For those of you who don’t know, the Transmilenio is Bogota’s Rapid Transit System. It’s sort of like a tramway except with buses. This magical system has allowed people to get places faster in a city with the traffic jams from hell. Usually, I even sort of enjoy riding it, seeing people in their everyday life, listening to random conversations (seriously, the things you hear on public transit!), and daydreaming while looking out the window.
But the transmilenio devilishly transforms during rush hours. If you have never experienced what it’s like to be in a busy station during rush hour (especially 6 pm), let me take you through the epic journey only matched by Odysseus’ or Jason’s:
As you walk up to the station, you prepare yourself. The drums of war sound closer and closer and you begin to see the line of people waiting to walk into death or glory. You wait in line, slowly advancing, annoyed at the wait but also anxious at the thought of what will happen once you cross the gates of hell.
And then it happens. You’ve gone through. There’s no going back now.
You take a breath, concentrate. One false move and you could be done for forever. You make your way onto the door for the bus you need to take. If you’re lucky, it’s not a busy line, and you can just wait in the sidelines as a witness of the monstrosities of war. If you, on the other hand, have to take a busy line… well, there’s a chance you might need to call your loved ones one last time.
If you are one of the damned, you will have to confront a sea of enemies before even reaching the door where your bus will stop. As you wait for the bus to come, you look at each other, carefully evaluating every aspect of everyone around you. You quickly decide which opponents you’ll be able to take out once the bus arrives, and which ones will trample you to death if you don’t get out of their way. In the distance you can hear doors opening and you know the screams will follow soon after. You hear people screaming for their mother (no, seriously, this has actually happened…), once in a while you hear the screeching scream of someone who has fallen in the battle. You have a brief moment of silence for the fallen, but you quickly remind yourself this is every person for themselves, and with a bit of guilt you thank the public transit Gods that it wasn’t you.
Then your bus appears. Your heart starts to beat. And the doors open…
If you’re a warrior, you quickly vanquish your enemies, trampling men, women, children, and the elderly to the ground, where their loved ones will come and mourn them. You will enter the bus victoriously, even if it means standing on top of a seven year old, unfortunate enough to be in your way. A ripped shirt or a missing tooth are battle scars you wear proudly.
If you’re a weakling like me, you wait for the right moment. You might miss one, two, three, eight buses before you make it, not daring to jump into the savage jungle of city transit. When only the weak are left, you make your move, knowing these are the enemies you can vanquish.
So you fight to the death. Sometimes those waiting for other buses mock you when you don’t make it, and you fervently wish them the worst fate that could befall anyone: To have to do this every single day for the rest of their lives.
Eventually, you either perish in the fight, or get on the bus. And then it’s a different kind of battle; a battle of wit and flexibility: How to avoid getting hit by the door every time it opens, how to contort yourself so that other passengers can get off, how to avoid having your possessions stolen in this sea of enemies.
From the small holes through which light comes in you finally see your stop. You scream and bite and elbow and kick your way to the door and make a deadly jump against the current of people entering. You continue to fight your way through, telling yourself it’s almost over, you can’t have made it this far to give up.
And then, you’re through.
You run towards the exit, adrenaline pumping through your system, afraid that this is too good to be true. But you make it. You make it.
Your first reaction is to breathe in the poisonous fumes and pollution of the city, grateful to no longer be smelling the collective sweat of thousands of people. You kneel down and kiss the concrete below you, thankful to be standing there. You’re a survivor.
And then you walk away, not looking back and trying to erase the memories of what you’ve lived through, but knowing that you will never again be the same.