The old bus struggled to climb the steep mountain road. It chugged and lurched; grinding and squeaking as it careened toward the next in a never-ending series of hairpin curves. The smell of exhaust was heavy in the air, the taint of dirty diesel and burning oil wafted through the open windows.
I couldn’t wait to be home in the cool mountain air – each passing mile brought with it a tangible drop in temperature and before long the arid heat of the plains was replaced by the damp chill of an overcast afternoon above the cloud bank.
My classmates sang an old Bob Marley song – tunelessly but with great gusto. On a straight stretch of road not far from home we passed a group of women – they were barefoot, their cotton saris wrapped tight. The impossibly large bundles of wood perched on their heads as they ran down the slope were easily seven feet long. They were a blur of color, these women, reds, yellows and greens. Their white teeth gleamed from their dark faces as we hung from the windows to wave and call to them.
The bus swerved to avoid an ox-drawn water cart. Our driver wailed on the horn, India’s most replaced auto-part – Horn! Ok! Please! The swift motion hurled me against the metal railing on the back of my seat.
My shoulder slammed against the window of the bright yellow bus when it jerked to a stop in front of my new school and back to reality. The last note of No Woman, No Cry played in my ear. My stomach churned while I watched the other kids get off the bus, each of them sporting dull, matching colors. I sighed deeply, letting the sadness sink in and my memories slip away.
I walked alone toward the school. It was a big, angular, unremarkable building made of sandstone and brick. The red white and blue of the American flag that snapped in the wind were the only colors in the bland landscape of near winter Iowa. My thoughts drifted to my usual litany of complaints. Years after it happened I still wondered what could have possessed my parents to leave Ireland. If they had just stayed where they belonged, where we belonged, then I could have grown up properly. I would have a beautiful, sing-songy accent like Mom’s and boys would want to take me for a walk up the glen, with all that implied, just like they used to take her. That was my theory anyway.
It doesn’t matter though, because they didn’t stay; almost as soon as I was born they were Canada bound on a trans-Atlantic flight. Fourteen hours later there we were: alone, thousands of miles from home with no one and nothing but what they carried in their two shitty suitcases, barely held closed with frayed luggage belts. Landed immigrants, that’s what we were, and we boy did we look the part.
Dad finished his PhD and got a job at a small research facility, in a small town in central Alberta. We visited Ireland every couple of years. It was almost enough to remind me where I came from, but never enough to give me any sense of belonging when I got there. In Canada I was Irish, in Ireland, Canadian, but never really at ease in either place.
Then four years ago we left Canada and moved to India, and I finally felt at home. My parents lived and worked in Hyderabad and I went to boarding school in the south. For the first time in my life I was surrounded by other kids like me – kids whose lives were never static.
But all good things must come to an end. For me, that end came six months ago when our contract in India ended and Dad took a job in the American Midwest. We live in a river town, close to Chicago, Minneapolis, and St. Louis – big exciting places I’ve yet to visit. It’s cold here in the winter: white and grey and harsh. Enter the endless brown before spring: brown grass, brown fields, brown mud and dirt in the ditches. The Mighty Mississippi is loaded with industrial pollution, and sediment, and garbage, and is brown, brown, brown.
My life here is simple. I keep my head down: go to school, my job. I have a couple of friends. I stay out of trouble. A lifetime of continuous flux has made me wary of making strong connections. One or two friends are more than enough. It’s too hard to leave them behind when the next move comes, as it inevitably will. So, I go to school, to work, and home again. I keep my head down.