There is probably a semi-large staff of bus drivers on the Big Island, all assigned to different routes, but the one that drives the bus on my particular schedule is a real life Ogre. When I have, well, if I ever have children I won’t read them fairy tales, I will tell them tales of their real life mother who rode a broken down bus on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean which was driven by a lumpy, slightly grey, toothy Ogre. My children will be tough, they won’t yell at me to stop or have nightmares, they will be intrigued, just like I was, with this bus driving Ogre. “Mommy, what do you mean lumpy? Were her teeth sharp or just missing?” they will ask me, enchanted and fearless. “One was kind of jagged, pretty sharp, pointy,” I’ll say.
The first day I rode the bus, I was an hour early. My jungle shanty is a bit off the gird and to get to the bus stop requires a mile and a half journey through coffee fields. My job begins at 7:15 am, and the first bus into town is scheduled at 6 am, the next one arriving at 8 am, which would be too late meaning I would miss my job and be unable to live in my jungle shanty, so you can see how in preparation, I left my house at 5 in the morning. I can run a mile in around six and a half minutes so obviously if I am walking a mile and a half I must allot myself an hour. As I walked in the darkness down the path with roosters and chickens crowing and rustling in the bushes I kept feeling like someone was behind me. I used the feel this way when walking back to my Hollywood apartment from the grocery store at night. Only there, someone was usually behind me, and they were usually talking to themselves or pushing a shopping cart full of old bottles. Here, I realized I was being followed by a gang of weenie dogs. Now that I’ve worked with animals, I fancy myself some kind of female Francis of Assisi. “Hi weenies,” I called out to them, just as they began to show all of their teeth. “Weenies?” I asked as all four of them began to take off in a run- straight towards me. I stood there watching them charge towards me, just kind of preparing myself for the scenario of what was about to happen. “Vicious weeeeenies” I whispered creepily to myself as I took off down the road, turning to look behind me as they kept following me. They were kind of small, but they out numbered me. Can I kick them? I thought. No, just keep running. I can run a mile just shy of five minutes and fifty seconds when a pack of evil weenie dogs are chasing me.
I arrived at the bus stop drenched in sweat and an hour early. As I sat there watching everything around me begin to glow in the morning sun, I noticed a turkey that had wandered out into the middle of the road, trying to cross it- just as a huge lifted truck came barreling down the highway. Oh my Go- Turkey’s scream, it is one of the most ungodly and terrifying noises I have ever heard, but the cloud of feathers that burst into the air was strangely, and darkly beautiful as they floated around in the soft morning light. The whole thing haunted me all week long. As I sat at this beautiful bus stop in the middle of the jungle, turkey feathers and death hanging in the air, the bus finally arrived. As the doors opened I stood at the bottom of the steps peeing up at my driver. I realized I looked like I was wearing tie dye scrubs because some patches of sweat had dried leaving random sweat spots all over my top – I’m sure on my butt as well. Wearing scrubs always makes my butt so uncomfortably hot for some reason, it may be the material, or lack of air conditioning in my office, or island climate- swampy scrub butt is how I describe it to my boss, and he cringes in disgust. “Good morning!” I squeaked as I pulled dollar bills out of my pockets and shuffled myself up the steps of the bus. As I shoved my money into the money compartment I realized this woman was staring at me like the weenies had. Their faces just full of agitation that I was in their territory, intruder. I smiled at her, my dopey smile where I don’t show any teeth that instantly turns me into five year old me again. “Sit down..please,” she said and I realized I had lingered too long, staring at her and smiling. She said please, how polite, maybe she is kind and grandmotherly. I turned to look at the bus. There were three people on it- all hunched over, asleep, although I can’t really be sure. In retrospect, they may have been dead, I never witnessed any of them wake up or get off the bus while I was riding it. I took a seat in the front, right behind the Ogre- because I have absolutely no common sense.
As she drove she silently grunted. At first I found it comical, and then I was afraid. The grunts were not normal sounding. Not like an overweight person just shifting around, the grunts were of a different time, like the medieval ages where people jousted one another for sport. Her grunts were loud enough to be heard over the sounds of the bus, which sounded like at any minute the wheels would fly out from underneath the Ogre, me, and the three dead passengers, leaving us pummoling off the cliff and into the abyss of the jungle and joining the turkey in heaven.
My jungle shanty is approximately eight miles away from my work. By car it takes less than ten minutes with no traffic. By bus, it takes thirty minutes. Thirty minutes of stop, go, grunt, stop, grunt, stop, grunt, stop again. I was studying my bus driver in the rear view mirror. Her face looked hardened and cold. What kind of life has she had? Suddenly she noticed me and our eyes locked in the rear view mirror and I dopily grinned at her again. She stared back, ice cold. Grunt. I looked outside and realized my stop was coming up. I was looking around for a line or button to push to let her know I needed to get off but I didn’t see one anywhere. It was still just me and the dead people, we hadn’t picked anyone up at a stop so I had no one to demonstrate how to get off the bus correctly. I grunted. In unison with the Ogre.
Left to my own devices, I have no street smarts. I seem to get by because no one really notices me, I’m not very threatening, so I can usually just bounce around under the radar and I survive. But when traveling on a bus and needing to get off, I have to be a presence, a presence on the bus that needs to ask for the bus to stop. This may seem like no big thing for most people, but to an awkward human being, this is a challenging and exhausting task. I stood up in the bus and the Ogre’s eyes turned sharply towards me in the rear view mirror. I inched into the aisle and the bus lurched, causing me to half fall over. “Can I get off here?” I asked from the floor. “Wait,” the ogre told me. “Ok,” I said watching as my work passed by the window. Now, I was standing next to the Ogre, holding onto the pole by her seat to balance myself. I wish I had a picture of the two of us, me standing by her wearing sweaty scrubs, we were so close that if we both smiled it would look like we were friends. But her scowl, and my wide, frightened eyes would reveal the truth- we were strangers.
“Um how long do I have to wait to get off the bus?” I asked timidly as we went flying down a hill, all I could see was the hill I would have to walk all the way back up to get to work. Suddenly the bus darted to the side of the road and stopped. I looked behind me at my fellow passengers who still were hunched over comatose in their seats. The doors flew open and I looked at the Ogre. “Thank you,” I said falling all over myself as I stumbled down the steps. “Have a nice day-” I whispered as the doors slammed shut and the bus took off. I stood there in the cloud of dirty bus exhaust looking up at the hill that lay before me. If I was younger, I would look at the hill and the Ogre the same way. I can climb this hill, and charm this monster, my younger self would have thought. But now, I know. You will always have to climb the hill and it’s always worth it because it feels damn good once you get to the top all by yourself, but don’t waste your charms on Ogres. There’s only so much energy you can give of yourself.
Instead, I reveled in my Ogre bus driver. I knew everyday when my bus arrived I could be unfriendly and silent, grunting to her as I shoved my two dollars into the money machine before taking my seat. I actually think she liked me better that way, I certainly did. It was almost as if we had merged into one soul, both risking our lives riding this broken down bus, both unsure of what we were doing, both upset and angry at the injustices of the world. Why must some have to take the bus and some never have to..and worse, why must some drive the bus, our serious faces told each other. Our grunts solidifying our sameness. I imagine myself telling my kids one day, “There are Ogres in the world, and you will encounter them, but you can’t believe they are against you, even if you feel they are. The minute you start believing everyone you encounter is against you is the moment you yourself will turn into an Ogre.”