The Businessmen Bullman
As my weary face stared back at me through the bathroom mirror I vowed not to make the strenuous round trip from Tartous to
on a single day again. "I'm too old for this shit", I confided to my reflection a few years back. Damascus
The 250 km distance is divided in two major components and contains what is probably the most boring stretch of asphalt in the world. I have rarely in my travels encountered anything as depressing as the 150 km long reel of stark landscape between
Homs and . It's of course in sharp contrast with the green heaving and cinematically picturesque Tartous–Homs segment. Once I cross Damascus on my way back, my breathing returns to normal and my grip on the steering wheel relaxes by its own volition. I am closer to home. Homs
A couple of times per year I break my own rule and I often end up regretting my sedition. As the pain shoots out omni-directionally from my stiff lower back I console myself that being stupid is part of the learning process. Be that as it may, I had to be in
from 10:00AM to 5:00PM on a Wednesday. I also had to be in Tartous early the next morning. I had no choice but to exempt myself yet again. On top, I felt adventurous enough to perhaps commit another mistake. “Why not take the bus”, I thought, “Everybody does it, so why not me”. Damascus
It’s been a long time since I traveled in a Bullman in
. For those unaware, a bullman refers to a Syria or a large bus. Arabs in general, including the majority of Syrians insist that there is no distinction between the letters B & P. They always substitute them with each other although they put a lot of effort into finally releasing the wrong P. As thus, a beautiful girl with a perfect body wearing a bikini ends up as a peautiful girl with a berfect pody wearing a Pikini instead. “Excuse me sir, can I bark near the bolice station”, asked the suave Damascene student to the American cop. “This is a free country”, Officer Jim answered, “you can bark anywhere you want.” Pullman
I have heard stories about the Businessmen Bus (باص رجال الأعمال), “It’s so comfortable you don’t feel it’s moving at all,” so I’ve been told. Instead of the usual 45 passenger arrangement, the businessmen bus of Kadmous Tours is equipped with 32 wide leather seats. It leaves Tartous at 6:30 in the morning and takes a little bit over 3 hours to reach
. Along the way, it makes a stupid stop in what is called an Istiraha, a café/restaurant/rest area combination. These istirahas are almost always obscenely decorated and excessively grimy. The only advantage of stopping is probably the chance to take a bee, meaning a pee of course. A nasty ammonia smell permeates the dank air surrounding the restrooms corner and convinces me to hold it till I reach my destination. It would make for a very good impression to rush into the bathroom before I even exchange the necessary niceties with my hosts. With all these details vying for my attention I climbed the few steps into the coach and headed hesitantly toward my assigned seat. Damascus
In all honesty the bus was posh and clean from the inside. The leather seat was very comfortable and accommodating. I sat by the aisle and hoped that the next seat remains unoccupied. I had my laptop, I had an unread book, I had earphones to connect to my mobile phone and listen to my favorite music just as precautionary measures against a worst case scenario. The seats were quickly being taken and with each approaching unwashed mustached face I crossed my fingers and controlled my breathing so as to avoid an imminent anxiety attack.
-“I should’ve reserved both seats for crying out loud. There’s still time to change my mind and go home and take my car instead. I must …”
-“Excuse me, can you let me in please”.
I looked up and my glance turned into a long stare at the most beautiful green eyes I have ever seen in my life. Green and shimmering like the leaves of an olive tree after the passage of a rainstorm. Tranquil, translucent and peppered by minute hints of hazel, her eyes meant to dint forever the inner walls of the most private chambers of the mind and soul. Hypnotized, I gave her way and was immediately awarded with an olfactory attack of a rainbow of sweet and exotic fragrances. She had just stepped out of a scented bath and her, still damp, curly hair brushed against my left ear as she eased her way into the seat.
“Good morning”, she smiled.
“Ye2berni your morning”, I silently replied.
As soon as the driver took the final exit out of Tartous and released the reins of his machine I turned and said, loud enough for her to hear this time, “ I have a laptop, a novel and enough music to occupy me for the next 3 hours if you so choose. But I rather spend it talking with you and enjoying your company. It’s your call.”
- “My name is Lama and there’s nothing I'd like more than a nice and entertaining conversation judging from the way you introduced yourself,” she quickly replied with a gorgeous smile on her face.
Her pearly smile and jade eyes won me over in a minute. There’s no point in hiding anything. “I’m abufares. I’m married. I have 3 kids although I don’t wear a ring,” I blurted out as I beamed at my own reflection swimming effortlessly in the calm pools of her eyes.
We talked for the next 4 hours, mostly about her. She is a civil engineer in a public sector company on her way to the ministry in
. My quick calculations betrayed her age at around 28. I learned about her childhood, her college years, her work and her ambitions. I became aware of her tastes in reading and music, her personal assessment and outlook on life. We talked economy, politics, sociology and religion. She let me through a small window into her life and asked for my advice. We had coffee together in the Istiraha and neither of us showed any inclination to use the bathroom. I told her stories from here and there and opened up honestly to her gentle probing inquiries. When we ultimately reached Damascus she was already aware of my aversion to busses and my angst toward taxis. A car from the ministry was sent to pick her up and she would take me wherever I need to go. But eventually, and like all the good things in life, our journey through time and space was coming to an end. Damascus
-“You too have beautiful green eyes”, she said, “I’ve never enjoyed a bus ride as much as I’ve enjoyed this one.”
-“Are you by any chance returning to Tartous on the 18:30 bus later on today?”, I pleaded.
No, she was staying overnight at her aunt’s house. But we will see each other again, someday soon, she hoped.
Around 5:30 PM, I was walking the streets near the Omaya Hotel. I had a brief lunch earlier during the meeting and was looking forward a chocolate ice-cream at Apollo. I had a little time on my hand to kill before the dreadful ride in a taxi to Harasta then the return to Tartous on a regular (not businessmen) bullman.
As I glanced sideways before crossing the street I heard my name being called from a car right in front of me. A friend of mine, a sea master of a large tanker had just returned by plane from
. His wife had waited for him at the airport earlier and they were leaving to Tartous now. I tried to convince them that I do not mind the bus ride but they would not hear of it. As the car sped up leaving the city behind, my friend really wanted to know how my bus trip to Amsterdam was. Damascus
-“It was a trip I’ll never forget”, I mused loudly with a big smile on my face.
-“I bet it was,” the captain said, “I bet it was.”