Wednesday, March 30, 2011

the bus: seat mates

Next time you are looking for an interesting place to go, get on a bus. It doesn't matter where you are going or which bus service you use, it is the bus trip itself that is so interesting. I travel on the Wits bus sometimes, and it is usually crowded. It was unsurprising that today there was only standing room for me. As the bus took off (like a space shuttle! I wish...) I happened to look down at an Indian girl typing an sms. She was a little round, but prettily so, with long dark hair falling thickly over her shoulders and dull-gold eyeshadow accentuating the slanting shape of her eyes. What caught me however was her rapidly changing facial expressions as she typed the sms. Her face was flirting. She gave little half-smiles and her lips formed words sometimes. Her fingers moved rapidly across the keys, and the clear pleasure at saying something clever and attractive and a little naughty was so plainly written on her face I couldn't help but be fascinated by this intensely personal exchange that was happening - strictly speaking - with the cellphone clutched between her fingers. People - for me - are always interesting, even if I never exchange a word with them. Admittedly, seat mates are not always pleasantly interesting. I sat next to a man once who carefully decanted brandy and coke into one glass after another as he steadily became more talkative and intrusive. Even in sleep he intruded on my space as his body sprawled outwards onto my seat, pushing me into the aisle. I spent the night fitfully, eventually pushing his partly comatose form back onto his side. The most important etiquette on a long bus trip is to give the person next to you their space. Unless it is impossible, as happened on a Cityliner bus trip I was on once during the Translux strike. The seats were so small and the bus so packed that the black woman sitting on the aisle seat had to strap herself into keep from falling off. It was so uncomfortable, we could do little more than dose, and woke frequently in the night to have long conversations I don't remember now. Not all intrusions are an affront. A blonde, handsome teenager sat next to me on his first bus trip and after asking me what grade I was in (not the best start) turned out to be really friendly and a biltong-maker. After a long chat (and an attempt to buy me some food from one of the garage stops) he said he was going to sleep and promptly settled himself on my shoulder. He clearly had no idea one doesn't sleep on strangers' shoulders in buses. I felt strangely protective of this naive boy who happily placed his sleep (such a vulnerable activity in a public space) in my hands. Foreigners (I've discovered) love to act with chivalry (or something) and often buy me food despite my numerous and vehement protestations. A sweet, silent Mozambican returned from the garage once with a coke for me without us having exchanged more than a few sentences. Another foreigner (I think he was Nigerian) bought me a jar of Lays Stax and offered me a job working in one of his uncle's clothing shops after a lengthy conversation about the nature of business in South Africa. There was another girl - friendly and self-assured - who spent most of the bus trip telling me how wonderful being a Jehovah's Witness was, and probably trying to convert me. We got on so well (chatting over her well-thumbed bible) that we even exchanged numbers but neither of us ever kept in touch. Some passengers want your number for no good reason. There was a large black man from Durban who I spotted talking to the only other white girl on the bus when we stopped for a midnight break at a garage. She left, and he then started talking to me. Quite early on in the conversation he asked for my number because he said he wanted to be my friend. I managed to convince him that although he looked like a friendly person, I am not in the habit of giving out my number. He finally gave a great laugh and said that he would ask me again when he got off the bus in Durban. I half expected him to follow through, but thankfully he left without a murmur in my direction at Durban Station. There was also an over-confident, thin white boy from Grahamstown who tried to get my number and get me to commit to going out with him after we got there. His pick-up line logic needed a little work. He began by telling me that he believed beauty was on the inside (no really, he did believe it). Only a little later (after he discovered I have a boyfriend) he said sadly, "All the pretty girls are always taken". I was flattered but almost disappointed at the ease with which his lines were shown up. I've had to entertain a little red-headed eleven-year old (thank-goodness I've seen the Twilight movies or I would have been in trouble) for a whole day while her mother kept her satisfied with one snack after another packed with refined sugar; I listened to a mentally slow white racist rant halfway from Maritzburg; and listened to another white, sporty teenager tell us (a group of us sitting near the front of the bus) her entire life story, including the intimate details of her mother and sister's sex lives. Perhaps the most interesting conversation happened in the throes of Joburg traffic. I was talking to a Nigerian Cage Fighter about religion and anger management. He was suffering the most excruciating head pains from being on the bus for too long, and I was trying to keep him distracted by chatting. He said that he was a religious man, but also a hard-core cage fighter, and that he had issues with road rage. He said he actually got so far as to get out of his car once to remonstrate with someone but stopped himself before it was too late as he said he didn't want to cause any damage. Towards the end of our conversation, he smiled at me and said I was a good person. Sometimes truth really is stranger (and more fun) than fiction. P.S.- for some reason, my "enter" button refuses on register on the Wits server. Apologies for the whack layout.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post! I've also been up and down SA by bus, and it has been full of fun/weird/scary/lovely experiences...:D