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When should an iron rule become plastic?

The bus driver is teetering on the brink of lowering his guard, but some stronger voice overrules this sentiment

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Bus drivers in Sydney may be likened to DJs on Wheels because they get to decide what comes out of the speakers. And who gets to listen. Ninety-nine per cent of the time, it is music. Sometimes the volume is turned up so everyone can hear. Other times it’s soft and preferential, tuned just right For Your Ears Only (the driver’s ears, that is.) Those travelling in the front seat next to the driver (as I do, because I get in at one terminus and get off at the other) may eavesdrop generously on what’s emanating from the speakers.

On this day in question, it’s not music but a preacher, somewhere in distant Texas perhaps, because he has that southern drawl, who’s addressing what sounds like a highly receptive audience on morality and moral justice. They are cheering his every word and this is in turn whipping him up. Most of the other passengers are either lost in their own thoughts or have given themselves up to the pleasures leaking forth from their own headphones.

The driver is doing a wonderful job of concentrating on the road, mindful of each approaching bus stop, as well as keeping an ear open to the words tumbling from the speaker. And so, the bus arrives at a stop somewhere just past the start of my trip.

Four or five people enter the bus and swipe their fare cards. A fifth, somewhere in his forties, is about to place a foot on the first step when the driver halts him. “You cannot bring that in,” he tells the man. It is only then that I notice that the man is carrying in his arms a semi-large black bag, its mouth unzipped; and out of the mouth springs a little black head, like a jack-in-the-box dipping in and out. It is a little puppy.

Rules are rules

“Dogs are not allowed,” explains the driver. The man with the pup says it’s urgent please, could the driver bend the rule just once? The driver says, politely, “Sorry, rules are rules and I’ll get in trouble if I allow you in.”

The puppy meanwhile is getting restless. It looks like it’s yearning for a bus ride. It turns out though that that’s not the case. The pup is writhing in pain. “It’s really urgent, mate,” says the man, “she’s been bitten by a snake. I have to get her to the vet and I don’t have a car.”

By this time at least two minutes have passed and you get the feeling that everybody in the bus is now listening, aware of what’s going on; all except the voice coming through the speakers, of course. The speaker is rattling on about the power of good to withstand the forces of challenge and how important it is that we should align ourselves with the correct forces if our time on earth is going to be meaningful.

I get the feeling at this point that the bus driver is teetering on the brink of lowering his guard vis-a-vis the rules. But some stronger voice overrules this sentiment it seems, for he shakes his head once more and tells the man to remove his foot from the step because he cannot and is not allowed to oblige him.

Another minute has passed by this time and it is in this third minute that a man emerges from the back of the bus — a tall, clean shaven man wearing a business jacket and carrying an open laptop. He leans out and tells the man with the pup, ‘Stay exactly where you are. My sister is driving this way on her way to work. She’ll be here soon, and she’ll pick you up. I’ll give her a ring. Just stay right there. And what name should I tell her?’ John, the man calls out.

It’s the last I see of him and his pup as the doors close and the bus lunges forward.

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.

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