The Bus to Nowhere

If I return to the dream, I understand that it began in chaos. It always begins in chaos.

I take a bus to a hospital in Brooklyn. I remember what I'm wearing: a somewhat formal slinky blue dress, but my shoes are tattered, white, scuffed up like the patent leather slip-ons I used to wear as a child, which became old and worn as soon as I put them on my feet. I feel embarrassed about the discrepancy between my formal dress and my informal shoes.

I think I've just come from a barbecue or a party, and I'm here for a checkup or perhaps I work in this sad institution with its bald white walls and flickering bulbs that create a harsh hallway of vacant light, but I don't stay for long. I get into an elevator, along with a bunch of other people. In fact, it seems like we've hit the afternoon rush hour and perhaps everyone is heading out of this cavernous building and they’re going home. That’s what it feels like as I step into the tide of exhausted people, heaving in and out of them like a suspended breath.

One of the people I see, much to my chagrin, but also a bit of delight, is Sam. His hair is a bit longer and he looks older and he is talking to somebody but I could swear that he has spotted me and he’s doing whatever he can to pretend he hasn't, so that we don't have to be in communication or acknowledge that the other still exists. I’m staring at him with something of an ironic half-smile on my face because, well, what else am I to do? Always, we seem to find ourselves in the same place. And sometimes, a number of years pass between these encounters, but it's as if the universe is putting him before me and saying, “Look, this is your past and it is also your present.”

I don't feel angry at him the same way I used to. A part of me wants to do a forgiveness meditation, right in the midst of this crowded elevator, but I don't. I just wait for him to look at me. But he never does. And for the first time in a long time, at least in the realm of my dreams, I actually feel neutral. I don’t care if he sees me. I puff up with pride at my maturity. I take up more space than I normally would.

When we get outside, I realize we're on the other side of the building. I'm not familiar with this area. I don't know how to get the bus I'm supposed to take. I believe it's the number 28. I don't know where it's supposed to take me, but I have the sense that I need to get on it, and that a lot of things have happened before this moment. I've been with family. I've been with friends. And I'm just trying to find my way home, even though I only have a vague idea of where home might be.

At the bus stop, there are a lot of dangerous-looking vagrants, mostly men, and I feel scared but I will myself not to look scared. I wait at the bus stop, and I go through my purse, which is in arrears, like a tornado ripped through it. And there's so much garbage, lint, balled-up Kleenexes, wads of cash. Nothing in its place. Bus fare is just a couple dollars but I only have large bills.

I get on the bus, and the woman in front of me asks if I have change because she's in the same rut. I don't, but she keeps insisting that I do as she looks at the splayed-out contents of my purse. The internal atmosphere of the bus is almost like a living room; people are lounging in cushions on the floor. It’s cozy in here, but I feel some trepidation; I might end up living here, going around on the same circuitous routes down the same dilapidated neighborhoods, if I’m not careful. I don't know where this bus will take me, just that I have to get out of here. I don't know if Sam is on the bus. I don't think he is. But I seem to have forgotten about him, lost in my mortification because I'm holding up the line in my attempt to find two $1 bills. The bus driver impatiently gestures at a glass box of cash at her feet; she says, “You can probably find what you need in here.”

At that point, I realize this bus isn't going to take me to the place I want to go. I feel scared. I have the sense, especially judging by the hostile stony faces that peer at me, that if I decide to take this bus, I'm just going to be more lost at the end of the road.

It feels very familiar to me. This happens a lot. I get off a bus and I find myself in a strange neighborhood that is miles and miles away from my ultimate destination. I have a moment of semi-lucidity. I recognize that all I need to do is trust the universe, and I'm in a dream that is challenging me to do this.

I drop my bag and I back up. I get off the bus. I don’t care about the screaming bus driver or the jeering people who rush to pick up the small luxuries I’ve dropped. I find myself removing articles of clothing. Stripping myself of the things that are supposed to protect and conceal me.

I'm walking in the middle of the road with my palms outstretched, and a rebellious burst of freedom throws back my shoulders and opens my chest. I feel myself cave a bit, my sudden hope punctured by anxiety that maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this isn't a dream or a test, and I'm just a crazy person walking in the middle of the road, trying to defeat consensus reality and the reality revealed within my once-pristine purse. But I have to believe. I have to believe in something. Maybe God will come for me. Maybe a message will emerge from the middle of this absurd tableau.

The world around me slows and darkens to a cobalt blue. Cars disappear on the horizon. Everything is quiet and I’m assailed by a gale-force tension that clamps down on my bones and makes my teeth chatter. I start reciting the Gayatri mantra, which I often do when I reach this state of dream lucidity. Upon the first “Om” I utter, which resounds like a bell in the vessel of my throat, a bright smoldering sun pops up in the sky. It makes sense to me; after all, the mantra is about the emergence of clarity. Upon the second “Om,” I hear a distant peal of thunder that makes the scene around me crumble and erode. Upon the third “Om,” my voice is watery in my head, and everything around me plummets into darkness.

I continue to recite the mantra, but I can no longer feel my body and I can only vaguely hear my voice, a detached fish that floats in the oceanic clouds. I think a word, and I hear it gurgling at a remove from me.

This happens a lot. I get stuck in the bardos. God doesn't come to save me.

A part of me wants to stay here to finish reciting the mantra, to let myself dissolve if that is what's necessary. If that's the message, the lesson, I’m meant to learn. I feel myself hovering somewhere between dreaming and waking. It's one of the most treacherous liminal spaces I have forded. Somehow, I find myself slicing through the many layers of darkness and torpor, and I wake up in my bed. The remnants of sun, thunder, and darkness lie in fragments around me.

I’m Nirmala Nataraj, a New York–based writer, editor, book midwife, theater artist, and mythmaker.

As someone who has woven in and out of a number of different word realms—nonprofit communications, advertising, theatre, publishing, and community arts, to name a few—I know that liberation is possible through the stories we choose to tell. As a first-generation South Asian American, I myself exist in the liminal spaces between cultures, art forms, and languages—and it is this multiplicity of narratives that informs my personal and professional approach.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to my newsletter

My desire is to create a community and network of weavers, artists, dreamers, and makers—outside of the corporatized world of social media, personal branding, and incessant marketing. If you would like to receive resources on writing, editing, book coaching, and personal mythmaking, subscribe to my newsletter.
Newsletter Form
Copyright 2024 © Nirmala Nataraj. All Rights Reserved.
Made with ❤ by 
Agree Design