The Giant on the Bus in the Andes
by Gordon Polatnick

The giant visitor to the Andes stooped into his window seat toward the front of the bus set to head west to the coast.  With no overhead racks for bags, and a sensible fear of the corruptibility of his fellow passengers, he chose not to load his arms-length, Indian-crafted, newly-purchased, regrettably-fashioned hand luggage on the roof of the slowly-filling bus.  Instead, he managed to wedge it between and below the twin peaks of his knees which were raised nearly to the altitude of his eyeballs by the unfortunate semi-circular circumstance of sitting directly over the wheels. 

The middle-class princess, with gold-plated sunglasses perched on her pudgy face, slammed her seat back suddenly into the twin peaks startling the giant who only sighed in resignation:  The scheduled six hour trip on the "executive class" bus would not be made any easier despite the 300% price increase over the "popular transportation"  in which he had  become used to traveling.

Happily, the bus pulled out of the Terminal Terrestre at the appointed 9:20 AM, and the companion seat to the east of the peaks had remained unclaimed territory.  He decided to shift his bag out from under his cramped legs to the open seat.  Not wishing to disturb the sleeping princess (whom he imagined was in his care, as essentially she was in his lap), the giant gently managed the physically impossible: By squeezing one oversized hand down through the narrow crevice below his crotch, he was able to nab a pinch of material from the side of his hidden bag.  Then by wagging his hand he effectively dislodged it.  And with continued wagging and tectonic shifting,  was able to scootch it over to the barren lands there to the east.  This at least afforded a psychological sense of comfort and accomplishment…if only for a short while.

Fresh from his victory with the bag, the confident giant attempted casually to unlatch the sliding window there to the west.  After cross-facing himself with his hand and arm, and discovering the maneuver inadequate (as visual contact with the beast proved necessary), he counter-attacked with an elbow-down/hand-up approach from his left flank.  His indelicate digits, though they reached the height,  could not rise to the occasion—and yet another window latch had decisively exhausted yet another befuddled contender.  The giant retreated from this defeat red-faced and sweating like a Saturday morning cartoon character: Water flying off him like a hardware store-bought sprinkler.   His frustration and humiliation was compounded by his paranoid certainty that the little people peopling the bus were all staring in amazement at the big fellow’s enormous impotence. 

To convince these unseen eyes (and himself) that his original intent had been to make certain the window remained shut, he sniffed an imaginary sniffle, and crossing the Alps again with his right hand forced the window into a super-locked position.  He reinforced this charade with exaggerated facial messages meant to be universally understood by the masses he imagined critiquing his every move. 

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, the express bus made several stops on its way out of the city, threatening the sovereignty of the giant’s coveted free seat.  Thankfully, those who boarded were either frightened by his ungainly presence, or convinced of his hostility by the desperate look on his pale, sweaty face—the seat remained liberated.  As the bus u-turned onto the Pan-American Highway heading outside the city limits,  it seemed as if the giant would keep his two seats, so he began the maneuverings that in five minutes time would result in the in the removal of his wind breaker.

Assuming he could covertly pry the window open at a more opportune   moment (assuming the present was inopportune), the giant also assumed the worst was behind him and he could begin to settle in for the long, lonely journey ahead.  Wishing that he looked more like a photo-journalist and less like a tourist, he let several inspiring shots of snow-capped volcanoes  go by his window undocumented. 

  He comforted himself with the logic that a man who traveled  to the Andes once would likely return—and that those beautiful vistas certainly weren’t going anywhere: There will be plenty of time for photos the next go around.  Satisfied with this reasoning, he fumbled for the lever that allowed him to courteously begin easing his seat back into the lap of his southerly neighbor, who in turn allowed himself a loud coughing spasm as the seat descended upon him.  The giant took this loud spasm to heart and decided to ease his seat further forward than its original position—telling himself that it would be better for his posture not to recline at all.

As if in retribution for even thinking about reclining, his neighbor to the south issued his 5 year old boy forward to sit on the giant’s wind breaker.  Noticing the child just in time, the giant, perhaps too abruptly for a grown man, snatched his jacket up off the seat and smiled meekly at the startled and shy little fellow.  Things could have turned out worse, reasoned the giant staring glumly at his knees:  He might have had to sit next to a normal sized person, which would have meant the repositioning of his luggage back under his own legs.  He tried to casually smile at the boy who returned the gesture with a blank stare which caused the muscles in the giant’s face to tighten up involuntarily into a grimace.  The boy turned away confused.  The giant turned away still grimacing uncontrollably.

At any rate, the giant was sure that the boy knew his place as a shorter little passenger, who would not force the rules of bus etiquette, and demand the removal of the giant’s belongings from his rightful foot space.  Instead the child turned briefly and smiled a child’s beatific smile at him.  The giant became instantly enamored of the little fellow and even felt a paternal kinship with him that made the giant want to stroke his hair.  As he went to do just that, the little cutie turned to the aisle and spit noisily to no one’s dismay but the giant’s.  And his dismay was great.  It was the cause of his sudden bout of nausea, which he finally kept in check after several near misses.

The boy, as it soon became clear, did not actually spit into the aisle.  He actually spit into a juicy little plastic bag which he no longer tried to conceal from the giant.  The bag, as the giant immediately noticed, was filling up to capacity.  Voluntarily, the giant grabbed his bag and shored it safely up under his legs again.  There it remained for three hours until the boy, his well-rested father, and half a dozen others got off the bus in Santo Domingo. With this, the giant vowed to make the blessed Santo Domingo his patron saint. 

This would mean a conversion to Catholicism, which the giant figured could easily be explained to his family within the context of this story.  He had read many accounts of modern day Catholic miracles documented around the world and wanted to share in the joys of revelation.  He took to praying immediately and found that before the bus even left Santo Domingo, Santo Domingo himself had already answered his first two prayers.  Miraculously, the newly seated gentleman behind him forced the giant’s window wide open with no more effort than it took Moses to part the Red Sea.  Miraculously, the princess in front of him pulled the appropriate lever allowing for the grateful avalanche of giant knees. 

The giant couldn’t help but smile in satisfaction and physical relief.  He glanced around the bus and saw for the first time that the folks were all pleasant looking people, so he prayed to Santo Domingo that one of them would join him and share his space.  One of them did.  A very old woman with gray braided pig tails holding a knit bag smiled back at the giant from across the aisle, then suddenly was sitting beside him.

Before he could say, "Thank you, Santo Domingo," the old woman opened her knit bag to reveal two speckled puppies within.  She smiled her old woman smile that seemed to invite the giant to pet and pat the little pups.  As he lifted his hand to show affection to his new friend’s pets, the very old woman revealed herself to be a very old, crazy woman:  She slapped him across the face with the back of her bony, mottled hand. 

This startled the giant, whose manual inertia increased downward onto the dogs, who bit into his flesh like hysterical hell-hounds.  Just then the princess slammed her seat back into his knees, and the gentleman behind him missed the open window by a million miles—sending a half-eaten mango smack into the back of the giant’s neck.   Instinctively, the giant wrestled free of the dogs, who were being hastened away amidst a cackling of ancient angry words.  He held back a scream of pain and only acquiesced to an impulse to vocalize by uttering a subdued guttural heaving grunt (acoustically abetted by several wounded fingers shoved deep in his mouth).  Tears began falling down the giant’s face. 

The Giant turned to look out at the heavens, so close at hand within this Andean landscape.  This helped to settle him down as he absent-mindedly tried to rationalize recent events.  Growing tired, the giant leaned his weary melon head against the back edge of the open window, just in time to have a half-a-mango bounced off the top of it on its successful flight out the window and onto the highway.  The giant wiped a giant tear with a bloody giant finger, and felt fortunate from the bottom of his giant heart that at least Santo Domingo had left the window open for him. 

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