Although this is the B02, it looks just like the B18. (Photo: Jorge Jorquera/Flickr)

There are a lot empty seats on the B18 bus including the driver’s. Having dropped off his passengers at the Vespucio Norte rail interchange, he’s popped out for a quick toilet break and a smoke before making the return journey to Valle lo Campino. In the meantime, a handful of passengers have stepped through the open doors, swiping their BIP cards in front of the yellow boxes at the front of the bus.

I walk to the back of the bus and take a seat near the door. The cracks in the vinyl covering are prickly and my knees are pressed up hard against the seat in front. I wriggle around trying to get comfortable and then give up. It’s no use. But at least I’ve got a seat.

The afternoon sun is casting a warm glow through the windows and it feels nice. According to the digital clock/thermometer in the city it was 24 degrees just half an hour ago and after three months of wintry weather it’s a welcome change.

Bit by bit the bus starts filling up. A worker in dirty overalls climbs aboard. He’s followed by a pair of talking schoolgirls and a young man with slicked back hair and a suit. It’s a mixed group and they keep on coming.

A large man sits down next to me, sinking into the thin cushion beneath the cracked vinyl seat covering and pinning me against wall of the bus. He hasn’t shaved for at least two days and he he looks hot under his red flannelette shirt. Beads of perspiration drip slowly down his large forehead.

The heavy man reaches into his backpack and pulls out a book that looks like an undergraduate course reader. Its pages have been photocopied from academic tomes and are held together by a ring binder. The man flicks through the book in a hurry until he finds the chapter he’s looking for. It says something about logic but reading over someone else’s shoulder in Spanish I’m not able to decipher much more.

As I’ve been spying on my neighbour, more people have gotten onto the bus and it’s standing room only now. Normally I would offer my seat to someone else but the heavy man, engrossed in his reading, is blocking off all access to the aisle. I decide it’s not worth it.

Instead I look out the window. The line of passengers waiting for the B27 is long. So long that it snakes around in a big bend, past the public toilets and the ticket office for the inter-city coaches heading north to La Serena. A pretty young woman at the end of the queue catches my attention. Her hair is dyed chestnut brown and tied in a long pony tail. She’s wearing a blue and white uniform that suggests she is a nurse. Or perhaps a cleaner. As I’m trying to guess, her sixth sense kicks in. She realises someone is looking at her and she turns her head in my direction. I look away, pretending to stare at snowcapped peaks of the Andes towering in the background.

Back on the ground, another metro train has arrived from the city and a wave of people starts streaming up the elevators and out of the station. More people board the B18. They squeeze down the narrow aisle, looking for somewhere to stand. I think again about standing up myself but the heavy man just keeps on reading. Still more people climb aboard. The bus is well beyond its capacity.

Finally the driver gets on. Taking his time, he settles into his seat and hunts around for an empty space to dump his satchel and newspaper.

With an audible protest, the doors swing closed and the whole bus shakes as the diesel engine wheezes into action. The bus creeps out into the terminal before lurching to a stop. We move off again and this time we’re off.

One of the men standing up the front of the bus takes a tiny step forward and begins speaking loudly. “Ladies and gentlemen…” It turns out he’s a vendor. I don’t even think about pulling my headphones out but he manages to draw me in and I start listening in spite of myself.

“These two DVDs tell the history of Chile’s traditional folk music, complete with the history of the songs themselves and the origins of all of the musical instruments…” he says. “And just for today it’s two for the price of one…” He rushes through the rest of his pitch. I admire his perseverance, trying to sell on such a crowded bus.

As soon as he finishes another man with a pockmarked face and crooked teeth begins addressing us. This guy is a singer and he is holding a microphone connected to a small speaker slung over his shoulder by a thin strap. The sound is tinny and he sings with too much vibrato. I try to concentrate on my own music but just as I think I’m succeeding my ears prick up.

I think I hear the words “cross” and “sin” and I pull my headphones out to make sure. Yep. He’s on to the chorus now. “Jesús te ama, Jesús te ama,” he sings. “Jesus loves you, Jesus loves you.”

Perhaps he’s proselyting rather than busking. I don’t really agree with his methods but I admire his intentions. Or do I? An older woman presses a coin into his free hand. He flashes her a beatific smile, crooked teeth and all. Another person trying to make a buck out of Jesus. I plug my headphones back in and eventually he finishes the song.

By now some of the passengers have gotten off and it’s not so crowded. It’s also easier to see what else is happening on the bus. A few seats ahead of the heavy man and me, there is a teenage girl struggling with a bulging black garbage bag. It has what seems to be a giant novelty teddy bear inside and it looks like it’s about to burst. The girl pushes past the other passengers, trying to make her way towards the back door. “Sorry,” she says as what looks like the teddy bear’s left ear collects an older man in the head. Everyone else is watching. Even the heavy man has looked up from his reading. Now he turns to me

“What do you think she has in there?” he asks with a friendly grin.

Un cadáver,” I joke back. He laughs and returns to his reading.

The next stop is mine. I get up and pull the cord. I’m going to miss Santiago when I leave, I think to myself. The 501 from West Ryde station is just so boring.

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