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Antics behind bus window shield

Updated on November 19, 2011

Editor's Note: What follows is a piece from an unpublished manuscript titled The Homecoming

To his dismay nobody took any notice of bus stops, drivers or fare collectors are unaware of their existence, mentally choosing to weed them out. Buses stop everywhere along the roads to pick up the passengers.

But they do this through a special kind of sign language! Not wanting to make unnecessary stops, they revert to an exceedingly elaborate art of gesticulations. After a while the driver becomes very good at it. In front of bewildered waiting passengers, the driver's hand takes a life of its own. Quick movements to the right, left or straight on.

Because it is made behind the glass shield, the driver does the movements a number of times. From where you are standing you can just about see the driver waving with his hand "to the left, to the left".

There is many a time when this language would not be understood. The driver making a different sigh while the would-be passenger on the road another, hoping-upon-hope the hand movements would coincide.

This cinematic conversation takes place right on the very road. In the end the driver looks like as if he is having a fit, trying to tell the person on the road "not that way, I am going this a way, this a way."

Although this takes place in a matter of seconds, frequently the bus bypasses the poor passenger-in-waiting. If lucky, the driver stops a 100 yards upfront, leaving the poor passenger to run for it.

Quite often however, drivers do not stop because of the actual mechanism of this imagery conversation and of the road dynamics which makes it very difficult to switch from one lane to another on the spur of the moment.

Karim didn't at first really know about this, he was still uninitiated in this art of sign language. And so he stood there to figure out which buses went to Zerqa. Because of the drizzle it was difficult to see the driver's hand signs.

By the time he put his arm out, the driver engages in what seems like an automatic fit, not only waving his hand, but also shaking his head for some reason like a demented chicken, and hails past at incredible speed.

This went on for nearly 15 minutes before Karim managed to agree on the right turns with one of the drivers. Now a terrible wreck, with flushed red cheeks and soggy hair, he gets on the bus and starts fidgeting in his pocket for change in front of the sitting driver. With what he thought were heaving passengers breathing down his neck, the fidgeting takes longer than expected. Finally he takes his seat.

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