I don’t recall the noise as much as the air pressure. It was as if the six sides of an invisible cube were collapsing in on me. I remember a feeling of weightlessness, then I was bent backwards over the back of a bus seat and several people were piled on top of me. A hot wetness spread from the man directly on top of me and I wondered if he was dead. I wondered if I was dead or about to die. I tried to remember the words of a prayer at the point of death, but I couldn’t.
It was a Sunday morning in the mid 1980s, before the First Intifada. An early bus from Haifa to Jerusalem, traveling south along the Coastal Road. Sunday is the first day of the work week in Israel, and the early morning bus was filled beyond capacity with students returning to the university from a weekend at home, soldiers returning to base, business people on their way to meetings or conferences – the usual post-weekend crowd. Skinny girls shared seats meant for one passenger, the center aisle was crammed with standing passengers, luggage between their feet, and even the steps leading down to the rear door were occupied. People were sleeping, chatting, listening to music on headphones, reading newspapers. An army officer was seated next to me in the aisle seat, and I read his open newspaper out of the corner of my eye.
It was raining inside the bus, red rain. Oh. Not rain. I saw an empty shoe, filling with the red not-rain. The body on top of me – it was the army officer – rolled to the side, and I could see the front of the bus. The driver, his chair gone, was standing at the steering wheel, using both hands to get control of the vehicle. I could read the tension in the muscles of his arms and back. Another man, a passenger, also stood and battled with the mechanism. I was reminded of movies about seafarers braving the elements as they struggle with the ship’s wheel. Unbelievably, the two men managed to bring the bus to a shuddering stop at the side of the road without hitting any other vehicle. I realized that I wasn’t about to die, but I didn’t understand what was happening. “Are we being shot at,” I asked no one in particular.
This was a trip I made often because I had friends who lived north of Haifa and I frequently spent weekends with them. My favorite part of the trip was along the stretch of coastal road. I always tried to sit near the window so I could look out at the calm, blue Mediterranean Sea. Soon the bus would move inland and I would be able to look at the small Bedouin camps near Jericho, watch the children herding goats and the women working under the hot sun. I always enjoyed this two-hour trip and thought of it as the last part of a pleasant weekend away.
An older woman began shrieking hysterically. “Shut up, Shoshana, nothing happened! It’s just a flat tire,” her male companion yelled. I felt sorry for her. People began to move, checking their limbs. I found I was in no pain and could stand up, so I did. I began to move along the aisle somehow, trying to see if there was anyone I could help. Behind the driver lay a man, pale and sweaty, with a severe crush injury to his lower leg. I made my way to him.