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A Bus Brouhaha

Published in SA Jewish Times - November 1995)

So there I was, standing towards the back of the bus clutching a railing for dear life, just one of the many commuters whose bodies were being hurtled back and forth with every jolt of the bus. Bus drivers seem to exact great pleasure from visiting these involuntary shock-aerobic sessions on their helpless passengers. But who could blame the drivers? Imagine driving from one end of Jerusalem to the other all day, heavy traffic, kamikaze road warriors, and on-going abuse from a bus load of back-seat drivers. And all this in 35 celcius degree heat!

Suddenly the bus stopped and a man just in front of me, vacated his seat. Unfortunately for me, I was too slow on the uptake (give me another month here and I'll be just as quick as the sharpest Israeli), and a buxom woman shot like a bullet from an uzi, into the seat. Two minutes later, the same woman, we'll call her Ms Buxom, leant forward in the seat, and asked the young woman (we'll call her Ima) in front of her, "Did you pay for your child's seat?" The child in question was seated innocently, on his own seat next to Ima, who was presumably his mother.

No momentary gasp of indignation was emitted from Ima's lips. She just launched into a full-throttled attack.
"What do you mean did I pay for his seat? My son is two years old, I'm not required to buy him a ticket. What's it to you anyway?" She looked like a furious ostrich as she tried to keep an eye on her son, while at the same time twisting her neck around to scream at Ms Buxom.
"Relax Geveret!" shouted Ms Buxom, "I was only asking because there are so many people standing, don't you think you should put your child on your lap so someone could sit down?"
Ima, quite hysterical now, waved her hands in the air, and retorted, "Where? Where are all the people who want seats? No-one is here!"
I was about to put up my hand and shout "Hello! Cooey! I'm not sitting and nor are the other people you see flying around the bus," but I was thoroughly enjoying the little drama unfolding before me, as were most of the airborne passengers, so I kept quiet.

Ms Buxom was now screaming like a banshee, while Ima still insisted that no-one wanted a seat. This irrational "dialogue" continued unabated for about five minutes, during which time a rapt audience watched the brawling broads, half hoping I'm sure that there would be a punch-up between them.

Suddenly a voice was heard emanating from five rows in front of the two women. It's source was an overweight, Morrocan man with splotchy skin and greasy hair. Shlomo, (he looked like a Shlomo), just had to have his opinion heard, a malady known to affect many Israelis of all ages. He twisted around in his seat to face the women and focusing on Ms Buxom, said:

"Geveret, leave her alone. She's entitled to have her son on the seat next to her for G-d sake. What the heck is it your business anyway, you have a seat!"
"Yes, Yes, correct," chimed in an elderly woman with a bun perched on her head like an upside-down fruit bowl, "if you care so much for the people standing, who don't you give someone your seat?"
A chorus of general assent broke out.
"Oh c'mon people," asserted an exasperated English-speaking, male American, "how about making peace?" Leave it to an American to interfere in a domestic skirmish. Isn't it enough that they meddle in Bosnia, the entire Middle East, and East Timor? Can they not leave one unharmonious bus well alone?

After that, the bus turned into a kind of UN debating session on wheels. Everyone became afflicted with the opinion malady, so that by the time the bus reached town, the stressed out bus driver was barking "QUIET!" through his microphone system. I didn't stick around to see the outcome of his instructions, but I did make a point of listening to the news later, half expecting to hear a headline such as, "Child hurled out of bus window" or "Bus driver arrested for assault - claim: "they drove me to it".