Story of an Abu Dhabi Bus (by Estella Carpi, April 2015)

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Bus number 40 of 7.58 am.

A few months ago, when I started working in Abu Dhabi, I couldn’t stand two hours of bus ride a day. Now I think it’s the most “feeding” part of my day.

It is the only place where I visually interact with people, I see them listening to the music, reading, or peacefully waiting until they arrive to their destination. I have to sit in the Ladies section.

Shafagh is Iranian, she keeps the rhythm of the songs she sings in her mind while beating her foot up and down. Sometimes I can hear her whispering the melody of some of them. Helena is Filipino, she smiles at everyone, and she peacefully joints her hands on her bag, sometimes crossing her fingers. She seems to have all the patience of this world. Nata is Ethiopian. I like looking at her. She has big eyes, curly dark hair, and impeccable red lip stick. Even a casual shirt makes her look so much elegant. It’s such a pity she gets off only after three bus stops. I wish I could gaze at her for the whole journey. Darshana is an old Indian lady. She accurately bends her large scarf on her left shoulder. That scarf looks like a sleeping cat. She never smiles; she never looks into anyone’s eyes. She seems to keep so many secrets to us and about us. She seems to know what we couldn’t imagine. Dina is Egyptian. She patiently wait to find a free seat, while taking care of her babies’ pram. There is no time the two babies manage not to throw a tantrum. A ride of half an hour is too long for them. She looks at others with disappointment, for not getting any help whenever she needs to get off the bus with the two-seat pram.

Sometimes four Emirati young girls get on the bus and sit on two seats only. They pleasantly squeeze their bodies to sit side by side. Their laughs are loud. Sometimes they speak too fast and with such a dense Arab Gulf accent that I’m not able to grasp what they say. It frustrates me. Sometimes they mock the Egyptian accent of other two young girls who sit on the opposite seats. The two Egyptian girls don’t seem to be annoyed. They smile at each other and shrug off the mockeries.

I guess ‘Alia is Syrian. Her skin is so pale. She loves wearing monochrome veils. On Tuesdays she opts for brown, like her old but well maintained shoes. She is the only one immersed in a reading. The book she reads must be an Arabic novel, whose reading makes her laugh softly from time to time. She never looks at anyone. The whole world around her could suddenly disappear that she would not realise. She would still be grabbing her huge book.

And finally Fatoumata. I have no clue of where she comes from. The light in her eyes is desirous of change, but the way she frowns says how bored she is. You can see the tedium of society in her eyebrows’ shape. I wish once she turned her head from the window towards my eyes, to find all my empathy and my co-feeling, which she doesn’t need.

I like bus number 40. It’s the interregnum between a public space where no deep interactions seem to take place, and a closed space crossed by a biting air condition, where the unsaid makes all passers-by silently carry a life story they never want to tell.

I like bus number 40. Here I still feel lonely. But the encounter of more lonelinesses deceives me that the tacit solidarity of the unsaid is so much more humane than voicing our daily grief.

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One thought on “Story of an Abu Dhabi Bus (by Estella Carpi, April 2015)

  1. SEspinosa

    Beautifully written. It made me reflect of my own bus rides in this alien town. I thought about your characterisation of Helena, the Filipino woman. She may find solace in touching her bag mindlessly, and in keeping her fingers crossed, she thought of her family back home that one day she will return. I wonder if there’s an Estella Carpi in my bus rides, too, wondering why Shirlita kept her fingers crossed. Keep writing 🙂

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