The sound of laughter spread throughout the back of the tarpaulin covered 4 x 4 truck. Fellow passengers shuffled positions in the crammed public motor vehicle to get a glimpse of the guy in the far corner. ‘Crabs, crabs, the crabs have escaped!’ I yelled to no one in particular.
I arched my neck, bringing my chin toward my chest to get a view of the banana leaf basket located under the wooden bench. I anxiously watched as hundreds of tiny eyes stared through the gaps in the basket. Large, razor sharp pinchers made quick work of dismantling the basket that restrained them. Before too long, one crab had been liberated. A large brown and red crab the size of my hand and it was loose around my feet.
In normal circumstances I would have fled (as would anyone else right!?). But with 18 people sitting and standing on the truck and travelling at speeds in excess of 70 kilometres an hour, I was trapped. We were packed in like a tin of sardines; however, this tin of sardines had a live crab on the loose. To be honest, I am surprised that Hollywood haven’t already produced a movie about this plot line…
The crab was now stealthily climbing up my leg. I quickly swiped it away. I had to get higher, away from the crab. I planted my feet onto the wheel arch in front of me, pressed my back up against the cab of the truck and lifted my torso. Ironically, I now somewhat resembled a crab in this newly adopted unorthodox position.
I held my elevated position for as long as possible. However, the energy sapping Bougainville heat and humidity was gruelling. I looked around the truck for assistance, not wanting to appear too desperate but hoping someone would come to my aid. Where’s a crab handler when you need one? I saw a lot of smiles from fellow passengers as they enjoyed the free on-board entertainment that was me.
A hand stretched out towards the crab and it made a dart for cover. It was too slow to react and had been captured. The young women spotted another one. She reached across to grasp it but the bumps in the road bounced the crab in the opposite direction. It swiftly retreated under my rucksack – which was apparently now a popular hangout for crabs, as more escaped the basket.
I remained elevated, feeling somewhat useless to do anything about the current situation. I watched as more and more crabs made a break for freedom. My eyes manically darted between the cast of crabs and my fellow passengers. I didn’t have to say anything. My face and body position said it all. A man sitting in front of me turned around. No doubt caused by the pressing of my feet into his backside to gain further elevation. He was armed with a jandal and leaned in towards the basket and tapped it a couple of times. It did little but make the crabs more determined to escape. They scuttled across the metal bed of the truck with scratching claws, hiding among the cargo of noodles, sacks of potatoes and corn. People frantically shuffled their feet in the restricted space, keeping their eyes peeled for movement. I felt a mild sense of relief as the crabs now begun to affect everyone else in the truck, rather than the one-man show it had been up to now. My abdominal muscles ached, sweat poured from my dusk covered face and dripped from my beard, soaking into my shorts. The truck slowed to a stop and pulled over onto the coconut palm and cocoa tree lined verge. People slowly evacuated. One row at a time, jumping to the dusty dirt road. ‘Come on folks, there are crabs loose on this truck!’ I thought to myself, as I resisted the urge to bail over the side of the truck, rather than patiently await my turn to exit like a civilised human being.
The driver door swung open and a beaming face appeared over the side of the truck. ‘Crabs, crabs, crabs’ he muttered, interlaced with laughter whilst pointing at my feet. I smiled and nodded. Still holding my adopted crab like position I confirmed that ‘Yes, the crabs had escaped’ with a desperate smile.
A fellow passenger reached into the truck, taking the now dismantled basket. It only held a handful of crabs, the rest were still running amok in the vehicle. He quickly begun work on repairing it from a shady spot. I clambered across the other benches towards the tailgate of the truck and leapt to the ground. Breathing a sigh of relief, I wiped sweat from my brow into my already sodden t-shirt. I stretched the limbs and patiently waited for the remaining crabs to be located and recaptured.
People were still beaming and laughing as they helped each other back up into the truck. The ice had been well and truly broken, as people shared stories, nuts, bananas and crackers around the PMV. I noticed the now repaired banana leaf basket of crabs was loaded back into the truck nowhere near me…
I travelled the remainder of the journey in a somewhat more conventional sitting position but couldn’t help occasionally checking under my bench – expecting to see little eyes peering back. I checked as discreetly as possible, as I didn’t want anyone in the truck to think I was afraid of the crabs – that would be embarrassing right!? Every time I checked under the bench, my gaze would return to be greeted with a smile from one of my fellow passengers – apparently I wasn’t being so discreet…