Never has getting to school been such a hazardous and chaotic experience. One of my younger one-to-one students, who is at High School, told me about his eventful ‘bus escolar’ (school bus) experiences, a story that made me laugh and wince at the same time, as though I had trapped a nipple in a door in a particularly comic manner. (Coincidentally, I did that once, in a very small attic flat I was living in just off Tirso de Molina. The shower was built into a corner of the attic, with those concertina doors that rattle back and forth, meeting in the middle and, if you aren’t careful, trapping your nipple in between the join. But that’s another story…)
First of all, the bus is always at least fifteen minutes late, but this is a capital city, and a Spanish one at that, so who’s counting a little tardiness? Except one day it was over 2 hours late, and the students waited patiently in the cold, to arrive at school just in time for the mid-morning break. I refuse to go along with the notion that Spaniards are all hot-headed, impatient Latinos, having seen for myself their flexibility and good-natured, laid-back reactions to situations like this, which would give your average Brit an immediate embolism.
So who was the driver responsible for the two hour delay? A character the students nick-name the equivalent of ‘Fag Ash Bill’ (Spanish term instantly forgotten, sorry), due to his permanently having two cigarettes on the go at once.
‘Yes, in English we call that chain-smoking, when they put one out and immediately light up another one’ and my student replied,
‘No, he has one burning down almost finished and the other already lit. All the time. Two cigarettes literally in his mouth all the time. And he speaks with such a heavy smoker’s voice you can’t understand a word he says.’
Apparently the condition of the bus itself isn’t much better than that of its driver. On an almost daily basis there is either a problem with the accelerator or the brakes, and occasionally both of them at once. The school is on a steep hill, which there are often problems climbing. More than once the accelerator has given out halfway up the hill and the driver has had to reverse back down the hill using the brakes on the way; recently as he was doing this the brakes also gave out. Luckily there were no casualties. Inside the bus is no better. On opening the ancient air conditioning vents above their heads for the first time students were delighted to find insect eggs showering their heads, and antique puffs of dust emerge from the seats when you sit on them. Not one seat belt works, and the door sticks sometimes, trapping everyone inside until it can be forced back open.
After a while this particular jalopy was removed from service and they were sent another bus, apparently not much better. The driver this time they nick-named ‘El Matador’, given his enthusiasm for playing bullring ‘brass band’ music all day long. Sometimes he plays the radio commentary from bullfights as well, throughout the whole bus, whether you want to listen or not. El Matador is apparently just as bad a driver as his predecessor. My student told me,
‘Oh yeah, the only time we had a real accident (as if this were something to be grateful for, the only one time) he missed a turning on the roundabout and instead of going round again he decided to reverse back to the turning. He hit a car on the way.’ Then he told me about the other time there was an accident, but not a ‘real’ one, when the bus hit a car on a straight road with nothing else coming, apparently the driver the only one on the bus who didn’t see it.
‘It was a red car as well,’ said my student regretfully. ‘It’s not like it was white or something, you could really see it. We were all going – hey, ….hey –WHOAH! CAR! And after we hit it just shrugged and said – oh, I didn’t see it.’
Accidents like this could have been averted by the careful attention of the school ‘chaperone’, his wife, but apparently she is more concerned with bringing him chocolate con churros in the morning (muddy-thick hot chocolate and coils of fried dough which you dunk into the drink, like a loop of doughnut, a delicious serving of early-morning cholesterol but so worth dying for). When he is treated with chocolate and churros, he normally rests the cup of chocolate on the steering wheel so he can comfortably dunk, and steers with his knees.
I naively asked why they didn’t report the bus company to the school and was told,
‘Well, we don’t say anything and neither does he, it’s kind of reciprocal. He lets us run around like maniacs on the bus and do whatever we want, climbing on the seats, opening the emergency exit to let some air in, playing music, shouting, and so on. He knows if he tells us off, ever, for anything, we’ll report him to the school. It’s chaos on that bus. But you know, ssshhh… I won’t say anything if you don’t. Reciprocity.’
‘Nod’s as good as a wink.’
And finally we got down to some language work.