Brawling on Cuban Buses

Osmel Almaguer

Inside a Havana Metro-Bus. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — The intense heat of summer has only just insinuated itself and buses are already crammed to the bursting point with people bound for the beach. The difference now is that, thanks to the purchase of a great many new vehicles, people wanting to go for a refreshing dip have many more transportation options at hand.

The coolness of the waters to the east of Havana, however, does not appear to instill people with a sense of peace or anything remotely resembling that. Their frustration doesn’t get washed away by the sea, and the salt and iodine in our Caribbean waters do little to cure the wounds of the spirit. So, when it’s time to head back home, the brawling begins.

Yesterday, I got on the 462, a bus that takes beach-goers to the Virgen del Camino intersection, passing through Alamar, Guanabacoa and other neighborhoods on the way. The first stop was under the zealous scrutiny of a great many representatives of public order and you sensed some tension in the air, though there weren’t that many people there and the situation looked under control.

I got on the bus and instinctively tried to walk to the back. I found a stop in front of some seats that were occupied by teenagers, and I soon realized they were in the middle of an argument.

It was already too late: the bus had filled up with people and I had no way of getting back to the front. Suddenly, things between the teenagers cooled down and I was hopeful all would end well, thinking that perhaps my fears were a tad overblown, that people these days are rude and speak as though they were yelling, and that the exchange between these two boys could be a normal conversation.

But that was not the case, though the first punches weren’t thrown by these two, but by people in the middle of the bus. It was a big crowd of people, so big, in fact, that I could not tell how the conflict had started, or who it involved. I would catch fleeting glimpses of women and men, going at each other and getting off the bus.

I saw women with children on their arms fall to the floor, losing their swimsuits and exposing their breasts as they fell. I saw men hitting anyone within punching distance. The enraged crowd, which seemed absorbed by the violence like gladiators in a coliseum, was a truly hellish spectacle.

Minutes later, the bus was again in motion and the brawlers on board, their hair sticking out and their bodies covered in sand, were laughing, as though nothing had occurred. Now, it was time for the teenagers beside me to go at it. Their disagreement revolved around a bus window.

They looked like two angry snakes wrapped around one another. They stumbled along the length of the bus, ending up in the middle. They hit, groped and threatened each other. At this point, people got a bit frightened. There were children and women on the bus, who were not used to seeing so much violence. There were some, though, who had a bit of a laugh with the brawl.

Finally, the third brawl broke out, this time at the front of the bus. I couldn’t find out the reasons behind this one either, but, it was clear that, as before, the people involved were inebriated. I was only a stop away from my destination, but I decided to get off and walk, to get away from those crowds.

Luckily, no one had been carrying a pair of scissors or a blade, something by no means uncommon, and no blood was spilled. On my way home, I had a chat with a woman, accompanied by her two teenage sons. She had also gotten off the bus and was heading home, but she had to walk all the way to the bus’ terminal stop. “You shouldn’t have done that, “ I told her, “all of these buses come filled with people looking for a fight…plus, what time do you expect to get home today?”


Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.

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2 thoughts on “Brawling on Cuban Buses

  • When I lived in Cuba, I used to always take the P400 bus from Playa Azul in front of the Tropicoco hotel back to Habana Vieja. My Cuban friends thought I was nuts to take the bus when I had the money to take a private taxi back to Havana, but watching the “floor show” on the bus ride back was a part of my day-at-the-beach adventure. Young Cuban men on the bus with just enough beer or rum in their bellies to be brave and brazen would say and do things to each other to impress the bikini-clad young girls on the bus. Every other word was ” Pinga”. I grew up in Los Angeles, so by comparison, this was kid’s stuff but it was always interesting to see Cubans let their hair down and mix it up a little.

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