The sign above the window read: Licensed to carry 20 passengers, but the amount of humanity crammed in the not too old but shabby looking Coaster bus numbered almost double that. Incredibly, the chaos was ordered and well mannered despite the overwhelming exuberance of youth. Moreover, almost all passengers had plenty of room not to feel too crowded in, except of course the driver, who shared his space with children and luggage.
After loading all his cargo, human and otherwise, the driver expertly cranked the bus into gear and negotiated the dirt, corrugated, bendy track that connects Paru and Pirlangimpi, or Pularumpi, or Garden Point, depending on the raconteur. The road cuts through some wild country, typically Tiwi bush, as well as the ordered conifer plantations that look so oddly organised in the midst of such beautiful wilderness.
Before too long, with so much humanity crammed in the vehicle, a mixture of the fragrances of life began to bestow themselves on welcoming nostrils. Perspiration, with its uniquely acrid features, was a good reminder that most passengers were alive. While the strong scent of soiled nappies was as good as a swinging bat connecting with the nape of the neck. And yet, the air was still breathable until, of course, the bus filled with fine red dust that choked the nostrils and placed a subtle layer of particles on sunglasses that made the scene reminiscent of a romantic David Hamilton heavy filtered image. At this point each swallow gave the sensation of ingesting well kneaded dough which followed a specific route untravelled hitherto.
In the midst of the multi-lingual yelping a youth in school uniform, with the handsome features that only the Tiwis can embody, was brandishing a toy gun pretending to shoot at point blank an adult sporting the same uniform—a teacher one may assume. Overwhelmed by the need to re-establish the balance between good and evil, the teacher grabbed the gun and uttered some predictable remarks about the danger of playing with weapons.
Across from the youth, at less than spittle distance away, sat a young, fit man wearing a baseball cap advertising some golf tournament. Next to him stood austerely a bunch of golf clubs, each protected by fluffy covers, but held together by green rope. The man’s striking features prevented his large sunglasses becoming the centre of attention and consequent ridicule. One may well wonder why fashion statements often result in caricatures. In this case, the in-vogue sunglasses offered a perfect resemblance to a pest named Louie the Fly that in the not too distant past was used to promote insect spray.
The budding golfer took interest in the exchange between the gun-wielding youth and the distressed teacher and rescued the situation for the sake of moral rectitude. However, in supporting his viewpoint on the danger of playing with weapons, he lifted his T-shirt to show a bullet scar across his muscular torso. Bewilderment and awe were the expressions most noticeable on the faces of the other parties involved in the exchange. Ironically, it was the teacher whose bewilderment showed surprise at the damage that a firearm could deliver, while the youth’s attentive gaze and restless demeanour suggested the desire to be part of some action packed Hollywood scene.
The driver, oblivious to it all, brought everyone back to the reality of the moment when he landed the bus into a large pot hole, jolting everyone’s existence into the here and now. That is, what remains of the burning intensity of a bullet scar is but a painful memory; moral rectitude must be practiced not just preached; and thankfully Melville Island is as far as it gets from any Hollywood movie set.