Just as I topped the hill I saw it; the bright, green bus pulling into the stop. I broke into a jog, flip-flops slapping the concrete.
I reached the back of the bus just as the driver opened the door and stepped out into the sun. A gust of conditioned air blew out behind him, but was quickly swallowed by the insistent July heat.
The driver walked right past the waiting travelers without so much as a nod. He headed straight for the Centro Commercial, lighting a cigarette he had no chance of finishing before reaching the store's automatic doors.
Disgusted by the driver's insolence, the dusty heat and myself for having run halfway to the bus stop for nothing, I propped myself up against a partially-shaded post and prepared myself to wait until the driver felt like coming back to continue his route.
Six grueling minutes passed. The sun beat down relentlessly. To my surprise, I heard laughter as two women bearing multiple grocery bags chatted cheerfully with each other. The long white head-wraps and shapeless dresses told me that they were Muslim. The harsh sounding language they spoke was softened by their shared smiles and laughter. I was so busy trying to make out their conversation (in spite of the fact that I know absolutely NO Arabic), that I almost didn't notice the driver's reluctant return.
I boarded the bus, dropping a handful of coins, not bothering to wait for my receipt. The driver lurched off without waiting for any of us to sit down. Our relationship would be temporary and loveless.
The bus rocked and rumbled its way through the streets of Pozuelo.
Immediately following a symphony of squeaks, groans and hydraulic releases, indicating that the bus was stopping to let on (or off) another round of passengers, I was struck full-force by a pungent odor. It was the unmistakable scent of high-must...the kind which can only be achieved by sweating until soaked, drying out in the sun, then sleeping in a dumpster (repeat cycle 2-3 times without changing clothes). I turned around to find the origin.
Behind me stood a presumably foreign man, crisped several shades beyond black by years in the sun. The air around him (and me) became thick with funk. I practiced shallow breathing and turned my attention to the scenes sliding past my window.
The streets were lined with life-sized wind-up cars, parallel parked so close together that bumpers kissed. I wondered how the owners hoped to maneuver their way out into traffic without hitting the neighboring cars. By the looks of some of the bumpers, this was not a concern for anyone but me. A scattering of shoppers and white-collar workers rushed to their respective appointments. Yet others sat lounging at cafes laughing, smoking and sipping like they were being paid to do it.
Meanwhile, the man behind me continued stinking with the tenacity of an Olympian...as if he had finally made it to Beijing and his country was depending on him to bring home the gold, thereby bringing hope and promise to its struggling economy.
Thinking of it this way helped me endure the bitter burning in the back of my throat.
I went back to staring out the window. A few moments later, there was a noticeable unburdening of the air as the man found a seat further behind me. The remainder of the trip was comparatively uneventful.
We arrived, in tact, at the Metro station. It promised to be a veritable buffet of people-watching opportunities. I'd better get my notebook ready. But first, I needed to get some fresh, subway station air.