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Illustration by Jason Logan for The Globe and Mail (Jason Logan)
Illustration by Jason Logan for The Globe and Mail (Jason Logan)


Climb aboard! Add to ...

'Bas Cam! Feelip, Feelip! Bas cam!"

A fail-safe recipe for disorientation is to be awakened in the middle of the night by someone shouting at you in a heavy accent. "Feelip! Kwik! Da bas cam!"

Arms, legs, backpacks, flashlights, bamboo mats, everything was in chaotic motion as Lorraine and I jumped up, thrashing about, trying to make some sense of the shouting.

It was Tapu, our host, outside our hut and hollering at us. I checked my watch. It was 2:30 in the morning. Neurons began to fire. Tapu was trying to tell us that the bus had come. The already objectionably early 5 a.m. bus to Apia was wildly ahead of schedule.

Tapu had become frantic. "Feelip! Bas go! Da bas go!" Sure enough, as we tumbled out of our hut, unzipped packs half slung on our shoulders, the yellow Blue Bird school bus was inching ahead.

We scrambled aboard just as the bus lurched forward from its slow roll into shuddering, swaying, flatulent propulsion. The driver flashed us a grin and twisted the volume knob on the cassette deck bolted onto the ceiling. Bob Marley suddenly overpowered the engine. We slid onto a small varnished wooden bench and stared in astonishment as the multicoloured lights festooned all around the windshield and an oversized Jesus nightlight on the dashboard began to pulsate in perfect syncopation to Buffalo Soldier .

We were on the thinly populated south coast of Upolu, Western Samoa's principal island. Not a single light was on anywhere and it was moonless and overcast, so the black surrounding our festively lit bus was otherworldly and dimensionless, giving the strong illusion of outer space, until suddenly the bus would slow and faces would materialize out of the void. These faces invariably belonged to women in floral muumuus, who kept appearing and kept climbing onto the bus, all of them full of remarkably good cheer, given the hour. Through some trick of spatial geometry, they managed to squeeze two abreast onto each bench until all the benches were full.

Marley played on. Jesus pulsated. The bus lurched and farted deeper into the Samoan night.

Then we evidently entered another cluster of villages as the faces again appeared and the aisle again filled with muumuus, smiles and flesh. This was going to be interesting, I thought, as every bench was already occupied to a degree never dreamt of by the Blue Bird Corporation of Fort Valley, Ga.

Friendly smiles were exchanged between sitters and would-be sitters and then the would-be sitters delicately clambered onto the sitters' laps until there were four women per bench. Two above. Two below.

Finally, Lorraine and I had the only remaining double occupancy bench. And then I was smiled at. I stared back at my sizable fellow passenger. She smiled some more and began to swing herself around toward me. Electrified into action, I grabbed Lorraine and decisively plunked her onto my lap. Two women gracefully inserted themselves beside us.

We finally sputtered into Apia's main market at 5:30 a.m. I had assumed that the extremely early bus run was perhaps timed for the market opening. But it turned out the market didn't open until 7. It was empty, save for a handful of dogs scavenging through yesterday's market remains.

We disembarked just as the eastern sky began to colour rose and saffron. Everyone else stayed on the bus and, driver included, went immediately to sleep, their exuberant snores mixing with Bob Marley and the soft sounds of a small city just coming to life.

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