It had been a good night. At a small, Aussie-owned pub in Providencia I had watched my first game of AFL in close to three months courtesy of the local team, the Santiago Saints. The game, between St Kilda and the West Coast Eagles, had been a good one. In the second quarter the Saints (St Kilda, that is) looked to have the game in the bag – leading their hapless and goalless rivals by more than seven goals – but the Eagles fought back valiantly producing a real contest.

The atmosphere at the Black Rock was also welcoming. It was nice to hear a room full of Aussie accents and it was also fun to meet a bunch of Chileans who were into footy. It was an interesting mix.

“Where are you from?”

“Ballarat.”

“Perth.”

“Sydney.”

“Born and bred here in Chile.”

And then an even more important question.

“Who do you barrack for?”

“West Coast.”

“St Kilda.”

“Richmond.”

“Essendon.”

“Fair dinkum?”

“Fair dinkum.”

“Good onya.” I grinned as I shook the Chilean convert’s hand.

The beer was plentiful but not excessive, the food was fine and the raffle for the team’s end of year trip was a nice touch. One ticket for five hundred pesos and three for a thousand. First prize? An original Santiago Saints jersey – one for the serious collectors. And second prize? A Santiago Saints stubby holder, of course.

We chatted about footy, we chatted about Australia and we chatted about Chile, trying not to mention La Roja’s embarrassing exit from the Copa America soccer tournament earlier in the week. It was a great fusion of both country’s cultures. Around 1.30, people began to talk about leaving. The screening of the match had finished and the conversations were were starting to peter out.

A group of guys were thinking about kicking on but after a busy week, I was ready to call it quits. I had no cash on me and just enough credit on my BIP card to get me home on the bus. And unlike almost everyone else there, home for me was out in the suburbs, not the high rise apartment blocks of Las Condes and Vitacura which were only ten minutes away in one of Santiago’s many black and gold taxis.

Saying farewell, I headed out in search of a bus that would take me to Plaza Italia where I would be able to connect with another bus making the slow trek back to Quilicura. Or so I thought. The first leg of the journey went well and before the clock struck two, I was standing at the bus stop on Vicuña McKenna Street, just around the corner from the plaza. The sun had long set and there was a chill in the air. But I was confident that the 307 bus would swing round the corner any minute, ready to carry me home.

When I had been waiting for just five minutes, an overweight man pulled up at the bus stop in a van. Flicking on his hazard lights, he hopped out and opened the passenger door.

“Anyone for Quilicura?” the chubby entrepreneur asked. “Only 3000 pesos.”

Seven passengers quickly jumped on, filling up the van. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I thought to myself. On the bus it would only cost 540 pesos. And just as the fully laden van pulled away from the kerb I looked up and saw a bus heading in our direction. I felt vindicated.

But as the bus came up the road, I realised that something wasn’t quite right. It was staying on the other side of the one way street and when it drew closer, I saw the route number and the destination: this bus was the 210 and it was going to Estación Central. Nowehere near Quilicura. Still, it had only been five minutes.

I waited at the curb, craning my neck down the road. There were lots of taxis, colectivos – cars a bit like taxis that take up to four paying passengers to any point along a fixed route – and another 210 but no buses going to Quilicura. Half an hour later I was still waiting and I turned to a couple standing nearby who had been waiting for longer than I had.

“The 307 should be passing through here now, shouldn’t it?” I asked.

“Supposedly,” replied the man with a shrug of his shoulders.

I plugged my headphones into my ears and stepped back from the curb hoping that the pot would boil more quickly if I stopped watching. All four seats at the bus stop were taken so I went and leant against a metal pole. It was cold but I figured my body heat would soon warm it up.

Three stray dogs who had been loitering near the bus stop for some time grew restless and decided to the best way to entertain themselves was to start a fight. Teeth bared, they snarled and lunged at each other. The smallest one, which walked with a slight limp, yelped in pain and drew away. The other two barked loudly. Then the small one limped back and the fight resumed. A couple of men waiting at the bus stop grabbed the two larger dogs by the scruffs of their necks, lifting them off the ground. They chided them like naughty children before letting them go and the dogs slinked away with with their tails between their legs. Literally. The fight was over.

By the time three o’clock came around my bus still hadn’t come, although there had been three more 210s, and the pole was still very cold. I went back to the curb. So did the couple whom I had asked about the 307. They hailed a cab, jumped in and took off into the night.

One by one and two by two, the other people waiting at the bus stop followed their lead. I finally acknowledged that the 307 wasn’t going to come any time soon. Although I didn’t want to dip into my savings account for a taxi ride, I wasn’t too keen on waiting all night in the cold so I decided to look for an ATM. There was a bank across the road and I went to check it out but it was surrounded by a high fence with a padlocked gate.

“Excuse me, do you have a cigarette?” asked a man who was walking past. There wasn’t much lighting on this side of the street and I didn’t want to hang around to chat.

“Sorry, I don’t have anything,” I replied truthfully. He continued walking.

I crossed back to the bus stop and started walking along past the nightclubs and restaurants. Still no ATMs. I wished I had skipped that last beer and the raffle tickets. I resigned myself to the fact tghat I was in for a long wait and headed back to the bus stop and the cold metal pole.

Before I got there, a guy with a long ponytail and a warm looking jacket started walking towards me with an intense look in his eyes. I had seen him standing at the bus stop earlier with a can of beer in his hand. At first I hadn’t paid much attention to him now but now that he was staring at me and heading in my direction, it was hard to ignore him. Something about his steely gaze suggested that he wanted to talk to me. I pulled my headphones out.

“What’s wrong?” he demanded. His speech was slurred.

“Here we go,” I thought as I prepared myself for a confrontation.

“You look nervous. Why are you walking around so much? I don’t like to see people walking around like that?”

“I’m just bored,” I told him. “I’m waiting for the bus but it’s cold and I don’t like standing still.”

“Where are you going?”

“Quilicura.”

“Do you live there?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Me too. Stay with me and I will protect you.”

I was relieved. Although he was odd, this drunk stranger was definitely harmless. I suggested that we go back to the bus stop and my new companion agreed. The metal pole felt even colder than before but I leaned against it anyway, hoping to ease my feet which had now grown tired. My protector positioned himself next to me. Very close.

He turned his head and thrust it in my face. His breath reeked of too much beer. He said said something indecipherable.

“Sorry mate, I don’t understand,” I said, half hoping that he would look for another friend if he got nowhere with me. He slurred again. I still couldn’t make out what he was saying. He tried one more time.

This time I understood. “I’m sorry if I’m bothering you,” he slurred more carefully.

“No, don’t worry. Thank you for looking after me,” I said, wondering why I was so keen to reassure him.

He turned away, hunting for another topic to keep the conversation going. I was more than happy to return to my music. But a couple of minutes later he was eyeballing me again. I removed the headphones.

“How long have you been here in Chile?”

“About five months,” I answered.

“And what are you doing here?”

“I’m teaching English.”

His eyes lit up for a moment and then his expression grew serious. Either he was going to say something very important or he was absolutely plastered. I waited for him to speak.

“…my…nae…ees…Jaime,” he managed to say with a satisfied grin.

“Nice to meet you Jaime,” I answered in English. “My name is Tim.”

“Jim?”

“No. Tim with a T.”

“Oh. Teem.”

“That’s it,” I said, smiling.

At 3.30 the man with the van returned. Once again he dragged his large body out of the driver’s seat and opened the sliding rear door.

“Anyone for Quilicura?” he asked again. “Only 3000 pesos.”

Five new passengers hopped on board and the van took off. If I had had 3000 pesos on me, I would have joined them without hesitation. But I didn’t so I kept waiting. Now some of the seats at the bus stop were free so I sat down next to a couple who had been waiting there for about half an hour. The metal seat was even colder than the metal pole. I shivered. Jaime followed me over and parked himself alongside the seat like a loyal bodyguard.

“Where are you from?” he asked without waiting for an answer. “The USA?”

“No.”

“England?”

“No.”

“Australia?” asked a different voice. It was the male half of the couple sitting on the same row of cold, metal seats. I looked around and it dawned on me that Jaime and I were providing fee entertainment for the other bored passengers who were trying to fill in time as they waited for the bus that wasn’t coming. Just like Forrest Gump, we were holding court at the bus stop. Only we weren’t ping pong champions, we hadn’t received a Medal of Valor and we weren’t going to start a successful shrimping empire any time soon.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m Australian.”

But that wasn’t enough for Jaime. The show had to go on.

“Why did you come to Chile?” he asked now, as if an Australian in Chile was just as odd as a Martian on Earth.

Now aware of my audience, I tried to think of a clever answer. “I came here to wait at bus stops. It’s my hobby.” Three people laughed. Jaime just scratched his head. He was no closer to sobering up than when we’d first met but now he had decided that he was still thirsty.

“Come with me to get a beer?” he asked with bulging puppy dog eyes.

Even though the seat was cold, I had no intention of moving. “No mate, I’m staying here.”

“Oh, come on.”

“No, I’m just going to take it easy and perhaps you should too.”

That was too much for Jaime and he started off in search of a bottle shop. “So much for protecting me,” I thought to myself.

The female half of the couple turned to me now. “You poor thing. Does this always happen to you?” she asked, gesturing in the direction of Jaime’s retreating figure.

“No,” I lied, not wanting to begin another long conversation. I was starting to feel tired.

“What time do the buses start again?” I asked, trying to change the subject. “Five?”

“Five thirty, I think,” she answered. It was almost four o’clock. Two hours down. Only one and a half to go. Past half way. I went back to my music.

About 10 minutes later I was joined by another drunk. He had been talking to a young woman a few metres away until she walked away in disgust. The look on his face suggested that now he wanted to chat with me as well. I went through the same introduction with him as I had with Jaime but he was a bit more lucid so it didn’t take so long.

Then my new companion looked at me with that same serious expression. I braced myself, not knowing what he was going to say.

“Has anyone ever told you…” he started then paused. “Has anyone ever told you that you look just like Freddy Mercury?”

“No,” I said truthfully.

“Really? Well you do. Are you sure nobody’s told you that before? Because, I mean, you really look like him. You’ve got these really big…rabbit teeth…”

“Thanks,” I replied.

Before we had a chance to continue this riveting conversation, Jaime returned with two cans of Escudo. He wasn’t such a bad protector after all. My other friend spotted the Escudo and all of a sudden he was sidling up to Jaime. The two of them chatted briefly and headed off together, laughing. I returned to my music.

The next thing I remember is being interrupted by Jaime. Jaime’s face to be precise. He was hovering over me with those overly expressive eyes staring down at me. The expression on his face told me that he had just had a brainwave. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a wallet and began waving a bunch of 1000 peso notes in front of me.

“Lets get a taxi,” he said. “You can come back to Quilicura with me.”

As generous as his offer was, I wasn’t really keen on sharing a cab with Jaime. And besides, it didn’t look like he had enough money to take him all the way back to Quilicura.

“I’m OK,” I said. “I’m going to wait for the bus. It’s my hobby remember?”

The small audience again. I gave a nod of acknowledgement in their direction. Jaime didn’t seem too happy but he had already made up his mind. He walked to the curb and hailed a taxi. One pulled up straight away. Jaime jumped in and the taxi moved forward. Two metres. Then without warning it stopped. Jaime hopped out, cursing at the driver.

The same thing happened two more times.

“Look’s like my protector’s here to say,” I thought to myself.

But Jaime was more persistent than I was. For a fourth time, he hailed a cab. Four the fourth time a taxi pulled up and once again Jaime hopped in. But this time things were different. The cab pulled out from the curb, drove through the green traffic light and disappeared around a corner. Fourth time lucky. Those of us left waiting at the bus stop laughed.

I returned to my music and listened in peace until five o’clock. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was my Freddy Mercury buddy and he looked upset.

“Where is he?” he asked, obviously referring to Jaime.

“He took a taxi home,” I explained.

“He what?” Freddy couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “He just left you here? Some people are pretty low. As I always say, you can’t trust anybody these days.”

I felt obliged to rush to Jaime’s defence. “He did offer to let me go with him but it was my choice to stay,” I blurted out. But Freddy was hearing nothing of it.

“No, he shouldn’t have done that.”

I decided not to say anything else. It was settled and the case was closed. Best to to leave it that way. Now Freddy started staring at my headphones.

“What sort of music do you like?” Freddy asked, spotting the headphones dangling down my side.

“Australian bands that you’ve probably never heard of.”

“Oh, Australian bands. AC/DC? INXS?”

“Yeah, like them,” I replied. Freddy seemed satisfied with my non-committal answer. But his stomach wasn’t satisfied. Excusing himself, he went off to look for a well past midnight snack. Five minutes later he came back with some steaming pumpkin fritters, or sopaipillas, that were dripping with a sweet, gooey syrup. He offered me half of one and I accepted gratefully. I was feeling hungry too.

We got up and moved to the curb. The crowd of waiting passengers was growing and they all knew the bus was coming soon. Somehow I got separated from Freddy and I spent the last 10 minutes alone on the curb, lost in my music. Another 210 passed by on the other side of the street.

Then right on 5.30 another bus came into view. It was a 307, not a 314, but that was fine because it also goes to Quilicura.

Por fin. Finally,” I said outloud. The people standing nearby turned around and shot me strange looks. They hadn’t been waiting for three-and-a-half hours.

As soon as the doors opened, I forced my way on board and walked to the back of the bus where I found a seat. It was freezing, the plastic chair was hard and there wasn’t enough leg room. But I didn’t care. The wait was over.

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