My patient loaded into the ambulance, I could take a deep breath. From the moment I started moving to the front of the bus until now I had been functioning on autopilot. I probably looked calm, in charge, competent, and I really was all those things. But there was a huge disconnect between me-functioning and me-terrified while I was busy giving first aid. As my hearing started to come back, so did my feelings. I noticed that I was trembling.
A fellah from the village a few hundred meters off the road had taken it up on himself to gather all the luggage and personal effects from the storage bins under the bus and wherever else they had landed all into one area at the side of the road. He was an old man wearing a dingy galabiyeh and leaning on a heavy ancient wooden cane. He stood silently and shooed away the curious village boys who were looking speculatively at our stuff. He caught my eye for a long moment, slowly shook his head in sorrow, and looked away.
A young woman was sitting hunched over, crying, while a young man held her to his chest and whispered into her hair.
Another lady started laughing a little hysterically. This is the first bus I’ve been on since the last bus I was on was bombed. Do you understand? The first time I get on another bus, it’s bombed? What is this supposed to be? What is this?
A student started trying to hitch a ride. People told her to wait, the police were going to interview us and the company was sending another bus to take us to Jerusalem. Another bus? I don’t have time – I’ll be late. I’ll be late. I’ll be late, I don’t have time. And we all understood there was no point in trying to dissuade her. She flagged down a car and got in.
As it turned out, there was no second bomb on the bus and now the press swooped in. A little boy had been on the bus traveling alone. I remembered his grandmother putting him onto the bus and asking the driver to keep an eye on him until his mother picked him up at the station in Jerusalem. Now he was standing with a couple of the young soldiers, blinking away tears and trying to “be brave”.
A reporter came up to the child and shoved a microphone into his face while a photographer clicked away. Were you afraid, asked the reporter. Did you cry? Did you see all the blood? How did that feel? Were you afraid? Weren’t you sad that your mama wasn’t there with you? Did you cry? Are you afraid? Are you ever getting on a bus again? What did you think about the blood? Did you see that? Don’t you want to cry? What did you see?
I wanted to slap the woman and shove the microphone down her stupid throat. One of the soldiers looked over and saw the child under what I can only call attack. He strode over and carried the little boy off. Later on I heard him say, Crying is okay. Soldiers cry too. You’ll be a soldier like me some day. It’s okay to cry. I was scared, too.
Another photographer got off the bus talking about the great shot he got of a blood-filled shoe on top of a newspaper. That shoe was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes after the explosion and it is the image that has stayed with me the longest. I cannot think of that shoe filled with the red not-rain without tears pressing behind my eyes, even now while I’m typing this. What do you mean “great shot”, I thought to myself. Someone’s blood is filling up his shoe where his foot should be. What exactly is great about that?
Another bus was pulling up, and someone told us all to board it. Several of us – and I was one – crawled all over that bus, inside and out, checking for suspicious objects before we boarded. We were told that we would be taken to the nearby police station and then on to Jerusalem.