The last time I was on a long distance bus, I was in China headed to Shanghai from Beijing. It was a “sleeper” bus which meant it had no seats per se but rather bunk beds bolted to the sides and centre of the bus. The bunks had seat belts attached to the side of the bus. They didn’t go across the bed; instead, they acted as handles that you grabbed onto in an effort to avoid falling off the top bunk when the bus turned or stopped or reversed….or pretty much moved at any time. So, when my mother asked me to accompany her on a bus to Polokwane, I was wary. But ever the dutiful daughter; I obliged.
According to the ticket we leave from platform 11 at 3 o’clock on the “Eagle Liner” (it’s alright if you have not heard of it. Neither had the multitudes of people we asked at the station). We find platform 11 at the end of the station, it’s not marked but there seems to be a lot of people milling about there, with what seems to be ALL their belongings. A man sitting on a makeshift chair and table waves us over and takes our tickets. It turns out this bucket chair and desk is the boarding gate. Okay.
A plain white bus pulls into the platform, with the licence plate “EAGLE 10”. The conductor hops off the bus, mum hands him our tickets and says “two to Polokwane”. The conductor promptly hands her back the tickets and says: “no”.
Whoops… so I guess this is not our bus.
This is odd because the bucket man is waving and telling us to get on.
Very confused, we try again. “Mama,” the conductor says, “this bus is going to Zimbabwe”. He spots the waving bucket man, sighs, turns to the bus driver and asks him if the bus stops in Polokwane.
The driver, looking very confused, responds: “I’m not sure, let me find out.”
You’d think that if anybody on the bus would know where the bus was stopping- it would be the bus driver.
Finally satisfied that this is the correct bus the conductor allowed us onto the bus. The bus is hot and stuffy. A lyrical song backed by marimbas is blaring through the speakers. Without warning a bootleg disk is thrust into my face: “R10, R10 sisi. What do you want? Movie? DVD? Music? Anything you like…sisi R10.” I’m really taken aback; this is the last thing I expected on the bus. I respectfully decline. He nods, turns and places his merchandise into his bag.
As we sit down he swings around and whips out numerous packets of sweets. Again, he shouts: “R10, R10 (cos everything is R10)! What do you want? Anything? All sorts, sisi; all sorts.” Incredulously, I shake my head and burst into fits of laughter. I’ve been on many long-distance bus trips and these are the things I really didn’t anticipate: bootleg discs being sold, very loud music, people singing along to music, no air-conditioning, fried chicken, more fried chicken and fried chicken.
Almost one hour later we head out the station because as you can imagine, it’s really difficult when everyone brings all their belongings on board. There’s a lot of noise, laughter and singing on the bus. All the windows are opened so the noisy wind rushes in too. I’m reminded of school trips and suddenly feel out of place sipping my strawberry bonaqua and reading Jane Eyre on my kindle. I wonder when I will at eat my padkos of “fruit salad and yoghurt”.
The conductor gets up and welcomes us to the bus, introduces himself and outlines some basic rules of the coach in Shona. From the tone of his voice I sense that he has asked a question. Suddenly, everybody responds “yes!” He asks another question and suddenly the people around us look straight at us and shout “yes!”
I’m not sure what he has said but I’m hoping it was:
“Is this bus legit?”…
“Is this bus stopping in to Polokwane?”