Category Archives: 52 Tales from the Road

The Joker

 

Wham! The rear of the bus flies over another bump in the road, kicking me up into the air and back into my worn leather seat, the feelings in my buttocks long gone. Holding onto the frame of an empty head rest in front of me, I momentarily poke my head out of the window into the cool morning air just in time to see the white chipped bus swerve round a sharp left corner, exposing a vertical drop into a ravine of tangled jungle.

Stones and grit catapult into the air and sail down into the passing void below, the passengers behind gasp as the bus straightens up and overtakes a minivan in front, squeezing past and zooming ahead and round another bend of the windy mountain road. The sprinting behemoth conveys my inner reality superbly. Unpredictable, intense, turbulent, complete loss of control…Yes, a perfect mirror.

I turn back to my left, where a pale and skinny man with a button shirt and a center parting is seated. His long legs cramped against bags of rice. The rickety bus packed with families, dogs and chickens continues to sling shot down the hillside as it vibrates so loud we have to shout in each others ears to continue our conversation while remaining cautious that we don’t butt heads in the process.

We are currently descending south from Phongsali (northern Laos) towards Udomxai near Thailand. We’re both engaged in a talk surrounding our respective journeys through south east Asia. It turns out he’s a linguistic doctor from Germany studying the fading tribal language out in the foothills near China where I had been trekking with some friends. He is on his way out though as the establishment didn’t welcome his work as they wanted all peoples to speak Lao only.

The dialogue is chopped into pieces whenever the blaring of the horn or shaking of the bus drowns us out. Thankfully, he could fluently speak several local dialects so he staggers up the isle for a third time and asks the driver to slow down to which he smiles and laughs again. What to do? The rest of the bus seem calm in comparison as if this is normal or maybe it’s out of sheer acceptance.

Our roaring parle turns to religion when I talk about my recent vision at Burning Man in the USA, (Year of the Snake). He says it sounds like the snake from the biblical Garden of Eden and asks me if I believe in God and the Devil. I say that I’m aware of an unseen power but all I know right now is that we are somehow all connected. He warned me about the Devil and the coming disasters that would come from the vengeful Lord if you do not bow unto Him, referencing the recent carnage in Japan as we shot into the lush low lands of rain forest. I contemplate for a moment as his last comment didn’t sit right with me.

All I’d been doing the past 4 years was battling against my inner demons on the walls of steep, rocky mountains. The heaven and hell being inside and not subject to the external but who was I to say he was wrong? Certain elements of my life were unraveling as it was anyway. Perhaps his prophecy of Armageddon and Lucifer was a mirror for my fear of coming change and a breaking heart. I didn’t give it much thought though, I just cared about surviving this bus ride. Eventually we ease to a stop in the lowlands. Some of us get out to stretch our legs and walk off the hours of bombardment. The driver picks up a water pipe and starts to hose down the brake pads. In seconds, the bus is enveloped by steam as the red hot brakes cool off. I squat in the shade and watch with amusement.

When it’s time to go I find this playing card, The Joker. Oh what a sense of humor Life has!

If there’s anything I took away from this experience, I’ll say this;

When the roller coaster of life takes you on a ride, sometimes there’s nothing to do but hold on! All is in service to you. Keep an open heart and trust!

 

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