Bus station: a life experience, 3 days
Winner in the category of Journalistic Chronicle, Havana Streetview first award 2014
Now, lying in bed, I remember the long wait, the hours, the days. With my clean body and my mind in blank, I can revive the agony of impatience. Although to a lesser degree, it has happened to me many times. Already on my destination, I see the recent past and I feel relief. I have tried to reverse the process but it doesn’t always work. Many times, waiting for a transportation that never arrives, I picture myself on my destination and it makes me feel better to think that a few hours ago I didn’t even know if I would arrive or not.
The wait on the bus station is something unique. I had never been in that situation before, because until that moment I had never been beyond Matanzas. Away from Havana, Cuba was like a huge void, a vast steppe of solitude. I didn’t miss anything outside Havana, I guessed. I had to fall in love with a girl from the Eastern provinces to change my perspectives. Now I see Cuba from a wider and holistic point of view.
Once in a while a robotic voice shouted a litany only interrupted by the racket of the announcer woman. It shocked me (twice) the information about busses’ departures from this or that destination without any capacity from the Central station, and thus they didn’t have any seat for the waiting list. We were on three different waiting lists. As far as I recall: Santiago, Las Tunas and Manzanillo.
Those names sounded as a foreign language to me. I knew of their existence by sheer chance of life, because I learned something about Cuban geography at school, but not as a personal experience. I’m able to mention all provinces in order and some data of strange origin (like the name of some rivers and towns) coexist in my mind together with much other information that have been useless up to now.
A trip to the eastern provinces can be more complex than I could imagine: I spent three consecutive days and nights on the bus station. There were a lot of things that shocked me, and perhaps it turned the experience into something magical, despite how grotesque it was. According to my girlfriend, during New Year’s Eve transportation is atypical, it commonly doesn’t happen in that way. I don’t know any other way because I experienced that one.
All the time I was seated on a chair facing an open door. The way the plastic took the shape of my body and adapted to the hard material. Through the door I saw a blurred image half surrealist. During the three days there was a man lying on the floor, a dog passed by at regular intervals from one place to another and a seller of coffee hawked with a strident voice her bad merchandise.
I remember that after the announcement from the robotic voice, when capacities on busses ran out and the people had no hope until six more hours, a man was shouting the same destination to where public transportation refused to take us. If it was Amancio the one that left, the man shouted Amancio. The transportations to which these individuals responded were trucks adapted for a twelve-hour trip, materialized in seven.
I still don’t understand how a modified transportation can cover the same distance that the official one, in almost half the time. These truck drivers are only interested on the money the passengers give and not on the passengers. For these drivers we are cattle which can be robbed a great amount of money, equivalent to the triple of official price.
Through the door I saw a shifting sky from a distance, a ruined wall and a road where cars passed without passing at all. The voice of the woman who sold coffee and the town-criers of many different goods entered your reality invasively. Newspapers, candies, peanuts, sweets, food… I couldn’t count all the products I heard of.
One of the biggest difficulties was hygiene. The public baths don’t give a chance to take a shower and to wash yourself you have to take turns with other people in your same situation or worst. In short, the stink and the grease on one’s body were a common place. To the lack of personal hygiene was added the one of the bus station.
The floor piled up dirt since I got there and just once one of the men who stayed the night around the bus station swept it with a dried blanket avoiding the bodies of future passengers, dead tired because the agony of waiting. There were babies and old people. All on the same situation piled up like animals one over the others.
You couldn’t even allow yourself to be bored. If you lost sight of your luggage, you took the risk of never seeing them again. A bored mulato like me was filling the void with unnecessary stories that consoled nobody, but upset you even more. Like the one where an old lady got up from her seat to ask about the bus she was waiting for and when she came back she didn’t have where to sit down and she had lost all her luggage.
From the comfort of my room it is easier to revive all the facts. I remember that I bought a Bohemia magazine, and I started to write all the experiences I gathered with a black pen in every empty space I found. I thought that, besides coping with the wait, these notes could be useful to rebuild the story. But reality was tougher than any other story that I could create. In fact, I almost haven’t looked my notes to write this text.
To travel up to my destination places me on a very strange dual situation. It is strange from my vital space, my Havana that didn’t want me to leave and I, stubborn, didn’t get its message. But, I’m happy for having some rest, for feeling clean and relaxed, for being able to feel that I’m a person again. How I could come back, I don’t even want to know, I don’t know if from here (an Eastern province) the situation is as complicated. I just know that I don’t have my return ticket and to be in Havana before January 1st I must appeal to the waiting list once more. The first time was useful as an experience, but I don’t know if I could bear it all over again.
Yonlay Cabrera Quindemil