I landed in Halifax at an opportune moment. It was August 2017. The dream of having my family together under one roof was about to materialize. And I was grateful. Everything around me looked prim and proper, and above all, efficient. The apartment, the supermarkets, the clothes stores, and the transit system were just a few of the things that impressed me.
Buses were modern, with comfortable seats, air-conditioning and special facilities for people in wheelchairs and mothers pushing prams. The drivers were courteous and helpful, and passengers didn’t have to stand up except during rush hours. I thought about the city buses back in India. People would be packed like sardines without a bit of personal space, adding to the misery of women. And some young men would always hang outside the open doors while the buses inched through the heavy traffic.
In Halifax, buses were punctual, and I could depend on my favourite #52 to get to Bayers Lake or the Bridge Terminal without getting stuck in traffic. For me, travelling by bus seemed perfect. No worrying about driving through intersections where cars and trucks seemed to come from all directions, or the pedestrians who sometimes crossed the road without warning. I could sit without a care in the world and enjoy the beautiful landscape.
Then we were into fall. Trees put on their multi-coloured mantles and I was captivated by the splendid displays they presented. Red, orange and yellow, and many more shades in between. Sitting in the moving bus made me feel like I was in a fairy land, a place I used to imagine myself in when I was a little girl.
Decades ago, I sat in “foreign-returned” Professor Shreenivasan’s class listening to his lecture on “To Autumn” by John Keats. The hall reverberated with his husky voice and felicitous expressions, but no amount of his knowledge or oratory could convince the students of what Keats was trying to tell us.
We listened with blank expressions. “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness / Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun…” The professor tried to describe the magical experience of being surrounded by a world of warmth and abundance. But many of us could neither see any magic nor fathom why the professor was so ecstatic about autumn.
That day, sitting in the bus and watching the red and gold tree tops silhouetted against the bright blue sky, I was convinced that my professor was right. There was magic in the season, there was magic all around me. A magic that reached deep into my soul and transported me to a world of pure joy. And if I were to drive a car, I knew I would miss it all. That was when I vowed that I would not travel by any other means.
With the advent of winter, I began to think differently. By December, we were under an avalanche of snow and travelling by bus became difficult. I still don’t understand the logic behind erecting bus shelters at some stops and not at others.
Enduring the vagaries of nature while waiting for a bus in the falling snow and chilling rain was unpleasant. I wore five layers of clothing, yet shivered when the wind blew. By then I was working as an educational-program assistant and had to catch two or sometimes three buses to get to schools in Eastern Passage or Upper Sackville. I was convinced that depending on buses to get around in winter wouldn’t be practical.
I could take taxis in winter, but the charges would be exorbitant. The only other solution I had was to get my Indian driver’s licence changed to a Nova Scotian licence.
This presented two major problems. First, I had been driving in India on the left side of the road and in Halifax I had to drive on the right. Secondly, driving lessons seemed far too expensive. And I did not know how many lessons I would need. Some of the people I talked to told me that the examiners were very strict, which worried me.
Finally, after much contemplation, I decided to take driving lessons. Hopefully I will have the licence before the next winter sets in. I still struggle with keeping my left foot idle and driving fast enough on the highways, but I know I will master these skills before too long.
I wish I could travel by Halifax Transit even in winter. If only there were shelters at every stop!