My friends and I had been in Vietnam for just over a week. We had spent the previous three and a half hours in a state of claustrophobia in the back of a bus not made to accommodate westerners. The overhead shelves kept us from being able to sit up straight and the seats in front of us prevented our legs from being extended. Without air conditioning the bus was hot and muggy, I couldn’t tell if the beads of water forming on my skin were from my body or someone else’s. The window lacked a curtain so there was nothing to prevent the sun’s heat from being amplified on us. We were like sardines packed into a can then set out to roast in the desert sun.
Air never tasted so fresh as it did when I got off that bus. We transferred onto a sleeper bus. As the name suggests, it is a bus that you are meant to sleep on while you travel overnight from one city to another. The seats are different than that of a normal bus. Imagine the seat of your car if you set it on the ground, you sit with your butt level with your legs which are extended in front of you. The back of the chair would recline just passed forty five degrees. Not an ideal sleeping position but far better than what a standard bus provides.
I was now seated comfortably and snacking on a small strawberry ice cream cup that I purchased while we transferred. A Belgium man across the isle was talking loudly to his friends. I wasn’t sure if I was annoyed by him or not. I settled on the former after ten minutes of being unable to block his voice out so I could read. Frustrated, I pulled out my laptop, put in my headphones, and began watching The Purple Rose of Cairo. The bus departed, people began to quiet down and settle in. It was almost peaceful. But it wouldn’t last.
I noticed one of the staff rather inconspicuously escorting another man to the back of the bus. I didn’t think much of this until a short time after when we came to a stop and the cops walked in. They were apparently looking for someone. The staff were of no help to the officers and they left empty handed. Judging by the staff’s behaviour the man hiding in the back was wanted for something. I wasn’t sure what but the events that followed gave me a pretty good idea.
Our bus came to a sudden stop. One of the doors on the side of the bus opened and a staff member began moving luggage from under the bus into the bathroom. I had no idea what was going on. I wasn’t alone, looking around most people were exchanging confused looks. We all watched in awe as more and more of our luggage got piled into the bus. It didn’t take long before it was falling into the isle like a closet door being opened after the mess of an entire room had been shoved into it.
A few pick up trucks quickly pulled up beside us. A couple of men jumped out of each of them and quickly began transferring boxes from the back of the truck into the newly emptied space underneath the bus. Box after box after box. It only took a few minutes before the men were racing away in their trucks and we were back on the road. The realization of what was going on dawned on me as fast as the trucks sped away; we were transporting drugs.
I remember staring out the window and thinking I can’t believe this is happening. I was nervous for a bit. I assumed as passengers we’d be fine if the bus was caught but I couldn’t be sure, the drug laws there were wonky. I had heard most drug crimes could be punishable by death and the trial didn’t have to be in English. After fretting over this for a bit I reminded myself there was nothing I could do about it. I fell asleep shortly after. We arrived in Nha Trang around 5 am, got our stuff and continued on our journey.
I don’t know what became of the boxes under the bus.