Sanpaku -- Part Three

It had been like that, on that fateful first bus, that day. But then, there had been a reason. Driving on a narrow, single lane road through the high mountain passes of Peru, switchback upon switchback, climbing the hills to the clouds and beyond. To heaven. The sun shone down from a clear sky onto the incandescent cloud tops below, filling the world top and bottom with clear light.

No shadows.

The bus, perhaps made for American school children shortly after the Second World War, was full of pilgrims. Stolid Indians in their alpaca wool, goats, chickens. It may have been a 20-passenger bus in better days, but as it wound through the mountains, plucking a single person here, two there, from the flinty roadside, it had filled to brimming overflow. Passengers crammed three to a seat, and when the seats would allow no more, they sat cross-legged in the aisles and trussed their goats and chickens, bleating and clucking, into crude, scarred overhead luggage racks made by the driver himself, of scavenged angle iron and expanded steel mesh.

Milo dozed fitfully on the rearmost seat, occasionally jolted awake by the larger rocks, or by his seatmates' elbows. But the motor's drone, up front, and the choking, oily odour of half-burned diesel kicked up by the vortices trailing the bus and curling through the open windows, would not allow sleep to completely take him, and Milo's mind spun in a slow, dizzy reverie.

Bored riders took small notice when they went over the topmost pass, and began their descent to the clouds, except to rebrace themselves and turn back to their conversations or sleep. The bus, no longer laboring to make the summit, picked up speed, and as the driver kicked the shiny, rubberless brake pedal, worn linings squealed on eroded brake drums.

Milo woke to silence. The motor and brake noises were gone. Somebody might have screamed, just before Milo came out of the depth of sleep. Now all was quiet, except for air rushing past the windows. He realized suddenly, that he was surrounded by the hush of the cold shroud of imminent death. The brakes had failed, the motor somehow stalled, and the bus had picked up speed and missed the last switchback, shooting off into space. The bald tires tightly gripped gravity, and plunged toward the roof of the clouds below.

Milo looked out the window. The bus seemed to be a very long way up, and there was no cliff face beside it. It was as if they were flying free.

He turned around to scan the faces of the other passengers, one by one, as if it were the most important thing he could do.

"They all look like angels," he said quietly, almost to himself. The woman next to him turned curiously, as if to ask him to speak again, but said nothing. No one spoke except Milo. "Sanpaku," he murmured, half to her.

Then, they fell into the clouds.

Then, there was nothing.