We climbed into the back of the truck before we really knew what to expect. It was empty when we got there, so we felt pleased with ourselves that we’d picked a “good one.” We climbed all the way to the back, into the farthest dust covered corner. Contented smiles on our faces, we waited for our journey to begin. Little did we know that in months to come, we’d hardly remember the journey. Little did we know that in months to come, all we would remember would be the back of that truck.
Two buckets of fish and a large sword fish were strapped to the roof. Perhaps the swordfish was a bluish color at one point. Now it was somewhere between grey and brown.
The smiles we wore as we happily lounged at the back of the truck quickly faded like cheap make up. Seventeen people climbed in after us. We were crammed so closely together that the sweat from my body and that of the man’s next to me had no choice but to get acquainted.
Each time we hit a pothole in the dirt road, my stomach threatened to jump out of my body and strangle the truck driver. Each time she and I made eye contact, I felt as though we were characters from The Office, caught in incredibly awkward moments. She would be Jim and I would be Kelly.
The man sitting two bodies ahead of me cleared his throat and spit out the window. By some twist of fate, his spit – blown by the breeze –landed in my open mouth. I silently panicked. What diseases are transferred through saliva?
Our ride wasn’t even half over, and each one of my limbs was crying out in pain. How could these people do this every day? Sit squeezed together, in obvious discomfort and pain, with dust and spit on the air, and the smell of baking fish wafting about? Why do they do it? Because they have to.
Stepping out of the back of the truck bed, I staggered to keep my balance. My feet and legs, which had been crushed by a sack of brick-sized potatoes, couldn’t find the will to walk. We stood for a few moments in disbelief.
These people – with their sacks of potatoes, their buckets of fish, and their shy yet curious smiles – they knew pain. They experienced it daily, in the smallest of circumstances. These people were my heroes. All of them.
As my feet found their footing, I found myself strangely smiling at the silhouette of the swordfish on that rusty orange Toyota as it drove away.