Infamous, Unfortunate: Memoirs of A Kumsari

It’s a good thing Ibrahim is an early riser by nature, otherwise this job would’ve been a whole lot harder than it is. He doesn’t remember the last time he woke up to a shining sun; he always beats it to it. It’s a little harder in winters, ‘cause he'd be all stiff around the knees when he unfolds myself from under his jacket, on the back seat of old Zooba, but he'd look out the window and see all the people sleeping under the bus with not even a jacket to keep out the cold. That’s usually enough to get him going. Happily. Another good thing is that the old girl gets her wash and rub-down at night, before he gets his shut eye, so all he's got to do in the mornings is give her a sweep and a bit of a shine and check on the oil. Not too bad, really. It pays to do what you got to do today on time, that’s what his Ma says. She’s got a lot of good stuff to say, his Ma, and he always listens to her. Happily. He's a kumsari, the name’s Mustafa. A kumsari is a bus conductor. ‘Course the word ‘bus conductor’ sounds a whole lot fancier, and he wouldn’t mind being called that once in a while, but around here kumsari is what they go by.
Outside the bus, it isn't so cold as he though it’d be. It’s always that way, in the bus. Hotter than outside on hot days and colder on cold days. Today ain’t so cold. That’s a good thing. Too hot and too cold means a short temper for everyone. And there’s nothing worse than a bus full of short tempered people stuck in traffic full of short tempered other people. They usually take it out on the kumsari, you see. That would be Ibrahim. Happily. The sun is barely up and already people are arriving. They get all kinds of people around here. All kinds. But no matter how different they’re dressed they all look the same when they’re sitting down (or standing up, or hanging from the doors, or running after the bus). So he doesn’t know why they bother, really. Three buses down is his old pal, Jimmy. That’s not his real name, of course, he has another name, the one his mother calls him by, but Ibrahim forgot what it is. It doesn’t matter anyways. He ain’t from around here; he comes from up north, where they all talk funny. He used to talk funny when he first showed up about 5 or 6 years ago, but now he talks just like the rest of them. Or pretends to, at least. Ibrahim can see him stretching those long legs of his out the window. He ain’t an early riser by nature, so it’s a little harder for him in the mornings. Poor guy.
Ah yes, tea. Around here they get morning tea delivered, hot, fresh and custom made. The old lady that used to live in the house on the corner opening onto the bus stop, she’s the one that makes the tea. She doesn’t live there anymore; her and her nine kids got kicked out ‘cause they couldn’t pay the rent anymore, but she still brings her glasses and canoun and old, rusted teapots and parks herself on her same corner every morning, making tea and coffee and sheerya for the bus people and the people waiting to get on the buses and people passing by not getting on the buses and the shopkeepers, and sometimes a few sun boys when they behave. He’d feel sorry for her, but she doesn’t complain and she doesn’t look too bad. Ibrahim sees her kids once in a while; they don’t look too bad either, except that they wear the same things every time they come over. But hey, Ibrahim wears the same things too. He sits on a bambar and sips his tea, savouring the slightly tingling flavour of the different spices. A cup of tea and milk and around 5 spoons of sugar is really the best thing to start the day, take it from a kumsari. Or anyone else in the country. Ain’t no such thing as cereal or power bars around here, just tea and milk with 5 spoons or more of sugar. Jimmy and the rest of the boys have already collected for their morning tea and chitchat. Something it feels a little more like family than business around here. People grow on you when they’re the first thing you see in the morning and the last thing at night for 6 days a week. He supposes for some of them it’s the only family they’ll get. Ibrahim, he's gots his Ma and the girls at home, and even though he sees them on Fridays and doesn’t even spend the night, they’re still family. Some people like that Badr guy, they don’t have no one. Ibrahim thinks they get born that way. He says it’s ok, because whatever money he makes he keeps all for himself, not like the rest of them who have to split it five ways to keep everyone happy. Ibrahim supposes that’s a good thing about having no family. Of course, he wouldn’t know; he's always had his Ma and the girls at home. Happily.

Sitting behind the wheel of the bus, Ibrahim revs the engine a few times, warming it up. He loves that sound, especially after his morning tea and chitchat. Its sounds like good things to come. It’s enough to give anyone a mood-boost. Even old Abbashar. Old Abbashar, he’s the boss. The owner and driver of old Zooba. Drivers, they’re a big thing around here. Especially the ones that own their buses like old Abbashar here. There’s not too many of ‘em who have their own buses; usually it’s some guy from uptown who shows up on weekends to take his 60% of the week’s pay, minus gasoline, taxes, tickets and oil. You’d think it ain’t all that fair, but really, it could be a whole lot worse. You can take it from a kumsari. Happily. The seats are all full, and the usual 4 or 5 shama’a are in place. The new law says no more than one person besides the kumsari is allowed to stand in a bus, and the door has to be closed. Some new safety , since people standing in the open doorway have a habit of falling out into the street and getting run over when the bus makes a sharp turn, and then it’s all their fault. It takes a little coaxing, and since everyone’s in a hurry this early in the morning, no one wants to get off. The driver door slamming shut and the engine revving impatiently, however, makes up their minds, and soon there’s only one person left. With another growl from Zooba, Abbashar manoeuvres between the rikshaws and people, eases slowly onto the chipped and cracked asphalt, and then steps on the gas. Picking up speed, Ibrahim sticks his head out through the door, the morning air fresh on his face and the still sweet-smelling street brightly coloured in the sunlight. Trees and houses fly past us faster and faster, and they drive into the oncoming day, pockets empty, hearts full and good humour still reserved and shining. They're off!