The Vomit Express
Two dry retches launch me into action. By the time the wet retch is in progress I have a plastic bag open under Miss M’s mouth.
The bag is small and the baby isn’t focused on her aim. One hour into our three-hour bus ride and I’m splattered in sick. And it stinks. Thank God I noticed the little bags tied to the seat handle as we set off for Pai, a popular getaway from Chiang Mai. Without the bag, things would have been a whole lot worse.
The bus lurches around another bend and Miss M is off again, her head swinging and spraying as I desperately try to keep the bag under her mouth.
This I was not expecting. Just as I didn’t expect a 15-seat minivan to speed UP a mountain. A twisty, turny mountain road.
Hot and cramped, unable to escape the wafting smell of sick or the sticky ickness of my shirt, I don’t feel so great myself.
The German guy in the row in front hands back some more plastic bags, and a packet of wet wipes. The Thai girl next to me holds out a packet of tissues.
I don’t actually have a free hand to accept anything. And I don’t have a free hand to open a sick bag for myself, which I feel I may need to do soon.
I wait, hardly breathing. Partly because of the smell, partly because I’m afraid of what my body will do when I exhale. Miss M groans, which is an improvement on vomiting. I take some of the tissues and start wiping myself off. There’s vomit on my hands, on my arm, on my pants, down the front of my shirt. The smell pulls at my insides, trying to pull them up and out.
The bus windows don’t open. I wonder how far the vomit smell is reaching and I feel so so sorry for the other passengers.
Taking my attention away from the baby was a mistake. She barfs again, all over bits of me that I’ve just cleaned. I have never liked being dirty and when she was very young I thanked my lucky stars time and time again that she wasn’t a spew-y baby.
Today, she’s making up for lost time. The bag of vomit is heavy and full. I try to tie it off as quick as I can and get another bag ready. This is too gross a task to request help with, and I can’t work out whether to tie the full barf bag to the handle of the seat in front of me, or put it on the floor where it could roll up and down the bus until someone steps on it.
There’s vomit on the outside of the bag. It’s everywhere. I balance the bag between my feet — I don’t know what else to do with it.
The bus lurches and leans, tackling steep switchbacks and hairpin bends at crazy speeds. Miss M starts to cry. Beside me, Darling Man croaks “I can’t breathe” and scrabbles at the latchless window.
I tell him to look at the horizon and I train the airconditioner vents on him. But the vents are hardly blowing out any air, and we are trapped in the third row, with almost no view. The windows are small and low and the seats in front of us are high. Stupid blue curtains further obscure the view. They keep flicking across my line of sight, making my headache worse.
I am hanging onto the handle of the seat in front of me to keep the baby on my lap. I notice a gob of sick on my knuckle and I have to take some extra deep breaths to keep my stomach where it should be.
The baby, sweaty and wimpering, lays her head on my chest, her cheek sliding a bit on the warm vomit she’s left there. It’s awful, so awful. I have no free hand to check the time. I had no idea the trip would be so dreadful.
I sit as tall as I can and concentrate on the small scrap of windscreen I can see… and just endure.
The bus continues to lurch and sway, turning and turning. It seems like I will be trapped here forever, in the dim bus smelling the smell of vomit, with Darling Man pulling about-to-be-sick faces next to me.
And then, finally, we pull into our rest stop. I dump the sleeping baby on Darling Man and sprint to the bathroom, where I wash my hands over and over again, and my shirt. And then wash my hands again. And my face.
I take a deep breath of clean non-vomit-tainted mountain air and then I go back to retrieve the baby. I take off her smelly dress and stuffed it in a sick bag. I wash as much of her as I can in the handbasin in the ladies, then dress her in her emergency change of clothes.
Finally feeling human again, I emerge from the toilet area to find Darling Man clutching a bag of barbecued corn and a pair of bananas. Like a starving street dog, he wolfs down the bananas and two ears of corn.
When the bus driver motions us to board the bus again, I delay the next stage of hell as long as I can. Miss M cries “no, no”, weakly.
But we pack ourselves in again, and the bus reverses slowly onto the mountain road, then lurches forward quickly, swinging wildly around the curves as if we are on the run from the law.
Miss M claps her hand over her mouth and I hold her tight, staring at my small sliver of windscreen. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I see Darling Man grab a plastic bag and lean forward, spasming quietly. I look at the ceiling. My head buzzes and I feel like passing out. I try to angle my arm so Miss M can’t see her father. But it’s no use. She retches and I fumble for yet-another sick bag. I am not quick enough, and the first round splatters half on my pants, half on Darling Man’s jeans. He lurches forward again, this time with an audible “yerch”.
Packets of tissues and wet wipes are offered from every direction. I say a general “sorry” to the other passengers and try again to create an inner calm. And just when I think Miss M and my stomach have settled, Darling Man burps, setting off a new skirmish between my guts and my head.
A pause … waiting for the next round of sticky stinky sickening awfulness. Waiting … and suddenly I get the giggles. I can’t move, wedged in between Darling Man, who is green and limp, and Miss M, who is hot and limp and needs both my arms to keep her steady as the bus keeps lurching and lurching.
“This is just so horrible,” I yell over my shoulder to our travel buddies. “Thank goodness we didn’t try the five-hour bus trip.” My friend leans forward and pats my shoulder, unsure if I’m laughing or crying.
And just when I think I cannot bear anymore, the bends end and I start catching glimpses of pretty coffee shops and t-shirt stalls.
We have arrived in Pai, and all I can think of is – how the hell are we ever going to get back down the mountain?
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10 years ago