White pilled socks
‘What happened?’ I ask a Nepali man with oversized glasses standing at the edge of a torn embankment. He is a dot in the crowd of hundreds who also stare at the bus and I have only asked him as he nearly caused me to fall on to the wreckage while swinging his bag to get a better view.
‘A motorbike was coming this way, the bus was overtaking and the bike hit the front,’ he points under the bus.
‘There. You can see the dead people.’
Under the bus is now the side of the bus, the impact of the head on collision causing it to shimmy off the road, down a steep but not long embankment into a paddy field where it came to rest on its left side, gouging a deep brown scar in the ground. The lip of the bus remains submerged and reminds me of a big fat fish out of water.
A body is covered with a blanket, as if, I think, to perversely warm it up and though the external damage of the bus is minor, six people had died when the seats had crumpled into rib-cracking dominoes, their weak seat-mountings breaking loose in the collision.
Fifty metres from the bus lies a red motorcycle helmet, upturned and half-filled with brown water. It is a solitary island in the muddy pond of paddy fields. Its owner lies some 100 metres away on his back which is broken and his upturned head stares at nothing, blood trickling from his mouth, across his forehead and over his spikey black hair. He did not have time to even looked surprised as his body took the brunt of the bus’s force as it dangerously turned the corner.
Yet his injuries, like the bus, seem small. His lip is only slightly mangled and the impact has knocked both his shoes off, revealing pilled blue socks, one with a hole in it. Miraculously, his passenger survived and now was in the midst of being driven, just as madly as the bus that had dislodged him from his seat, to the hospital in Pokhara, where Bec and I had just come from.
The mayhem, which would not disperse until the police had arrived, halted traffic for over an hour, though no wreckage was blocking the road. Popcorn, bean and coconut sellers took advantage of the calamity as did restaurant stalls which were now full with bored, hot customers that were fanning themselves in the 2 o’clock heat sipping chia , stuffing their faces with dal baht or chewing on packets of tobacco, the excitement and horror of the crash having since left them with their gnawing appetite.
The bus driver was nowhere to be seen having legged it over the hill, in fear of his life. As is the custom in Nepal, if the bus driver causes bodily harm to his passengers then they have the full right to beat him to death. This begs the question if you were a bus driver with 40 people behind you who might just beat the crap out of you for any traffic discrepancy you might just drive a little safer. This obvious truism is something I wish to impart through the medium of a clenched fist to our driver, who, despite the horror of what we’ve all seen, continues to overtake on blind corners when trucks will seemingly obliterate us, drives so fast that you can hear the back wheels struggling to stay on the road.
The worst of it was our bus and another of the same company cutting off a rogue taxi who had failed to give way to them, ‘arrowing’ him into the middle of the road, stopping traffic both ways. The bus drivers both leapt out of their seats and took turns at yelling and shaking fists at the Ambassador taxi driver, who shrank into his leather seat and under the dash. A statistic I plucked from the American Embassy website warning Americans not even to dare think of going to Nepal (washing smoothly with their already inflated paranoia) is that in 2000 alone there were 4,500 traffic accidents. This is staggering considering there are only some 25 million Nepalese.
‘It is far safer,’ I say to Bec, as we pass yet another bus crash, this time it disintergrating into the side of a rocky mountain, ‘to ride a bicycle.’
But Bec’s eyes are filled with tears and nothing I can say can console her.