Friday 24 August 2012

A Ride on the Bus

A hundred or more people rushed to get the bus. It is supposed to carry 28 and no more according to law, but nobody on that bus seems to have much regard for the law.

The seats go to the victors in the battle of the doorway; though a couple have, as usual, cheated and scrambled through the window. Then the aisle fills up, while those seated have to keep ducking their heads lest they get decapitated by the bags and boxes being slung about as if it were an empty warehouse instead of a public conveyance full of seated passengers.
At last, there are 35 people in the bus and it is a physical impossibility for anyone else to get in without bursting the steep side of the body. Then the conductor arrives on the scene with a palet in his mouth, to announce that the bus they are in is no longer going. All out! And take the bus behind. Irate, having fought and won a battle to be robbed as easily of the fruits of victory, the passengers abuse the government, the railway, the driver, the conductor and then each other and each other's parents.

Now the scramble to get out instead of getting in takes place. While this is going on, the seats and windows get damaged and the passengers emerge to find their clothes torn. The other bus is already nearly full, so only ten out of the thirty-five get a passage to their home, thirty miles away.
At last, the bus starts. In the aisle, there is a woman who has settled herself on the floor, clucking like a hen as she does so. She gradually diverts herself of clothing as if she were home and prepared for bed; first comes off the stocking and shoe. Then she loosens her bodice and pulls her skirt up around her waist.

As she makes herself "comfortable", she naturally encroaches upon the space occupied by her tightly packed fellow passengers. When they try to assert their rights to the few inches they are sitting, lying or standing on, she rises, clucking furiously. She looks so formidable that everyone is silenced and she subdues, bristling her feathers as she does so.
She is the terror of the trip, that is, until two urchins get in and take up position on either side of her. They lean on her, press on her head and step on her outstretched nude legs. When she starts to cackle, they giggle and pay her no mind. At last, she can bear it no longer, rises with a titanic effort and throws them off, exclaiming, "Crise! You all want to stifle me!"

As the bus approaches within five miles of her destination, she starts to re-dress and make her toilet for arrival. Her stockings are pulled on and then begins the hunt between everybody's legs for the missing shoe that has got shoved around in the mêlées until it has found itself behind the tool box next to the chauffeur's seat. She makes such a noise and accuses so many people of stealing her almost heel-less shoe that everyone joins the search until it is recovered. The chauffeur, who eventually picks it up and returns it to her, gets roundly abused for his pains. But he is the only person in the bus that is her match. In fact, he surpasses her. In the city's tramcar is written: "It is forbidden for the chauffeur to talk to the passengers while the bus is in motion", for from the time the bus has left its starting place, the chauffeur has harangued the bus. Not for a moment has he let up from telling us about his private life, how he'd been to jail and how he liked it there.
At one part of his story, he was describing how he beat a fellow. To lend emphasis to the tale, he would let go the wheel and turn around to describe to the passengers with his hands how he did it. In the middle of one of his gestures, a jitney swung around a corner unexpectedly, and the chauffeur just missed having to describe to the court how it happened, with or without gesture.

Gradually, the passengers thinned out somewhat, as each village passed claimed a few, until there is actually a seat vacant. But to the amazement of the uninitiated, women waiting at the roadside are ignored when they frantically signal the bus. The chauffeur explains to his audience: "She alright, oui, let she get the next one."
The next one, as everyone knows, is four hours away. But the real explanation comes when on approaching the terminus at the other end, the chauffeur starts stopping every few hundred yards to pick up one or two men, who, from their conversation, are obviously friends. Together they sit and stand in the front of the bus, smoking away with their friend, the chauffeur, while the passengers behind look cynically at the sign right over the chauffeur's head, which warns that smoking, except on the rear seat, is strictly forbidden.

At last, the bus arrives at the last stop. The conductor, who has no further business, as the chauffeur is supposed to collect the tickets, now stands astride the doorway, making it difficult for passengers to leave. The passengers themselves have by now become so much a part of the environment created by the chauffeur and his conductor that they fight one another to get out of the bus, into the village, which is devoid of anything except for a few stray pouches slinking around the empty butcher's stall. The bus then turns around and begins another of its reluctant efforts to transport people.

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