Every few days I put on my traveling boots and stuff everything I have into a backpack that is obviously shrinking. Then I get on a bus for a period of time that before this trip would have seemed insane. If the trip is more than 14 hours I´ll buy a travel size bottle of Grant’s Scotch to help pass the time.
Once I´m settled in my seat and the bus is rolling I eat my disgusting dinner or breakfast of warm Coca Cola and a candy bar. Then I put on my iPod and listen to a play list of slightly melancholy yet up lifting music. I watch the city or jungle or mountains or desert roll by. I try to imagine the lives of the locals selling food on the street. I feel bad for the skinny dogs eating trash along the side of the road.
After a few songs my mind drifts. I wait. I know exactly what is coming. My mind replays the last few days or weeks. Impossibly vivid scenes flash through my head. I see with perfect clarity the curve of a smile. A potent smell that is no longer there fills my nostrils. A strange accent that I have not heard in days rings in my ears. An emotion that has long since faded vibrates again in my chest. My nostalgic conscience rips me from my seat. I disappear from the bus.
I think about all the things I did. I contemplate the places I saw. I remember the people I met and shared drinks and stories with. I know that I will never see them again and with most of them that is fine. And some I will soon gladly forget. But there are a few that I will never see again and it saddens me more than I want to admit.
Each memory, emotion and story launches a brutal question into my mind. I hate some of these cold challenges but I embrace others. Some answers are hard to admit and bring chills of regret or a sinking depression while others come easy and are accompanied by a smile and a sense of warmth that far surpasses anything the Scotch can provide.
Did I make the most of it? Did I do anything that was terrifying, no, straight out of a bad dream, no a nightmare? Did I make any new friends? Did I see any old friends and if so are we still cool? Did I walk into a situation arrogantly and end up humbled? Did I make somebody else happy? Did I dance on the bar? Did I act like a boy or a man? Would I take any of it back? Did I take the weight?
After a few hours the final question comes. It is the only one that really matters. Am I just a tiny bit wiser, stronger or better than the last time I got on a bus and took the test? Sometimes I don’t know the answer and sometimes it is a crushing no, but today I’m going to say yes. Today I passed.
The amazing thing about the bus test is that you don’t even need a bus to take it. All you need is a memory, a few quiet minutes and a soul. Honestly evaluating and harshly judging your own actions and life might sound insane to some. Those are the people I will soon gladly forget on this trip.
All to soon I will stop taking ridiculously long bus rides around this amazing continent, but I will never stop taking the bus test.