It was dark and cold. I got out of the taxi cab that dropped me off at the bus station and saw that it was 4:30 am. The ticket office was closed, there were a few people huddled around burning charcoal on one side, and on the far side others were sleeping on the floor. As the taxi turned away, I walked past the sparkling clean luxury coach bus that for a moment was illuminated by the bright rays of the taxi’s headlights. Past the bus I walked into the tin roofed area that sheltered everyone from the sky.
“Hi how are you?”, “I’m fine and you?” I smiled at one of the people who greeted me from beside the charcoal. He gave me a thumbs up and returned to the conversation they were having. I sat on a an open bench near them and waited for the ticket sales to start.
Just then someone crashed out of the ticket office door and stumbled his way towards the benches and realigned them. He was clearly drunk. He shouted in Bemba and interrupted the conversation around the charcoal. After organizing the benches he went back into the ticket office. The conversation beside me resumed. I started to feel chilly and zipped up my wind breaker as high it would go.
A few minutes later he emerged from the office, struggling to keep his balance as he carried out a speaker, and then later a TV set, mumbling and shouting incoherently the entire time. After ungracefully setting up the TV and speaker system he pulled out a chair from the ticket office, sat in it and almost immediately fell asleep. My phone said it was 5am, and the office should have been open by now.
Right then, one of the gentlemen beside me said aloud to no particular audience, “You know, this drunk man … he drinks, stumbles around, yet look at what he’s done. Over night, he cleaned the bus, setup the television, cleaned and organized the station, guards it and sleeps here. Every group I’ve seen will have one of these guys who really work hard, but will be looked down upon by those above him.” In unison with the other people in the station that dark cold morning, I nodded.
Minutes later I saw the bus shine bright, reflecting the headlights of a car the just pulled up beside the ticket office. “Well finally, they’re here… only 30 minutes late” I thought to myself as I saw staff of the bus company get out of the car in uniform.
Without hesitation they tried to wake up the drunk man sleeping in his chair. An aggressive pat on the shoulder followed by some rough shaking only resulted in a few moans from him as he fell into a slump in the chair.
“WEAK SOLDIER!” they shouted at him. They walked into the office shaking their heads at him and whispered amongst themselves. After paying for my ticket I looked back and caught a glance from the man beside the charcoal. He gave me a smile and nod that said “See, I told you so.” I then picked up my bags now cold from the concrete floor and stepped onto the bus.