Wheels

Ahmed steps out of the house, straightening his attire and rubbing his shoes, each in turn, against the back of his trouser-legs in a desperate effort to make them shine. He breathes in the fresh morning air and looks around him at his fellow early risers; the birds twittering together among the tree branches; a couple of dogs stretching the sleep out of their lean bodies, morose looking school children standing half-asleep against lamp posts waiting for their transport, and other men and women trudging forlornly along in varying degrees of shabbiness and misery. The day is but 7 hours old, and already the young and hopeful have set out to seek their different fortunes. Alas, if Ahmed wants to get where he’s getting on time, he should pick up his pace. Walking down the street, he sometimes greets and sometimes ignores other pedestrians, in a variable range of attire, all walking in the same direction. As he approaches the top of the main road, more people flock into view, adding volume to the gathering masses; like pilgrims gathering at the doors of Mecca waiting for it to open and for blessings to rain down on them from the heavens. Everyone seems to be looking in the same direction while ignoring the presence of others. A tense aura befalls them. Despite their different mentalities and backgrounds, they are extremely alike in this crucial hour, as they take part in an ancient and traditional act. The minutes tick by, as the numbers increase and the tension becomes almost palpable in the morning sun. Ahmed, a 26 year old security guard for some fancy petrol company, has always taken pride in himself and his belongings. He was just an average Sudanese guy from an average Sudanese neighbourhood. No fancy upbringing, no expensive car and no valuable education.  He'd grown up like most of the other boys his age; attending public schools, getting results that are just enough to see him from high school into some random college. Well, it's the certificate that counts, really, isn’t it? And, like most of the other boys his age (and older, and younger), due to the poor job market, had been forced to either sit around in front of shops all day or get a job doing whatever and confine the sitting-in-front-of-shops to night times. No big dreams, no far-fetched hopes and no ambitious plans. Like most other boys his age, he was lucky enough to have access to a satellite TV; at least he now knows what he lacks; money-wise if not otherwise. He was, after all, an average Sudanese guy from an average Sudanese neighbourhood.
As the crowd  highly refined hearing nerves have picked it up even before the thing has appeared over the horizon; the BUS approaches!
It is believed that man is constantly evolving to fit comfortably into the environment fate has provided him with (or for, whichever way you see it). The average Sudanese guy from the average Sudanese neighbourhood is probably the most highly evolved being in a number of ways. When it comes to battling the public transport system, it is a matter of seconds, of luck, of life and death. Ahmed barely moves; it is crucial to remain calm under the circumstances. That way one almost always gains the upper hand and a reasonable head start. The crowd huddles together, in reality more apart than ever, waiting to make a break for it. The tired sounding chug-chug-chugging gets louder and louder and more and more pronounced as the vehicle warily approaches. The driver and the kumsari, with their own highly evolved nervous conduction system on the lookout, get ready to be enveloped by the coming crowd. And then, it appears. THE BUS. Within a fraction of a second from its appearance the crowd springs into action. They run. They run like they have never run before. The driver looks onwards in growing horror, waiting for the impact. The kumsari quickly detaches himself from the door and jumps to the safety of the still empty ground, calling out, unnecessarily, the bus’s ultimate destination this morning. Ahmed unleashes the full potential of his legs and gallops towards the prize, which has stopped a few hundred yards away, all doors and windows open and ready. Men and women, of all ages and backgrounds, uniformed and ununiformed alike, sprint together as one, closing the space between them and their goal like a predator on its prey. They reach it in less than 2 seconds, Ahmed in the lead. Now it is just about mathematics, balance and sheer luck. One must correctly judge the distance needed to be covered between himself and the door, the height of the door from the ground and the length of one’s own legs to be able to land safely inside. About a metre and 3/4 away, Ahmed leaps high into the air, arms outstretched, legs parallel to the ground and a little fanned out to maintain his balance. He is inches away from the rectangular opening in front of him. Any second now he will land. Unconsciously letting out a war-like cry he never knew he had the vocal cords to support, Ahmed flies through the air, certain of his success. He knows he is not the only air-borne one, and sure enough he can see, out of the corner of his eye, several other people caught in the same action. The door inches closer in painful slow-motion…

The door opening can only handle one object at a time, and it is obvious that only one of the flying objects aimed at it would succeed. Ahmed knows it will be him; prays that it be so. A million years later, he feels his foot hit the metal ledge; victory shall be his! Suddenly the rectangular view is nowhere to be seen. Instead, Ahmed finds himself looking at the underside of the bus, wheels and all, in a whirl of dust and shouts. What has happened? Has he failed to judge his distance correctly? Did he jump too early? But there is no time to think; he must counter-act quickly if he is to make it onto the bus (and avoid being trampled to death). In a flash he is back on his feet, already pushed to the perimeters of the struggling masses, dismissed as a casualty that must occur. Not one to pause or lament, Ahmed has already switched to plan B: when the door is inaccessible, use the windows. Without thinking twice, Ahmed attaches himself to a passing window and holds on, the outward pressure emitting from the scrabble at the door rippling towards him through the grappling bodies fighting for entry. There are already three other passengers hanging on to the windows to his left and his right, yet he does not worry. Even though his limbs seem to have failed him at first, he is now certain they will not do it again. Sure enough, with some difficulty and a bit of resistance from both the crowds and the window, he pulls himself through the narrow opening grazing his shoulder and back on the metal and ripping his shirt on a stray shred of glass in the process; a small and familiar price to pay. Ahmed lowers himself through the metal frame onto the seat below him breathing a sigh of relief at what seems to him to be the end of his struggle, but then he is arrested by the feeling of a lumpy, leathery object underneath him. Pulling the thing out from underneath him, he stares at a woman’s handbag grasped in his hand. His mind runs blank.
'HOY!'
Ahmed jumps a foot in the air, handbag and all. His neck is clutched in grip, catching him in mid-air, as the woman who is supposedly the owner of the bag claims her rightful entitlement to the seat. Ahmed chokes for air, attempting a feeble apology and a plea of misunderstanding, denying any accusations of theft or robbery. Just as he is about to perish at the hands of a 5-foot 4 mass of purple veiled fury, he is chucked aside into the now-tapering crowd, saved from further physical damage by the human cushion. The bus, in the meantime, rolls into motion after approximately 6 seconds from parking. An outsider would think that Ahmed has failed his mission; that he was unable to secure a place on the bus to take him into town.
Ahmed’s evolutionary traits seem to extend to his general physique, autonomic system and emotional endurance. Besides his highly developed vestibule-cochlear nervous system, his lower limbs learnt to reach such length and arrangement as would help his daily struggle. He is also blessed with thicker skin than his counterparts in other nations; all the more to endure not just the scorching sun and harsh sand, but also as a protective mechanism against inevitable dehydration and constant whipping. The average Sudanese guy from the average Sudanese neighbourhood has a highly expandable stomach; while able to endure hours and sometimes days without food, it is equally equipped to handle any amount of food possible, of any variety and quality, and regardless of expiry date. More importantly, he would have developed a unique keratin and epithelial arrangement of his hands and fingers so that it is able to attach to any surface, through any space and for any period of time required. It is sometimes akin to magnetism. These tools are vital to his daily survival.
Jostled by the current of human bodies filling every possible crevice in the bus, Ahmed is passed to and fro, mostly in the direction of the door. His throat is still aching from his recent encounter with the female species. He gropes blindly around for air and a place to hold onto, coming ever nearer to the exit with each movement and closer to being expelled onto the street hurrying by outside. Absently noting the clicking of the kumsari lost somewhere in the midst of the crowd behind him, Ahmed tries helplessly to find a footing in the sea of feet below him. He has reached the last layer of people separating him from the open door, and any minute now he will find himself out in the open. He closes his eyes and sends a frantic prayer to the heavens, already feeling the wind on his face. Sure enough, the next wave of movement inside the vehicle finds him with one foot on the ledge, the other in the air and his arms trapped inside. But it seems the heavens, in a rare show of kindness to the average Sudanese guy from the average Sudanese neighbourhood, have responded to his desperate cry; in the form of 4 centimetres of bare metal framing the door of the bus. Ahmed spots the gleaming expansion of iron just as the broken asphalt opens its awaiting arms to receive his blue-clad body. He wrenches his arm free of the crowd and grabs at it. Success at last! The magnetic-like characteristics of his fingers rise to their full use as he curls the tips around the tiny concavity which would otherwise be impossible to hold onto. With half a foot on the outer ledge and 3 fingers hooked into a depression in the roof, Ahmed is an official passenger riding a bus into town; his place, though not the most comfortable, still affords the maximum amount of ventilation and the best view possibly acquired from atop a bus.


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