The man behind me pushed his bony knees right through the back of my seat into my spine. I tried to turn around to give him the evil eye, but it was pointless. The fat sweat drenched woman next to me had me pushed against the window like a squashed tomato, and the only thing I could do was to lean my head against the glass and try not to scream. We had been stuck in this bus for almost two hours now, and we weren’t going anywhere.
I had just come back home to Mexico City, and God how I hated this damn place. The congested traffic, the thick throat burning air … the earthquakes. What was I doing here?
Two days earlier I had returned from the best summer of my life. I had spent it with my boyfriend in his childhood home in a Swedish small town called Leksand. What you need to know about Leksand is that it’s one of those picture perfect kind of places you find on postcards. The town sits between a beautiful slow flowing river and a large clean lake, surrounded by vast forests full of moose, deer and bear. All the houses are painted red and white, the air is crisp, and all you can hear are the birds and the wind and horses and cows. And in the mornings, for breakfast, I used to pick raspberries for my cereal — directly off the bushes. It was beautiful. But I had to go back and face reality. My tourist visa for was about to expire and I needed a job.
So here I was, on my way home from an interview for a job I didn’t want, trapped in traffic on an overcrowded bus in a monster city of 22 million people, headed nowhere. It took another full hour before I managed to escape the bus. When I finally arrived at my friends house where I was staying, I threw myself over the computer to skype my boyfriend and begged him to come and save me from this God forsaken place.
“Relax,” he said. “It’s always like that. You think Leksand is all that nice and wonderful. But guess what, it’s not. It’s too quiet. All you can hear is the damn wind. The people are too introverted. It takes years to make friends here. I mean, when was the last time anyone invited us for dinner? And honestly … I remember you complaining all the time that everything is too expensive. So snap out of it.”
I wish I could say that I did snap out of it right there and then. But I didn’t. I kept comparing Mexico to Sweden and Shanghai and all other places I’d been, and Mexico kept loosing. I felt horrible, like I was betraying my own country. It was the same feeling you get when you come home from school and you father can’t help you with your homework and you realize that he doesn’t have all the answers. And you get that lump of guilt in your stomach, like you have taken something away from him.
But then as the weeks and months pass you get over it, the relationship transforms, you mature, and then you forget ever feeling the way you did. And that’s exactly how it happened for me.
One day, several months after that horrible day on the bus, I found myself on another bus on my way back home from my new job. The busdriver’s cumbia music was blasting through the speakers, and the young woman next to me was smiling and singing along as were drove past taco stands, and markets colored red, yellow and green by fresh vegetables. And when we came up to a stop light and a flatbed truck drove up along us, full of children in the back, I looked at them, and when I saw that one of the children looked back, a little girl, about ten or so, I raised my arm and waved. And she smiled and waved back, and said something to the other kids, and soon they were all waving and smiling. And then somehow I knew … I was home again.