I am caught in the grips of sheer nostalgia. I just realised that after this week, the kings of the road will be gone.
Hurrah, you might say, no more noisy yellow vehicles chugging along our streets, polluting every fibre of our constitution.
Still, it somehow feels like the end of a relationship: you know, that precise time when you’re aware you’ve reached the terminal point, but it still feels awkward that you’re the one to have to call the scrap yard.
The thing is, for all its minuses, the xarabank, had its quirky, far-fetched charm. All that will now be replaced by a very EU-acceptable-bla-di-bla aqua-coloured bores.
No more customised character, no more buses with their very own names, curtains, trimmings and slogans.
The Malta bus character, as of next Sunday, will have crashed into a wall, and be declared a write-off.
To be sure, most of us can’t wait for the final engine to be switched off – and no there’s no better proof of that than the recently put up, free online game www.ripmaltabus.com (try it: it’s a lark).
But, really, have we mulled over all the entertainment we’re going to be missing out on? Here’s a whole list:
The intricately painted ‘welcome aboard’ sign by the doorless door of the bus.
The half-filled bucket of murky water and mop under the front passengers’ seat.
The driver’s corner which also serves as a sanctuary-cum-pin-up-board for pictures of saints, the Virgin Mary, photos of the driver posing with the winning horse in Marsa circa 1981, the driver posing with his first car circa 1961 and the driver posing with his ‘trakk’ circa 1971.
The ‘Jesus Loves Me’ stickers, stuck neatly next to the ‘I love Jesus’ stickers.
The driver’s colourful swearing in common moments of sheer road rage.
A mini-statue of Christ on the Cross, which hangs beneath the front mirror, on top of which, dangling off a string, is an array of Page 3 girl cut-outs.
The hanging horseshoe, the pepper, and the horn to keep off the evil eye, just there, by the rosary beads.
The ‘irregular’ bird, in the minute cage, resident pet of the bus.
The painted slogans like ‘I wish you twice what you wish to me’ or ‘Warrabli għax jgħarralek’ or ‘Sex machine’ or ‘Beware of the driver’.
The hard seats: of the pre-spring era type, with torn rexine covers, and with less leg-room between seats than the Ryanair fleet.
The trimmings, the faux-lace, the curtains and the tinsel decorating the inside of the front windscreen.
The windows that jam shut in summer and the driver bawling at the passenger who dares open one.
The windows that jam open in winter and the driver bawling at the passenger who dares close one.
The radio on full volume – always on 101 or Super One. Or else if it’s the football season, playing tapes of Hawn tal-Valletta city.
The intricate wiring and speakers perching on top of the passengers’ heads.
The unroped rope bells and the malfunctioning button bells.
The anxiety while making your way to the driver to ask him if he could please stop because the bell is not working: will he ignore you or will he bellow at you to go back to your seat?
The sheer joy of every now and again coming across an incredibly courteous driver.
The route numbers on the windscreen – how two and five, and nine and six are interchangeable when placed upside down.
The drivers, with their open shirts, hairy paunches, and at times, barefoot driving.
The drivers with a penchant for sudden breaking and rushing down the bus to shout in the face of a car driver who had dared mouth a “Use the indicator please”.
The driver’s girlfriend: full of make-up, boobs and hoops, and an unfriendly glare.
The funny feeling that a favour is being done by you when you’re given change.
The one-off events, such as having to go down to help the driver push the bus; the driver stopping to buy pastizzi; the passengers having to open their umbrellas inside due to a leaking roof.
Honestly, now that they’ll be gone, what on earth are we going to whine about? It was an adventure in itself every time we boarded a bus, now we shall simply turn into northern Europeans complaining that the 9.03 a.m. Arriva is 2.5 minutes late.
You know, I think our buses should be carrying banners all week proclaiming ‘Last Bus Week’.
And when the last bus rumbles along the capital’s streets on Saturday, we should all be jogging alongside it, just for one last blast.
So long, xarabank.
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