I relish long bus rides, just as when I was younger and such bus rides signified a trip to some exciting destination. Now though, bus rides are a unique experience in itself. I like to choose a seat somewhere near the back door, where I get a good vantage point of what goes on in the bus. Then, I unplug my earphones, settle down and observe.
In the early mornings, the commuters are a hodgepodge of sullen schoolchildren with hooded eyes and skewed uniforms, housewives with their shopping carts on their way to the wet market, and young working adults in their shined shoes and crinkled office uniforms. My favorites are the retirees. Dressed in a simple white top, loose slacks, neat shoes and vintage suspenders, an old man who lives in my neighborhood boards the bus every morning without fail, to make his way to the nearby town centre for his breakfast routine. It makes me sit up a little straighter, when this stooped old man makes his way up the aisle with concise steps. Everything in his carriage and his attention to his attire, even on such a simple assignment as getting breakfast and the morning papers, spoke to me about self-respect and self-discipline.
In the late mornings, toddlers and their caretakers are the main entertainment. The more ebullient ones drum their fists on the window panes, squealing out commentaries of the passing scenery in the gibberish that only mothers can understand. There are also the shy ones who stare doe-eyed and transfixed when they catch the eye of a stranger, then grin abruptly and burrow their heads in their mothers’ necks. The ones who reach out confidently to grab your finger or to exchange an unspoken conversation of cheeky grins and poked-out tongues, have the ability to light up my day.
I often share the back of the bus with teenagers who seem to only gather in groups of at least three. There are the evocative ones who yell out their conversations, seeming to revel in the stares of fellow commuters as they joke, tease and curse. Sometimes, the more public-spirited ones think to share their music with the bus, blasting tinny rock music from their cellular phones and completing the free performance with head bobs and leg twitches.
Then there are the young adults who, with their earphones plugged in, stare off into space, deeply engrossed in their own thoughts. There are the rare occasions where I catch a young lady, secretly wiping away the tears that seem to slip out of their own volition – a glimpse of someone’s inner pain.
Long bus rides are slices of stolen time in the midst of the hustle and bustle of city life. Here, life stories can be condensed into snippets, to be viewed by the observant and understood by the imaginative. All it takes is for one to keep awake to enjoy them.