4 - The Booklet Under The Bed

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The Narrator

It's unusual for students in a school that is in Doha to come as far as Bolivia for a field trip, especially when a tropical country like India is just a hop across the ocean.

"Move faster, silly girl," yelled Basura Samarasinghe at Shifaly Udawatte, who struggled to carry her knapsack up to her seat. Weary of her slow movement, he rudely pushed her onto the seat. Then, he, along with his companions, walked up the aisle to the back seat of the bus. 

Being angry, Shifaly got up from her seat, went to the back of the bus and cussed at Basura, demanding to know why he had pushed her. 

That was when Mr. Chandrasene Seneviratne, without any judgment of the matter, yelled at Shifaly: "Silly girl, don't be an idiot, sit down." 

"What? It was him..." she protested. 

"Just shut up and sit down," he commanded in his thick, Singhalese accented English. Basura wagged his tongue at her.

Yelling a thousand curses under her breath, Shifaly went, fuming with hot anger, back to her seat. After all the students had boarded the bus, the female teacher Dayani Wickremasinghe emerged, as she climbed up the stairs and sat beside fuming, grumbling Shifaly on the front seats of the bus. It was raining outside. The sky was laden with thick, grey clouds.

After confirming that all students were present, Mr. Seneviratne told the hotel staff (who assisted the bus driver) that they could proceed to the hotel. The driver started the bus and drove out of El Alto International Airport's driveway.

Shifaly stared at the window, admiring Bolivia. She had never been there before. In fact, she had never gone out of Sri Lanka and Qatar. So, for her, it was fascinating being in a new country. Her class was on a field trip to Bolivia, organized by their school — Bandaranaike Sri Lankan School, Al Waab, Qatar — and the embassy of Bolivia to the State of Qatar.

La Paz's airport is technically not in La Paz. It's in another city called El Alto, which borders La Paz in the east. So, the bus had to go on a highway from El Alto to La Paz before going to the hotel where the children will be staying, which was in La Paz.

 Shifaly could relate to the thickness of the traffic on the roads. It was like Sri Lanka. There were a lot of vans, white silver and blue. Bikers tried to slither through the traffic on their motorbikes. It was risky riding a bike in that traffic, thought Shifaly. In Sri Lanka, where there's a similar amount of traffic, there are many accidents that happen daily where bikers die.

The bus passed through an underpass with murals painted on the walls. The paintings on the wall were of the style Picasso painted in. Some of the artwork was buried beneath a lot of political posters that were posted on the wall. The bus passed beneath a lot of pedestrian overbridges that seemed so old that Shifaly feared that they may collapse onto the heavy traffic below. On the pavements, vendors had set up carts. Some were boiling corn, while others were roasting peanuts. The bus passed by a big building with tinted windows. It must have been a mall. Shifaly could only read a billboard that read, 'Comidas.' A line of lush green trees separated the road they were going in from the path that was going back to the airport. To the annoyance of the bus driver, who let out a loud volley of honks when that happened, few people crossed the roads when there were no crosswalks. The bus driver cursed loudly. That day the Sri Lankan kids got their first introduction to the glossary of Spanish cuss words.

The bus passed by lawns laid out in a terrace-farming layout on both sides of the road. There were some flowers planted in those lawns. After a few minutes, the bus had passed through a line of toll booths and exited the urban areas. The sun's strength began to wane, signaling the advent of twilight. Once they crossed the toll booths, the entire landscape changed. To their left-hand side, there was a steep drop. There was a guard-rail on that road that protected every traveler from tipping off the edge. The children were astonished by the beautiful sight of the serene, glorious, astounding Andes mountains. Some of the mountains in that range were dotted by hamlets and settlements. The hills were towering; the Andes surpassed the beauty and glory of every mountain range that the children had seen earlier. The children bade goodbye to El Alto, which soon vanished out of the horizon. The bus traveled through a forest with tall trees on the right side, and a steep drop on the left. Every sight, smell, and sound of Bolivia intrigued Shifaly. Her eyes were glued to the window.

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