Highway tides

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on August 02, 2019 Published on August 02, 2019

Bins is leaving for India tonight. We get to the bus terminal, board our magic green Peter Pan Bus at 4 pm and set off towards Boston along with a scattering of other passengers. Arrival time is around 5.40 pm, depending on traffic.

We’ve done this trip dozens of times. We’re going up to the bus terminal in Boston’s South Station together, but I won’t continue onward to the airport. Why? Because the last bus back to Newport leaves at 6.30 pm. So I figure we’ll have about half an hour to grab a coffee and enjoy a few final squabbles before Bins leaves for India.

We’re sitting right up front, because Bins likes to have an unrestricted view of the highway through the huge windscreen. The driver is a big man with a great booming voice, rosy-pink face and wavy, vanilla-blond hair cropped short. He has a commanding air about him, like a ship’s captain or a general. He can probably hear Bins and me nattering on about our travel plans, but doesn’t seem to mind.

There’s a midway halt, then we’re back on the highway, zooming along. The sky is still very light. Suddenly, like a scene from a climate-disaster movie, a vertical dagger of lightning streaks down from the heavens, splitting the distant horizon. There’s no immediate sound, just the violet flash of light. Moments later comes the clap of thunder. And then, unexpectedly, there’s a harsh electronic PARP!-PARP!-PARP! from inside the bus.

The driver says, speaking just to us, not on the mic to the rest of the bus, “Extreme weather alert”. He says this in a very calm voice, as if making small talk at a cocktail party. “Could be flooding on the highway.” PARP!-PARP!-PARP! The alarm seems to be coming from several sources at once, including my cellphone. Yes! There’s a terse message on the little lighted screen, warning of floods.

“Eek!” I squeak to Bins. “We’ll be delayed getting into South Station!” There’s plenty of time before his flight but I must catch the 6.30 bus back to Newport or risk being stranded in Boston overnight. “You worry too much,” he says to me, his gaze fixed on the horizon.

Then the rain comes pelting down. Within moments we’re plowing through two feet of water! By some miracle none of the cars around us stall. The driver is magnificent: His bus becomes like a giant whale surrounded by minnows as he negotiates the crowded highway at a magisterial pace. He calls ahead to the station, to warn other drivers to take a different route. I glance at the clock: 6.15. Boston’s jagged skyline is still 10 minutes away.

On a whim Bins leans towards the driver. “Excuse me,” he says, “any idea if the 6.30 bus to Newport will be delayed?” The driver chuckles. “Well,” he says, over his shoulder, “I’ll be driving it. So you’ll be on it, Miss! I’ll make sure of that.” And he does.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on August 02, 2019
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