I might cry. I can’t feel my stomach. No; actually, I feel everything. Tenfold. My body is shaking from the core. All senses are heightened. The bus tires clash into road bumps as my head bounces repetitively against the rusting windows. I can feel my knee swelling through my leggings, pulsing against the cheap cotton. Barely audible, my pained tendons scream, begging me to get up and stretch. But I can’t move—I’m stuck. I’ve failed my body. The agony sneaks up from my calves, flicks my muscles rudely, and gives a quick side hook to my stomach. I think I might vomit. Will this feeling ever end? It has to, we’ve been here for like eight hours already, right? OH, just three? Awesome, okay. The roads are perpetually rough. My eyesight blurs, in and out, while my head hangs like a yo-yo on a string. Does anyone have some nuts? Maybe juice? Nothing.
We’ve stopped now. No more bumps in the road for a while. Well literally at least, but figuratively, that’s another story. We make our way off the bus, taking our rancid backpacks with us. Everyone’s eyes are struggling to stay open in this heavy humidity. The veins in my legs are beating faster than my heart is right now, and I’m still appalled that my eyes haven’t burst like water balloons at a summer party. The struggle to keep my head upright is ever persistent as perspiration avalanches down my back. This line must be a joke.
How are all of these people spread amongst six lines supposed to peacefully merge up to two windows? The world may never know.
Now, I know that it is physically impossible for a heart to simultaneously beat excessively fast and ridiculously slowly, but my heart is defying all laws of biology today. It mimics the way my hands shake when I have an anxiety attack. Rattling at first, then a long, tense pause. Rapid stutters, then—a fan? A guard has turned the fan on in front of me and for a second, things seem okay. As I proceed to the counter, my life drags behind me in a scuffed backpack, too heavy for my shoulders to bear at the moment. My visa is approved, and I wait for my friends to continue with the process. One by one as they merge towards the service window, I feel my eyes losing grip with the outside world. Young women flirting with older men surround me, and a state of panic tries to take over. I do my best to kick it in the gut, but that only takes me so far.
Just when I think that we have made it to safety and comfort, I’m smacked in the face with more pain and nausea—all in the form of another line. But this time, it’s with no fans, less service windows, and little sign of hope. I repeat in my head, If I can make it through this, I am invincible. I need something that can push me through. No one has food, I have little water left, and my heart is doing that same dizzying shake it has been for the past few hours. I predict to my friends that we will reach the passport service window in approximately fifty minutes or so. Ugh.
As I look around, I realize that no one else is experiencing what I am. Sure, they’re tired; but they’re the kind of tired you get after you finish running a mile for your middle school physical fitness test; exhausted, but pretty easily able to bounce back, given a few minutes rest and a couple sips of water. I, on the other hand, might as well have ran that same mile in crutches. I can’t stand for more than three minutes without feeling like I’m going to pass out. When I squat down to let my body relax, I only last about thirty seconds before I need to stand once again and move in line. This unbearable process repeats incessantly until we finally reach the second round of service windows. It’s my turn…
Our entire travel group makes it over the border completely and safely, exactly fifty-three minutes from when we first got in line. I’m able to crack a soft smile, and I think my heart figured out how to beat normally again—until I realize we have four more hours on the bus before we’re finally home. Welcome to traveling in Southeast Asia...