After twenty-four hours of buses, vans, and backs of trucks, we found ourselves in Laos.
Between modes of transportation, we were left waiting at a bus stop and while my friends took advantage of the long benches (the first chance to lie down in awhile) I people-watched shamelessly. There was a group of frat-tastic guys high-five’ing and piecing together the events of their previous, drugged and drunken, evening. Then, a girl alone. Just her backpack and a hardback copy of Steve Jobs’ biography, dog-eared about 7/8’s of the way through. She had freckle-laden shoulders, a long brown braid; she stood when there were plenty of places to sit, and she wasn’t wearing any shoes.
When we finally boarded the bus, I ended up in the seat next to her. Maybe I was drawn to her for some reason or maybe Colleen’s extroverted ways had rubbed off on me over the past three and a half weeks, but either way we started talking. Canadian, traveling alone, heading to the airport and heading home. 24, the same age as me.
“There are two types of people,” she told me, looking more like my college roommate by the minute, perhaps that’s why I felt like I knew her, “the kind who spend their money on experiences and the kind who spend their money on things.” She was obviously the former, considering where we met and the fact that she’d lost her shoes a week prior and never replaced them. “Luckily for me,” she went on, sliding the end of her braid along her collarbones like a paintbrush, “my sister spends her money on things. And we share an apartment.” I laughed a little and after a bit I took out my kindle and she flipped to the back of her gigantic book, trying to finish it, I predicted, before the bus stopped at the airport.
I don’t remember if she closed the book and sighed the sigh that comes at the end of reading something that long, but I do remember watching her walk into the airport barefoot, as I remained in my stiffly upright bus seat, and realizing I never asked for her name. And wondering if I was pretending to be the type of person I wasn’t, simply by being there.
The mountains in Vang Vieng, Laos are massive, jagged and jutting out of the ground. From a hot air balloon at 7AM, misty clouds sat like halos around the mountains’ bodies and my friends and I, steered by a trusty balloon pilot, dangled on level with them. As our balloon dipped down, we waved to the Laotian children as they chased after us on their way to school and to the small baby who reached out from her sister’s arms.