I got on the bus and tapped my card. The sound of insufficient balance pierced through the entire vehicle and I took a step back to ask how much it was to my destination. The bus driver mouthed the number and I was relieved to find the exact amount in my purse. I dropped in my payment and collected the paper ticket that I always didn’t feel like taking. “Nobody’s going to check anyway”. Yet I’ve been on exactly 4 buses where a random check was conducted. I got up into the second deck, almost missed a step but saved myself from embarrassment. My mind never fails to come up with visions of tripping whenever a staircase confronts me. I am grateful for every single time my fears don’t materialize. As I scan for a seat, I find that getting a row to myself was no longer on the menu. I chose a thin girl as a seat mate and took up my space. I took an anthology out of my bag and started to read where I left off. But my attention gradually pulled away from the text and into the surrounding bus space. To my left was a mother, seated with her young daughter. She was overdressed relative to her entire family. And spoke to her daughter in a matter-of-fact way to tell her whose birthdays were coming up and that she’ll check and come back to her with those she missed on another day. In the front was this lady’s husband, looking on to their other daughter who refused to give up the front seat she spotted when they first came up the bus. They had a muffled argument just a couple of minutes ago, about whose fault it was that the other daughter wanted to sit in front. The father cut it short by stamping into where the cast-away daughter held ground, perhaps fearing his wife would make a scene in the more than half-filled bus. Behind me, a man assaulted my ears with a clanking sound every so often. Its frequency was constant enough to drum pervasively into my consciousness. He was an old man, with gold bangles, as I had witnessed when he first came up. I struggled to figure out how he produced the disturbing sound, without success. At a seat not too far, two ladies took everyone’s attention. One spoke in Filipino, and another in a language I will not pretend knowing for the sake of completing this essay. Their idea of a phone call was to include the entire bus in the conversation. “I’m on my way”, she hollered. “You wait for me”, in English she said. I wondered if she was from Myanmar, but as soon as I looked into their direction, I realized the unknown language was probably one of my country’s dialects.
My stop finally came and I went down the upper deck a station early. As soon as I stepped out of the bus, I imagined I would have been free of all the unnecessary noise that I could not escape in such a confined yet public space. Yet I realized that I was in the same boat, just that people were further away. The same people, only they didn’t clank into my ear. This time, all the sounds competed in repressing one another and if I stayed isolated enough in my own thoughts and my own path, it was just one unified drone that echoed the city’s soul.