Daniel Adler Stranded In Malaysia

malaysia travelI slept off a hangover most of the morning. We went to a party last night on the other side of the country. It was a bunch of rich Indians celebrating a birthday with boxes of Grey Goose in a rented chalet. I drank Jack and talked to Swedes and Qataris. Around 2 I went upstairs and scored a bed. Apparently Ivan tried to wake me when they were leaving but I don’t remember that. At 630 the Indians woke me up and said the cops are here. The house was trashed. I walked down the driveway in the darkness and hitched a ride to the bus stop. I didn’t have change and a nice young man lent me a dollar. The bus took me to the MRT. I rode it for 40 minutes and arrived at Ivan’s just as he was waking.

He and Telio had class in 40 minutes. Apparently they left when the Indians started fighting. There weren’t enough girls there, and we all know that alcohol and sexual frustration equals fighting. A few people had lost teeth. I was feeling determined and domestic, cleaning my coffee mug, finishing packing; I knew I’d sleep on the bus. Telio’s eyes were very red and he curled up onto the floor and said he wanted to throw up. But we all left together by 840. I hopped a bus to Jahore. I almost vomited at immigration, but didn’t out of respect for Singapore‘s cleanliness. I arrived at the station and decided to go straight to Penang on a nine hour ride. I’d sleep most of the way.

I woke at 2 having to urinate badly. There was no bathroom on board and we had been on the bus for almost five hours. There should be a rest stop soon. I walked to the front of the bus and asked the driver when we would be stopping. He looked at his watch and said one hour. I returned to my seat dejected, wondering how best to deal with the pressure in my bladder. But within fifteen minutes we were pulling into a rest stop. I rose my eyebrows in happiness at the man seated across the aisle. I was hungry and I imagined noodles and rice and soup and pork. I’d only had a croissant with chestnut spread and that was six hours ago. When we stopped the driver’s voice came on the radio in Malaysian. I asked the people around me what he said. They didn’t answer. Must not speak English, I figured.

On the way to the bathroom in the hot sun I asked an Indian man how much time we had. He took out his phone. I thought maybe he had misunderstood. I repeated my question and added, “For the bus.” “Half an hour,” he said. Good then. I’d be able to get food after all. I noted the make of the bus just in case he was wrong and I was left behind.

I emptied my bladder and walked past the Coffee N More, thinking if I had time I’d get an espresso before getting back on the bus. I walked through the food court, looking at the bus, thinking that since the doors were closed and the driver was gone,  I shouldn’t have to worry about not having half an hour. I chose to eat from where there was the longest line. Thick greasy noodles, a nice piece of fried chicken breast the miss behind the counter offered after I shook my head at the thigh, and a little tofu veggie sandwich. Less than $2. I joined a man at a table where I could see the bus, just in case. Its doors were still closed.

Almost halfway through the meal, the man asked me in poor English, “Tourist?” I put up with it. “What country?”I saw the lights on the bus go on. I wondered why. They wouldn’t be leaving. Not when the doors had been closed. “U.S.A.,” I said. That’s my bus,” as the bus started rolling forward. “It’s moving.” They were re-parking. That spot near the gas station must have been blocking traffic. The man said, “You catch it,” his eyes wide and jaw loose. I stopped eating. The bus kept going and took a left out of the lot. I had lost my appetite. I ran out of the roofed seating area. The bus was gone. Maybe it was coming back, maybe it had re-parked out of my sight. I still had to finish my lunch. I ate the rest of it. The bus would come back. Buses don’t leave people at rest stops. No. This is Malaysia. The bus was definitely not returning.

I walked to the Shell station, told one of the attendants what had happened. I was referred to a blue shirted man sitting on a stool sifting through papers. When I interrupted him he called over another attendant who spoke English. Then the head attendant, the boss, came over and three other attendants circled around. I told them my bus had left me, that I had no ticket, not the name of the company, that all my stuff was on it, and that an Indian guy (perhaps my mentioning this was an appeal to their sense of racism, knowing how Indians are treated in Singapore) told me we had half an hour, that he had lied to me. Some smiled. In retrospect I had had a feeling that the Indian man was making up times– that was why I had noted the make of the bus, although that was worthless information. “They were waiting for you. They honked.”

“They honked? I didn’t hear a honk.”

“They honked.” The boss took over. He said, “Here’s the number of the plan line. Call them and see what they can do.” One of the attendants walked  me into the mart. Why would they leave me? What kind of a bus company leaves someone behind when they clearly know his stuff is on board? And what’s with announcements only made in Malaysian? And why did that Indian guy lie to me? More importantly, why did I trust him? Because I was hungry. Well now they have your computer and baggage and you’re in a lot of trouble.

I called the number and talked to someone whose English was so bad that he hung up on me. I called back and hearing the voice of a woman asked if she spoke English. She did. I told her my story. She sighed. She understood the gravity of my situation. She said she would send someone here and they could take me to the closest bus station. I could get to Penang from the station and get my luggage back. I told the boss. He offered me a seat just outside. I walked to Coffee N More. I had time.

By Daniel Ryan Adler

Daniel Adler writes fiction and nonfiction and is finishing his MFA at University of South Carolina.

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