By Dr Purnima J. Shahani
ST GEORGE’S, Grenada — Today, I rode the “Number 1 bus” in Grenada, from Grand Anse to St George’s. This is what we Trinidadians call a public “maxi” and my ride to “town” and back was the first ever in such transport in my life, having arduously avoided them all my days in Trinidad.
What an experience! It was like another world entirely, not without its own unique charm, much to my surprise. There is a driver and a conductor, who is literally called “Conductor”, which people sing out softly when they are approaching their stop, to catch his attention and nudge their ES$2.50 toward him.
By the way, “maxi protocol” demands that one makes a not-too-loud, not-too-soft, not-too-long, not-too-quick drumming on whatever metallic part if the van is at hand to indicate that Driver should stop just ahead. Conductor bangs louder if the sound came from the back of the van, so driver is certain to be alerted. Perfect division of labour… Driver makes sure he goes as fast as possible, so passengers have only a near-death experience instead of a complete one (but if they did die, believe you me, they would actually be early for their own funeral, since Driver would get them there sooner than invitees travelling by any other, non-maxi means) and Conductor does the rest…. balancing and the ins and outs, the stops and pickups, the taking of fare, the making of change, the packing in like sardines of the innards of his orchestra (the womb of the maxi), a gentle flick of his wrist indicating to the “newbies” (only us today!) how we should move and shift and squeeze as other wayfarers come and go.
There was no thought of disobeying his instructions, despite several occasions where the internal move caused a foreign thigh, a bony shoulder, a sticky schoolchild’s armpit or the occasional hip to be rather too intimately affiliated with one’s own vulnerable anatomy! A rich and colourful new thread in my life’s tapestry, and for the bargain price of only EC$5 (per person, round trip)! The shell-shocked, deer-in-headlights look in Husband’s eyes by the end of our adventuresome journeys…. Priceless!