandy bus. Once I manage to wangle myself and two backpacks onto the bus, I took a seat next to a pleasant looking young girl. We exchanged quick smiles and proceeded to sit together in silence. What I didn’t know is that I had sat down next to my little guardian angel.
Now, all bus drivers in India seem to drive like maniacs; but this particular driver seemed to be on a mission to beat everyone else to Chennai… even those that had already arrived there. Driving his beast of a bus like it was a Smart car; we zipped in and between all manner of lorries, motorcycles, buses, and cars for about an hour and a half. That is when our driver’s familiar harsh and sudden braking ended with the nauseating sound of crunching metal. Our bus had attempted to eat the trunk of a very small car. Almost immediately the back two-thirds of the bus rushed to huddle upfront at the windshield to assess the damage done. I had been lightly dozing up until this point, but was wide awake now.
Knowing that I wouldn’t be of any assistance up in the chaos, I remained in my seat and turned to my fellow passenger and asked “so…. What now?” She smiled and said we would be delayed. You think? I got out my phone and sent a quick text to my friends waiting in Chennai to let them know I would be delayed, but that I was ok. From what I could tell, no one had been injured in the collision. The occupants of the car we had incapacitated were at the side of the bus yelling wildly at the bus driver. No, they didn’t seem injured at all. Given the unknown wait time and/or remedy for the problem we had created it seemed like a good time to try to conqueror that stubborn game of spider solitaire I hadn’t been able to complete. So there I sat; somewhere between Vellore and Chennai on a hot-and-getting-hotter bus whiling away the time.
I think it was at this point that I surprised myself by realizing I was completely calm and relatively unconcerned. My bus had just collided with a car. In the middle of nowhere. In India. I had no clue what the standard procedure was for this sort of thing. Did we eventually just drive away? Did we wait for the police? Did someone call for a backup bus? Is there even a standard procedure for something like this? Shouldn’t I be panicked just a little bit? Or concerned or something? And why can’t I win this stupid spider solitaire game?
I asked the girl next to me what would happen next. She didn’t seem to know at first, but after a while told me that it would seem we would eventually catch another bus. I asked her if I could just stay with her until we made it to Chennai to which she graciously agreed. After about 30-45 minutes, she abruptly and quickly motioned to me to get off the bus as we would be boarding the bus that has just stopped next to us. (For the record, it is incredibly difficult to quickly disembark from a tight bus with two backpacks.) My new friend and I quickly stepped on board as our new bus began to move off towards Chennai. The bus we boarded was simply another regular route bus to Chennai that was full of its own passengers. There I was with my two bags, smashed in the aisle of a bus packed with two bus-loads worth of people… standing. So much for catching an A/C express bus. I pretty much found myself on the exact opposite bus of what I was instructed to ride. I suspected that this wasn’t an express bus either; my suspicions were confirmed when we turned off the main highway at the first little town. Oy! This was going to be a longer trip than I had expected.
About twenty minutes down the road I thought to ask my friend if this bus was actually Chennai bound. She laughed and told me it was. Phew! At least I would make it to my final destination at some point. Eventually a seat opened up and was offered to me. I gladly accepted and squished myself and my bags into my allocated space. Not comfortable, but I wasn’t too bothered by that. I was safe and on my way to where I needed to go.
Traffic accidents in India can be fairly damaging to life and limb. This is not surprising given the lack of traffic rules implemented and obeyed. They say what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. Yes, I might be stronger as a result of this odd hiccup in my plans (seems it is taking more and more to rattle me when traveling in India), but for myself I would like to add that what doesn’t kill me serves to remind me that I am covered in prayers and that God is continually safeguarding my life. I spent a good portion of the rest of my trip to Chennai thanking my Savior for the health and safety He has given to me during this and other trips to India, as well as for the peace He has given me during the myriad of strange and unknown circumstances I have encountered along the way. Praise Him for His mercies, they are new every morning!
|A morning at the ocean (see following post for more details)|