Among the students in my elementary school, there were many whose family could not afford to have an automobile. Therefore, they did not have the privilege of riding in one. Unluckily, I was one of them. For the kids like me, riding in a car was a luxury that existed only in our dreams, waiting to become a reality. A very few kids whose families had an automobile often made us envious by telling us stories about the pleasure of their joyrides. In those days, of course, there was no sign of Paykan, Peugeot, Patrol, or Pride, especially in smaller cities. Only horse-driven carriages served as the primary means of public transportation. The ones powered by two horses were equivalent to the deluxe models. Even the local bus service came to our town after I graduated from elementary school. I was told a story abut one of our neighbors who rode a service bus for the first time and gave a couple of fresh eggs to the driver as he was getting off the bus to cover the fare, one for himself and one for his wife who referred to as motealleghe. Don’t get a wrong idea, it wasn’t a barter system, just some older people preferred to do things the old-fashioned way.
Being cool for kids like me was a lot cheaper those days than what it costs today, and not to mention much safer. We used to run behind a speeding carriage until we could grab the metal rods on the top of the rear wheels, and jump up and sit on it for a free ride. It was cheap fun that could also take us from one place to another. It was even more enjoyable to share the illegal ride with a friend given that the back-end of the carriage was wide enough to accommodate two passengers. However, often the joy was very short-lived, eventually ended painfully when the suspecting carriage-driver either stopped the carriage to get rid of us or force us to give up by the strokes of his lash. Once a rumor were circulated at our school that even Mr. Khatib, the youngest teacher who was recently hired, would sometimes ride on the back of a carriage to get to school on time. We felt vindicated when we heard such a rumor. It made us feel better about our mischievous behavior.
I remember vividly when I rode a bus for the first time, when my parents decided to take me to Tehran to visit some relatives, sele arham, not for pleasure. Pleasure trips were as scarce for us as the copper bowl in the bear’s house, khneh kherse va badieh mess? We waited for a long time at the waiting area of the only major bus station in our town called garage transport. Whether we liked it or not, we had to wait until there were enough passengers to fill all the seats in the bus. Finally the waiting was over. It felt like God gave me the whole world when the assistant driver asked us to start riding the bus. I was so excited that I was jumping up and down like a monkey. The life long dream of mine was about to become a reality. I was the first to get on the bus.
When it came to paying attention, kids really didn’t matter. They were considered as parasites, tofaili. As such, my parents didn’t even think about buying a ticket for me. Consequently, I had no seat. So I decided to sit on the VIP bucket chair in the first row next to the driver’s seat. It was so festive for me to watch the outside from the front window of the bus. I decided to fully enjoy my temporary self-bestowed opportunity. Where I would ultimately sit was based on themercy of the assistant driver. If there were not enough passengers to fill out the entire bus, he may offer me a regular seat or at least a stool to sit on. Unfortunately, I was not even offered that. I was crawling up and down in the middle alleyway between the rows of seats. I was like a homeless person who was unsuccessfully searching for a place to lay down. Once, a passenger, who was probably trying to alleviate my suffering, offered me a peace of candy, noghl shekar panir. An older couple sitting in the next row give me a peace of home-made bread and a chunk of white goat cheese, insisting that I eat them. They were telling me in their cute Turkish language; eat, they are very delicious, chokh yemali deer.
Unlike contemporary buses of today, the buses those days were not much equipped with safety feature or comforting amenities. They were very basic, shaped like a huge tall Zamboni with a long nose, noisy, rattling and trembling especially when going fast. Particularly, the one we were in was the closest approximation of the machine of Mashdi Mamd Ali. Stubborn like a mulish mule, it seemed that the bus was not willing to carry any passenger anywhere. After a while on the road to Tehran, it started tossing us, especially those sitting in the back rows, up and down. Maybe because of the big nose, the bus was sneezing too often.
When we got to Ali Abad, almost half way to Tehran, many of the passengers already threw up. You could tell what they have had for lunch from the smell of their vomit! By this time, the bus was infested with all kinds of stinky odors. I was about to throw up too. Luckily, the driver stopped the bus at the front of a road-side tea house for a much needed rest, ab chopogh, as he told us. The passengers, tired and in dire need of using the bathroom, got out in a not-so-orderly fashion. The assistant drivers made it clear that everyone should return to the bus after about half an hour. It was, I believe, beneath the dignity of the driver to explain every details to the passengers, this duty was left to his assistant.
When the bus was struggling to climb up the hills or make a sharp turn on that dangerous road, the panicking travelers had to pray and recite salavat many times, especially for the safety of Mr. driver. Others, I guess, didn’t deserve that kind of blessing. As a matter of fact, we had to do that so often to make sure that he got us to our destination safely and soundly. If the results of people’s deeds in this word are the basis for the heaven or hell decisions in the great judgment day, I think the Iranian bus drivers are the first group to go to the heaven because the way they drive turns everyone into a pious prayer!
After a short rest in the tea house, the assistant driver announced loudly that all the passengers must return to the bus. Gradually, we all entered the bus waiting for the driver to return. It seemed that it was kind of displeasing for him to return to the bus before the passengers. He had to be the last to get in.
We were about to start counting down for the take off, when we noticed that one of the passengers was missing. His name was Amoo Gholi. He was an old man probably in his early sixties, retired not because he was too old to work but because he was physically too frail to do any manual labor. Like other older men, Amoo Gholi was at the mercy of his sons, especially the oldest one who was traditionally obligated to take care of his aging parents. His wrinkled paled face was indicative of lifelong hard work in hot, sunny weather, malnutrition, and inadequate healthcare services. He reminded me of the tale of the bittern bird who lives in the reedy marshes and does nothing but endure grief. It was so saddening to see men like him, whose physical and mental capacities have been depreciated throughout decades of hard work and serving society. Now that he was old and unable to support himself, society had turned its back on him, assumed no responsibility for him, and left him at the mercy of his sons who could hardly provide for their own families.
The more we searched, the less we found a trace of Amoo Gholi. It seemed, as the Americans would say, he either turned into smoke and vanished into the air or turned into water and penetrated the ground. A few of the passengers searched every corner of the tea house to no avail. They even knocked every door in the men’s restrooms. They didn’t hear the sound of Amoo Gholi’s ehen!
In the meantime, the hot weather inside the bus made waiting more unbearable for most of the passengers, who started to voice their complaints. Everyone tried desperately to find a solution to this dilemma. The number of recommended solutions was very small and some of them were either strange or unpractical. At last, after much deliberation, we concluded that Mr. Amoo Gholi must have inadvertently gotten on a wrong bus and who knows where he is now. Consequently, further waiting is useless and we have to continue our journey without him. However, who had the courage to explain that to his son, who was one of the passengers and supposedly in charge of him?
Because necessity is the mother of all practical inventions and adversity is the source of creativity, one of the passengers suddenly made a strange suggestion; why don’t we look inside that bus that is parked at the far corner of the tea house’s yard, he yelled. The bus he was referring to, was disabled, abandoned, and left at that spot to be eventually transported to a junkyard. Many who had been helplessly inactive until that moment suddenly jumped up voluntarily and ran toward that bus. Surprisingly, it was an accurate guess. Amoo Gholi was in that bus and had been waiting and wondering where the hell the other passengers were.
When the anxious searchers entered the abandoned bus, they saw Amoo Gholi lying down relaxingly, like a soldier who is assured of permanent peace, praying and reciting ayatal korsi for the safety and happiness of all the believers particularly the fellow passengers. He had started yelling after seeing them and asking them why they had kept him waiting and where they had been. In other words, Amoo Gholi, the source of all the problems, now considered himself a victim and accused us of carelessness and procrastination.
I think many of us may behave exactly like that in real life and create problems for others by our sloppy actions or hasty decisions. All too often, such decisions, which we may consider trivial, not only do not solve any problems, but may even create new ones.
Finally, Amoo Gholi was transferred to our bus with full ceremony and we continued our journey. Many passengers did not hesitate to show their anger by scolding the poor old man mercilessly for the mistake he made unintentionally. However, I thought they did not have a right to do that. The fact that some people like him may be absent-minded or naïve should not give us an excuse to blame them for an accidental mistake. We have to submit to the fact that people are different, physically and mentally. Many may not be as clever as we are. We should, however, like every person the way he or she is, and not the way we think he or she should be.
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