Saturday January 26, 2013
By ALEXANDRA WONG
On what could have been a long night on the last day of the year, a bus driver adds unexpected cheer.
SINCE we’re still at the beginning of the year and all, I thought I’d come clean and confess: I’m not some dewy young woman in her mid-20s.
I’ve been in denial for some time. Sure, people reassure me I don’t look my age, but there’s only so many times you can Facebook photos taken circa 2005, before the truth catches up with you. Or, in my case, explode painfully in your face, as happened in Penang last December.
“Auntie, mau pergi mana?” (Where do you want to go, Auntie?)
I stared dumbly at the bus driver, who had to be at least 50 years old. There had to be a mistake.
“Auntie, mau pergi mana?” he repeated in a louder voice, his eyes trained unmistakeably on me.
I looked left, right and behind my shoulders. I was surrounded by men.
Feeling my ego shrivel to the size of a raisin, I mumbled Lip Sin and hurriedly slunk up the bus. There was no empty seat, other than the one right next to my offending insulter. Great. I was stuck with him for the rest of the drip.
My hopes of a short journey were dashed as the bus trundled onto Jalan Jelutong. The streets were choked; it was peak hour on New Year’s Eve, after all. Gritting my teeth, I burrowed myself deep into the seat, as far as I could possibly get from him, and mentally tried to teleport myself out of the bus.
At the Jalan Petani stop, a young woman with short hair came running breathlessly and rapped on the closed front door. Other bus drivers would have driven off and left her fuming in a cloud of choking exhaust. Our bus driver, however, braked and opened up the door. In a loud voice that rang loud and clear throughout the bus, he asked: “Auntie, mau pergi mana?”
Auntie? The young woman couldn’t be a day over 25!
I watched the next few passengers closely. True enough, he addressed every Malay woman as kakak (sister), Malay man abang (older brother), and so forth – regardless of their age. Realisation dawned: he was just being courteous.
No longer miffed, I began observing our unusually polite driver with renewed interest and in a different light.
The Rapid range of buses, just like in other cities, is helmed by just one person. That’s one lone person, steering the bus, managing the flow of passengers, collecting fares and looking out for the safety of everyone through the same mind-numbing maze of routes over and over again for hours. The monotony is probably enough to drive most sane people nuts.
Need a pee break, or have a stomachache? Too bad!
If you were in their position, you’d occasionally have axe-wielding murderer tendencies too. Especially if you meet the irritating passengers who hog the queue only to ask where the bus is going, never mind if they’ve been sitting in front of a perfectly informative noticeboard for the last half hour.
On my vantage ringside seat, I must have observed at least a dozen antics that drove me precipitously close to bursting a blood vessel.
Yet the bus driver never lost his cool. To every single person who asked, he would answer in the same patient way, “Bus ni tak pergi. Auntie tunggu bas No .. Bus tu pergi Jalan Tu-dan-Tu.” (This bus doesn’t go there. Auntie, please wait for Bus No.. That bus goes to Such-and-Such Road.”
If the bus was full in front because passengers were reluctant to move in, he would gently ask awaiting passengers to board through the rear door. It meant packing the bus like a sardine can, but hey, this was the eve of a public holiday.
The alternative would be to leave them stranded to wait for the next equally-packed bus. And God knew how long that would be.
He actually checked the rear view mirror to make sure every passenger had alighted safely, before revving the engine and inching ahead gradually, just to be safe.
Even knights in armour have chinks. When we reached a shadowy tree-lined road, he lamented aloud: “Hai, tak boleh nampak lah belakang.” (Sigh, I can’t see what’s happening at the back). I could clearly hear his distress in his voice.
Obviously, I was not alone, because at the next stop, a voice from the crowded mass behind piped up, “Ok, clear! Jalan!” (Ok, clear! Go!)
I turned shocked eyes to the lady sitting next to me. “Did one of the passengers just appoint himself conductor?”
She nodded, looking equally amazed. “Driver bas ni baik, ya?” she remarked. For the rest of the journey, we chatted up a storm.
Goodwill is an infectious thing. We were no longer a bunch of tired, sullen strangers trapped together in a tin can, but a band of merry-makers coasting on a cloud of goodwill.
When time came for me to get down, I braced myself. I had a feeling he would say, “Selamat jalan, Auntie”, just like he did the other passengers. True enough, he did. But it was ok. From wanting to throttle him moments ago, I wished I could toast him for his exemplary actions.
To Encik Roslan, the mustachioed hero who gallantly captained PJU 4087 down Penang’s cramped and colourful byways on 31st January 2012, thank you.
■ Alexandra Wong (www.bunnysprints.com) knows this is a very very long shot. But it would be great if somebody out there could inform RapidPenang management what an absolute gem of an employee they have - even if he did call a not-so-dewy young woman ‘Auntie’.