Sunday, June 04, 2023

driving a bus to goa

I was at this bus showroom in Mumbai. It was in Goregaon, just inside the entrance of Aarey.

I was just given the keys to a brand new bus.

I was going to drive the bus to Goa.

I climbed into the driver's seat, turned the key, and the bus's engine roared to life.

The bus already had passengers in it. They were all kids, wearing school uniforms for some reason. There was also someone sitting in the "jump seat" of the bus, he was my navigator.

It was late afternoon, and we set off without wasting a minute.

The first thing I had to do was find reverse gear - the bus was parked adjoining the road, but it was pointing the wrong way, so for some reason I decided to get the bus on to Aarey road in reverse.

Once in reverse, I let go of the clutch and the bus was in motion. But I realized it was quite difficult to drive the bus in reverse.

This bus had a strange arrangement where I could sit on the opposite side of the steering wheel if I was driving it in reverse - somewhat like I learned to do when parking a boat in reverse. I moved around into that position, so I was now facing the rear of the bus and able to look out of the clear windows at the rear and drive it in reverse without looking into my mirrors.

Obviously there were massive blind spots all around so I realized I couldn't drive the bus in reverse too far without having an accident. A few hundred metres later (the bus was quite quick in reverse!) I spotted a lay-by which was broad enough to turn the bus around, so I drove straight (ie reversed) into it. I then shifted the bus into first, and still facing the rear of the bus, backed out of the space I had just driven into, backwards! Once the bus was out far enough for the rear end to be able to turn without touching the wall, I turned the steering wheel and got the bus halfway around.

I then moved back into the normal driving position (ie facing out of the front of the bus), waited for the road to be completely clear of traffic and completed the turn. Luckily for me, there was hardly any traffic, and I also thanked my stars that I was driving in India, where smaller vehicles give way to bigger vehicles.

This is when I realized I hadn't fully memorized the gear pattern of the bus - I only knew where first and reverse were. In fact, the gear pattern was completely different from every car I've driven - the spot that would usually be first was an extra neutral, and reverse was the extreme right but centre.

The tachometer got close to 5000 RPM and I realized I had to shift quickly or I'd be over-revving the engine. I shifted into what I thought was second, but the bus jerked to a sudden halt and stalled.

I pulled the parking brake, and looked at the gear pattern. It was quite complicated, and I did my best to memorize it. I also described it to my navigator, and told him if I'd ask him where was a certain gear, he was responsible for reminding me.

I then realized I had forgotten how to start the bus. I remembered I had to turn the key, but couldn't remember which way. I tried turning the key back and forth randomly, until the engine cranked, and the bus was moving again. I still couldn't remember which way finally worked, but I figured I could try moving it back and forth randomly the next time and I'd remember it eventually.

Luckily for me the road was pretty clear and soon I had driven all the way to Ghatkopar.

At that time I was suddenly aware that I had not drunk any water and the stress of learning to drive the bus had left me quite parched. I realized the street I was on was very familiar - it was right where my uncle  Irwin (who recently pased away) and aunt lived.

I parked the bus on the side of the road and entered the building. I had my bluetooth earbuds on, and called the navigator and spoke to him on the handsfree as I climbed the stairs. My aunt lived on the fourth floor, and as I climbed the stairs I kept describing what I saw to the navigator. But then, as I reached the fourth floor, I realized all the apartment doors were bricked up. I got to where the apartment should have been and saw it was bricked up as well.

I said on the phone that I'm going to have to go back down and find another way. As I climbed back down the stairs I met a middle aged man climbing up.

He said he had followed me up and asked me what I was doing there. I told him I was going to visit my aunt who lived at the last apartment on the fourth floor.

He said he was in charge of the security of the building and that all visitors had to sign in with him before entering. He lived in an apartment on the ground floor and escorted me to it.

He asked me to come inside and have a seat on the couch while he brought out the visitor's register for me to sign.

I told him I was very thirsty and asked if I could get a glass of water.

He told me he just had a jug of "jaljeera" ready and asked if I would like a glass of that instead. I replied that I'd love some jaljeera and he poured me a glass.

As I drank the glass of chilled jaljeera, his young son entered the room. The boy sat cross legged on the floor with a notebook and started drawing or scribbling in it.

The man gave me the visitor register and a pen. Before I filled it in, I asked him how I could get to the apartment as the door was bricked up.

He told me there was another entrance on the other side of the building and I could get to the apartment through that entrance.

I told the man I was still thirsty and asked if I could have some more. He didn't pour more jaljeera for me though - instead, he topped my glass up with cold water, and it was now extgremely diluted jaljeera, the colour pale from the dregs of what was left in the glass before he refilled it.

I drank the glass of cold water/diluted jaljeera, and just then the navigator who was still on the phone (and could hear my half of the conversation) asked me what was taking so long, and that I should hurry as it was getting dark and the passengers were getting restless. I didn't reply to the navigator, but instead told the man that I was going to visit my relatives to ask for some water, but as I wasn't thirsty any more, I didn't need to visit them.

I stood up to leave without filling the register, thanked the man, and let myself out of the apartment. As I was stepping out I noticed it had gotten dark outside and I would have to drive all the way to Goa in the dark. I told the navigator I was getting back to the bus and would be there in less than a minute.

And that's when I woke up.

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