The scent of urine crowded the whole bus. Groups of people were trying to avoid it by pinching their noses and lifting their shirt collars to cover the lower half of their faces. The man from whom the scent was emanating was pleasantly unaware of the effect his body odor was having on his fellow man. He was wearing a red and white pashmina wrapped around his head like a turban, three layers of jackets, soiled silver pants and black combat boots. He would’ve looked adorable as part of Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride. But anywhere outside of that context, he looked otherwise.
“Woah, it smells like piss in here,” a young man yelled upon entering the bus. The young man was carrying a large bushel of incense and was selling it for two dollars.
“Well, that’s why you selling incense,” another passenger replied.
“Sometimes smell can’t fix what water can.”
“Don’t know if you should hose down the mothafuckin’ seat or the mothafucka himself, though.”
The smell had burglarized so many of the available oxygen particles that I was afraid to breathe. I didn’t want its persistent essence to invade my nasal cavity and seep into my palate to the point where I could taste it. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t be.
When a constrained metal shaft is full of adults sweating the sweat of a full day’s work, the temperature can elevate really fast. The man kept shaking one of his jacket collars, patting it against his chest in an attempt to stay cool. In the process, he was billowing out puffs of noxious smells compounding on top of the notes he had already given us. I felt like I was a few puffs away from jumping out of the bus early and braving the remaining blocks on foot. Like me, the man had also reached his limit and began to strip off the layers of jackets.
“Fuck, is hot in here,” he said. Every garment he removed was slammed on the empty seat next to him, followed by “shit.” By the time he had worked his way down to a white wife-beater, the stench had transfigured into its final form. People scrambled to open whatever bus windows were still closed and dug their heads deeper into their shirts. The scent was oppressive. We all had no other choice but to comply with it. To just sit there and take it.
When the bus finally arrived at my stop, I wove my way through the packed crowd as fast as I could. The prospect of breathing clean air was all I could think of. As I made my way to catch my next train, I realized that the city was filled with unpleasant smells. Some emanating from people and others from the streets. Regardless of where the smells were coming from, together they smelled familiar. They smelled like home.