The People on the Bus

Belinda Naylor-Stables

Belinda Naylor-Stables brings us a story that evolved from looking at the picture ‘The Bus’ (1929) by Frida Kahlo. The picture shows a row of people sitting in the bus. Behind them there is a factory with puffs of smoke from tall chimneys and a straight road rises up a hill into the distance.

The road home goes over that hill. We’re all waiting for the bus to get us there. At the end of the bench seat sits Mrs Hernandez. She has been sent home early for very bad behaviour. You see she is the secretary of the big boss, Mr Fuentes who heads the smoking factory over there. She is also his mistress. Yes, she is averting her gaze, as well she might… but more of that later.

It is very interesting that I know everyone on the bus. Next to Mrs. Hernandez is Miguel. He is a plumber and he has a van. On the side of the yellow van is the name of the company he works for – Fast Flow Plumbing Incorporated, owned by Mr Cruz and son. Miguel is the son. There is nothing Fast Flow about him. His wife has taken the van into town to buy the dresses and jewellery and presents she needs for her sister’s wedding. There is the family dinner the night before, the wedding itself and of course the party after. That is three outfits at least – and all the accessories. No wonder Miguel, his plunger in his hand, is looking so worried.

Isabella, poor Isabella, is sitting next to him. I know about her too. She is just a young girl really, already with two children. She lives in that area beyond the hill that none of us like to admit is there. It is a shanty town covered with shacks made of cardboard and tin and old corrugated iron rescued from the dump. I know about that place because Mr Fuentes, the owner of the factory, can see it from his office window on the top floor. He mentioned it to me one day.

“Victoria,” he said, “I can see the shanty town from my office and it makes me sad. It behoves us to help these people in this poor part of the city.” Mr Fuentes likes long words like ‘behove’. “I wonder if you can organise your lady friends, those ladies you lunch with, to make up parcels for those needy people.”

“What do you think we will put in the parcels?” I said.

“The left over food from the factory canteen. Can you organise that for me?”

And so every Friday, outside that kitchen door, just after lunch, me and my group of ladies parcel up food for the needy who come and collect it. More people hear about it and come each week.

Today, Isabella came in with a large bright orange scarf, ready to collect her food parcel. And we piled a huge watermelon, tortillas, fruit and chicken pieces into the big orange square. She gave the baby to her little son Teo to hold. He must be about seven now. Together, Isabella and I, we tied the big knot at the top of the bundle. Then she smiled a quiet gracious smile and thanked me. Lifting the bundle and the baby, she told Teo her son to follow her and as she walked out proudly. I noticed that while she had bare feet her little son Teo wore shoes. Isabella is as a good a mother as they come; a good girl. I wished I could do more. And now, like me, she sits on the bus to take her home.

Next to her is Eduardo. He is a fine young man, apprentice to the foreman of the factory. He has obviously been let out of the factory for good behaviour – unlike Mrs Hernandez. The reason I know is because he is holding a bag with a goldfish in it. He has won it as a prize for the good work he has done at the factory this week. I remember Mr Fuentes talking about it.

“Victoria,” he said, “what is something between a gold star and a gold medal?”

I flippantly replied, “A goldfish?”

“Victoria, that is exactly the thing to give to apprentices in the factory when they do well. Thank you.”

So Eduardo has been allowed to leave the factory early with his goldish. He has left his overalls in the factory locker and now he is smartly dressed in his suit and panama hat ready to go courting by the look of him. His sweetheart will no doubt get the gift of a goldfish tonight.

And then there is me. I expected to go home by car. My husband usually gives me a lift. I live in my nice big hacienda on the edge of town, with the verandahs and the courtyard. We have the stables and paddock and a smallholding with chickens and goats. We have maids and men to help. I thought we were happy. Then today, after handing out food parcels to the needy until there was no more to hand out, I took the new lift up to my husband’s office on the top floor. Mrs Hernandez was not at her usual desk by his office door so I just walked in. Madre Mia! What I a sight I saw! There she was laid out on the red velvet couch. He was kneeling beside her with his head nestled in her voluptuous cleavage that she flaunts everyday in front of him.

“Mr Fuentes!” I gasped and his head shot up and then he turn his face to me, pale and with a look of horror. “Mr Fuentes! What does this mean?”

He stood up looking strangely small and apologetic. Mrs Hernandez struggled from under him and stood like a bull before a matador, her neck and face mottled in a wonderful deep pink like a halved pomegranate.

“It means,” said Mrs Hernandez, “It means he is having a long standing affair with his secretary.”

“Oh, Mano, is this true?” I wanted there to be some other explanation.

“It is true!” he said. “Let’s get in the car, we can drive round, we can talk about it, Victoria”

“In the car! With you! Now? No. I will take the bus.”

So here I sit, in my smart silk dress and lovely sunset streaked silk scarf, with my fine calf leather shoes that were made for lifts in cars, not for walking the last mile home. But I know the bus driver, Antonio. I used to babysit him and his eight other brothers and sisters for six years before Mr Fuentes and I married. I will give Antonio a little extra, and he will take me that last mile to my front door. Which reminds me, I know the locksmith too.