Through the Wide-open Doors
The bus arrived at the stop at the usual time, but when the doors opened the passengers all alighted en masse. Some took shelter in the shade of the trees across the road, while others went over to the well at the gate of a nearby house. It was immediately obvious that something had happened.
The bus driver alighted too, but then climbed back on the bus by the door at the back. At the side of the road small groups had already formed. The people were lighting each other’s cigarettes and exchanging impressions. It looked like one of the passengers, who was still on the bus, felt very ill; he had probably fainted. The people were angry that the air conditioner wasn’t working. They were talking quite loudly, you could hear them from a distance, it appeared that they were arguing.
It was the second week of September, but the midday sun was scorching. There was not a soul to be seen in the middle of the village.
A woman had got off the bus with the driver. She was holding a flacon of pills, which she held up to show all the others. She was crying. Somebody asked the driver to open the hatch of the baggage compartment and took a candle from his bag, which he handed to the woman. Somebody else lit it with a lighter. The woman then vanished back inside the bus with the lighted candle.
In the meantime, an ambulance had been called and a few of the men had set off towards the police station at a brisk pace. Through the wide-open doors of the bus the woman could be heard wailing, but nobody seemed to care.
The agitated driver was pacing up and down at the edge of the road, talking loudly into his mobile telephone:
“I think somebody’s gone and died on my bus! Can you believe it! What am I supposed to do? I’ll be late! We’re waiting for the ambulance now. Call dispatch and tell them, then call me back. Just my damned luck!” And then he hung up.
The men came back, together with the village policeman. It was then a few people laughed. At first sight, it was difficult to tell whether the policeman had just woken up, whether he was slightly drunk, or whether he was confused, even frightened by the situation. Some of the people tried to explain something to him, but the policeman waved his hand and walked past them. He climbed aboard the bus and the woman stopped crying. A few people stuck their heads inside to see what was happening.
In the meantime, the ambulance had arrived. The nurse asked to be let through and climbed aboard the bus. The ambulance driver fetched the first aid kit for her.
A few of the people sheltering in the shade went back to the bus stop just as the ambulance driver was getting off the bus. The examination had not taken long.
“I’m sorry, but he’s dead!” he said. “And so we can’t take him away.”
The people started to protest and there was uproar. Some were accusing the driver of something, others were demanding explanations from the nurse, but she raised her hands and shrugged. A couple of men had set off after the policeman, who had climbed off the bus and was hurrying towards the centre of the village.
One of the men who had been gawping from the door of the bar a little way from the road was curious enough to mount his bicycle and approach for a closer look.
The nurse had vanished inside the ambulance, but her driver still had to cope with all the people demanding explanations:
“Please understand, people, we can’t put him in the ambulance.” Having said that, he slapped the bonnet of the ambulance: “It’s not meant for dead people!”
In the meantime, the bus driver had turned up:
“And buses aren’t either!” he said, slapping the bodywork of the bus.
A few people gave a short laugh, but somebody else raised his voice above all the others’:
“And what do you do when you arrive at the scene of an accident and the passengers are dead? Do you leave them there in the ditch? Don’t you take them to the morgue?”
“The emergency rescue service takes them away,” another said.
Somebody else told him to shut up.
“Madam, those are the rules. If he had still been moving a little, I’d have taken him! Otherwise, I’m not allowed to,” said the ambulance driver. “Why can’t you understand? Maybe somebody poisoned him in the bus. How should I know? The police have to interview the witnesses, take statements –”
“Like in Agatha Christie!”
“Who swore?” asked the driver.
The passengers were asking where the policeman had vanished to and demanding that he be brought back.
“He’s in the tavern, reporting to his superiors!” said somebody and a few others laughed.
“How do you know he’s dead?” a young man asked the ambulance driver.
“Well, didn’t the nurse examine him?”
“The nurse can’t issue a death certificate. Can you, madam?” the young man asked the nurse. He was probably a student. “You can’t officially declare a death.”
“Come off it, mister!” said the nurse, waving her hand in disgust.
“Then a doctor needs to be brought,” said one of the men who had first gone to fetch the policeman.
“What, we’re supposed to bring the mountain to Mohammed?” interjected the bus driver. “The patient has to be taken to the hospital –”
“Mister, don’t you understand? He’s not a patient; he’s dead! And I don’t load dead people in the ambulance. Let the police come.”
“And what am I supposed to do, mister? Sit here with a dead man on my bus all day?” yelled the bus driver. “I’ve got to finish my route, I’ve got a timetable to stick to.”
The passengers seemed to be losing patience and took the bus driver’s side.
Somebody demanded that the “lawman” be brought back, while another man broke away from the crowd and crossed the road in the direction in which the policeman had vanished.
“We’ll take him off the bus, wrap him in a blanket and put him here on the table, by the bus stop,” the ambulance driver went on. “Let the police decide what to do with him. But better you take him home, because if you take him from the morgue, you have to pay.”
Some people turned their heads and it was only then that they saw there was a cement table with two chairs by the bus stop.
“Leave the dead body out in the sun, you mean?”
“For the love of God, people, have a little respect. Stop saying ‘dead body’!” said an indignant woman.
“What else should we call the gentleman, madam? If he’s dead, he’s dead! There’s nothing that can be done. We all go when our time comes,” said the bus driver.
“But can’t you see that woman crying inside the bus? Somebody should give her a lemon, some juice... Somebody should sit with her. Don’t leave her on her own.”
Somebody suggested she should be taken outside for some air, and two women climbed inside the bus.
“Better somebody from the village put him in a car and take him home,” somebody suggested. “He’d only just got on the bus. He’s from the next village. Somebody must know him around here.”
“I wouldn’t put a dead body in my car,” said a voice.
“It was all right when he was alive, but now nobody gives a shit! What, does he stink?” commented another voice in the crowd.
“He stinks. If you get on the bus... he wet himself,” said one of the women who had climbed aboard shortly before.
“It’s still the ambulance service’s job! Wounded, flayed, dead, roasted, he has to be taken to the hospital, to the morgue, he has to be taken away somewhere.”
The nurse was conferring with the ambulance driver, but it wasn’t possible to hear what they were saying. They climbed back inside the bus.
“What the hell, we’re standing outside and the dead body is on the bus! How much longer are you going to keep us here? Take him to the morgue already and let us get on with our journey, we’ve got our lives to live!” yelled a man at the ambulance driver, who didn’t say anything, but merely waited for the nurse to get off the bus.
“Come on, mister, get the patient... the dead body off the bus so that I can leave with these people, otherwise night will fall and we’ll be stuck out here in the middle of nowhere,” said the bus driver.
Meanwhile, the passengers were vociferating at the policeman, who had come back, and demanding an explanation. The policeman said something to the ambulance driver and then he took two people with him and climbed aboard the bus. The nurse got off first, and then they carried the deceased off and put him in the ambulance. Then, the woman with the candle got off. The people helped her to get her luggage out of the hold and move it into the ambulance.
The bus driver gave a short toot on his horn and queues formed at both doors.
The policeman climbed inside the ambulance, which presently drove away.
The passengers went back to their seats and started talking again about the lack of an air conditioner. But after the driver started the engine, the people gradually calmed down.
As the bus was full, only the two seats remained empty. It was true, the man had wet himself and the urine stain on the seat where he died had the outline of a pineapple. I took the seat next to it. In any event, it was more comfortable than the cement seat I had been sitting on as I waited at the bus stop. And besides, I was very tired and the only thing I could think about was that that evening, however late, I would get home and be able to go to sleep.
“How about that! Dying like that on a journey!” came the voice of a woman.
“Madam, you know what they say: man is a traveller through life!” said a man.
“Do you think his soul will remain in the bus for six weeks?” asked somebody behind me, but nobody answered.
I looked outside. On the windowpane to my right was written in three languages: “In case of emergency, break glass.”
The driver turned on the radio and the music flowed through the speakers above the tops of our heads.
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth