Everybody has something to say regarding public transportation in Cuba… well, maybe not everybody, because I know people who haven’t stepped on a Cuban bus in years.
But those people are missing out on our experiences, those of us who sometimes walk on foot and other times catch the bus… or whatever form of transportation that might appear.
They’re also missing out on my blue fern as much as getting close to the most sordid human qualities – though I go for both experiences, as crazy as that might sound.
The fact is that I don’t know which of the two versions to tell first, so I’ll flip a coin; the result of which takes me back to when I was six. This was when we had still never dreamt of the Special Period crisis of the 90s, but when I had to take a bus every morning to get to school. Since then I’ve suffered these vehicles daily.
Because back then, it was agony to get to the bus stop on time to catch the 7:00 or the 7:30 a.m. bus. – with a whole half an hour between them. Of course I almost always rode standing, hanging onto the backs of the seats in one of those spaces where adults couldn’t fit, or where they were unable to place their handbags or shoulder bags.
Looking for one of those vacant spaces, I often got separated from the person who took me to school every morning. Because of this, certain adults often believed that I walked to school by myself.
On one occasion, while I was holding myself up on the back of the seats, I began to touch something very soft. As I’ve always been pretty distracted —meaning my mind almost always wanders— for a good while I hadn’t paid attention to what my fingers were touching.
But then the bus driver hit the brakes violently and I had to make more of an effort to hang onto the seat. In the commotion, I turned to find that what I had in fact been touching, without looking, was the male reproductive organ of some guy who didn’t have anything better to do at that hour in morning.
Thirty years later, I now ride from Vedado to the Alamar community in a bus a little larger than those used in the early ‘80s. The number of the bus has also changed. Before it could have been the 77 or a 26; now it’s the P11 route, which always gives me a chuckle seeing them change the bus and bus route numbers; it’s as if changing a dog’s collar would make it meaner…or in this instance would make the mode of transportation more efficient.
It was raining and I needed to arrive at an exact time at the house of some friends who needed some help from me. I therefore had no choice but to take the first P11 that showed up, though I knew that the pushing along with the probable attempts at pickpocketing and cheap feels would soon begin.
In my hands I carried a pot with a blue fern. Even it emerged victorious having made it on the bus with me, despite people’s hands desperately trying to reach the door, though it seems they decided not to knock it to the side on their way. So there I was, protecting my backpack in which I was carrying my camera while barely able to hold myself up with one hand, since in the other hand was my recently bought pot with my timid blue fern.
Beyond any help that I may have been able to offer my friends, I knew they would feel comforted in the company of this delicate little plant. But given the recklessness of the driver, the people who continued getting on the bus —anxious to find anything to grab onto— my intended gift could have easily ended up on the floor or on top of someone’s head.
Then there suddenly appeared the hands of two boys seated in front of me. I was astounded by them. Guys at their age I was expecting to only be interested in peering through bus windows at pretty young girls walking down the street. They were at that age where usually there’s little thought about the needs of others… that age where we usually criticize everyone who has surpassed ours.
So, my blue fern was protected from accidental knocks and bumps thanks to these two, who —through the window— still watched a girl running under the tropical rain, but while keeping a steady eye on the little plant with which I had just entrusted them.
When getting off I thanked them. Had I been another teenager, I would have given them each a big kiss. They, however, hardly looked at me. They continued looking out into the rain, or at whatever it was that held their attention – as if their kindness lacked importance, completely.