I’m trusting you guys with a story.
I know people say ‘keep blog entries short’, ‘ keep it snappy’, ‘don’t wear out the reader’, ‘short, sharp & shocking’ is what you want to go for.
But sometimes, don’t you want a little peek at something that’s not zingy and mind blowing?
A gently rolling, monolog that may not rock your world, but is comfortable and goes well with a cup of tea and a plate of cookies.
This is one of my ‘cup of tea’ stories.
I really hope you enjoy it.
A Bus Journey Home
It’s 31st October – Halloween.
The start of a long day commences with the shrill alarm clock screeching in my ear at 6.30 am. Makes mental note to change that setting from ‘shrill’ to ‘buzz’.
I can’t have the alarm set to ‘music mode’ as my brain rejects music as a ‘wake-up’ call and tends to make it part of whatever dream I am having at the time. Instead of rousing me gently from my sleep, it floats me away into a REM state.
I drag my dead weight of a body out from under the duvet. I want to sink back in and stay there, but I reluctantly have to peel myself away from the fluffy cotton cocoon.
My fingers push through unruly bed hair, getting tangled in the ginger filaments explosion that is my ‘crowning glory’.
Tweaking the blinds, I see it’s still pitch black outside. Going to work and getting home in the darkness with only beige walls in between – all the colour feels washed out of my life.
I can feel my body’s Vitamin A, D and E evaporating through my skin as I stand under the florescent bathroom light brushing my teeth.
The bathroom mirror (I hate mirrors) shows my ‘winter’ skin that is pallid and dry. The subcutaneous fat layer however, is doing really well.
Jowls and waistline getting thicker and thicker. Fat stockpiled over the last few months through comfort eating (consisting mainly of chocolate, creamy curries and more chocolate).
It was a trudge to get to work today, but the journey’s mood was elevated somewhat by a pleasant encounter with a co-worker. We used code and nicknames so no-one would know what or who we were talking about like a pair of school kids.
The bus route has been diverted to accommodate the only growth industry there seems to be in this city – road works.
I swear that the city councils and utility companies wait until the most inconvenient times to dig up road surfaces. I reckon there are even joint committee meetings to decide which roads would be the most disruptive to dig up and bring the road system of the city to a standstill.
The day is relentlessly busy. Churning out paperwork, emails and phone calls (‘smile when you speak – people can hear it’ phone sticker). Not exactly physically strenuous but wearing a person out mentally through alternating sheer boredom and brain-crushing stress. Repetitive, constant, mind – numbingly boring interspersed with frequent periods of manic busy-ness.
What happened to the ‘paperless office’ we were promised in the 1980’s? They can make fabric invisible, regrow damaged spines and find water on Mars, but the paperless office eludes even the most inventive of minds.
Anyway after 10 hours of emails, phone calls, printer disassembly and reassembly, calls to the I.T. Department (surely one of the levels of Hell and/or Purgatory depending on what end of the phone you are on) ‘Can I have those reports in 15 minutes for a meeting I didn’t tell you about’, ‘smile like you mean it’ all day, I was bone-tired. If I had a sleeping bag, I would just curl up under the desk for the night.
I leave work – it’s dark. I drag my protesting bulk through the shivery darkness to the bus stop for the return journey.
Waited – no bus
Waited – no bus
Waited – no bus.
There is supposed to be a bus every 15 minutes, but I have been waiting over an hour by this time. Cold is seeping into my bones and ligaments. The timetable seem to be of no use at all except maybe as something to read or to burn to keep warm by.
Sometimes you get to the point when you have been waiting so long that you start thinking – ‘Are they running? What if there’s been an accident?’ ‘Should I walk or wait a bit longer?’ and you dither for a bit longer, then you decide – stuff it, walking it is.
So, I walk down towards the bus stop outside the supermarket, opposite the pub, where I can still get my normal bus if it turns up, but I can also get an alternative bus. It has a more meandering route and takes longer, but if that turned up first I’ll be happy to get on it. At least I would be out the now biting cold.
Of course, ‘Murphy’s Law’ comes in to play and half way between bus stops, my (empty) bus sails right passed me. Thumbing its invisible nose, miming ‘nyaw nyaw nyaw’ at me from its rear window.Expletives abounded under my breath as I continue trudging down the road mentally kicking myself.
When I finally get there, a paper sign shoved in a clear plastic bag has been hastily duct-taped to the bus stop post – ‘This bus stop is closed until further notice -please go to next bus stop. Apologies blah, blah more road works blah, blah, blah’
I sigh heavily, wondering how long it is going to take me to get home. I don’t have enough money to get a taxi, so completely fed up and with much teeth chattering, I walk on.
A small but gnarly looking group are standing around it made up of very agitated people. I could hear them muttering as I approached, turning from bus-waiting customers to a possible lynch mob for the next poor bus driver.
A frail looking guy, unsteadily weaves in and out of the people, mumbling to them in turn and being ignored or told to clear off in no uncertain terms. English is a great ‘universal swearing’ language – Anglo Saxon must have been a very lusty, boisterous language I think.
‘I am livid! Positively livid! First the car, now the bus, might jump a taxi – yer, yer okay – Laters’ says the bald guy into his mobile phone. ’This is doin’ my head in.’ . he throws the mobile phone into his leather jacket pocket and seethes quietly.
He has the appearance of a tough nut from a London ‘bad boys’ TV show – shaved head, ‘tan-tastiqued’ to well-done barbecue sausage level. Wearing the ‘uniform’ of a black leather jacket, black open collar shirt, black chinos and ‘polished to a glow’ black shoes.
Adding to this ensemble is a thick gold neck chain (which could probably pay for a student nurse’s tuition and accommodation fees for a year), a sovereign ring and big ‘divers’ watch – cushty! Why do they want a ‘divers’ watch? Is that in case they go to ‘sleep with the fishes’ and need to see how many feet underwater they are and an illuminous dial to count down their last seconds at the bottom of the boating lake?
The nearest he’ll ever get to use it is at the gym when he’s power swimming his way up and down the pool, trying to impress some emaciated, micro-bikinied, ‘tansational’ female. She, lounging at the side with an expresso and a fashion magazine, (not in the pool of course – can’t look ‘cool’ with chlorine soaked hair)
A couple of girls in their very early twenties, or maybe younger (I can’t tell sometimes) totter up, adding to the throng.
One is dressed in pink ©Betty Boop pyjamas, with a small pink velvet jacket thrown over the top and her blonde hair ravelled up in huge plastic and foam curlers (lately de rigeur look for ‘pre night-out’ shopping in town it seems). On her feet are a pair of Ug boots that look like they are made from the feet of a Yeti. All I keep thinking is that she should get a proper coat on or she’ll freeze to death.
She drags a small ‘hot pink’ coloured case on wheels behind her, looking worried to death. She clutches hold of the long handle as if the case has the Hope diamond inside. I assume it holds her Halloween outfit.
Her friend, who makes it clear during their conversation that she thinks dressing up for Halloween is ‘naff’, is diametrically opposed in look. Dressed in black and silver leopard skin print shorts over thick black tights, black suede pointy shoes with big silver and purple buckles, a black boob tube with a ‘kidney freezer’ black Bolero styled leather jacket over the top. Her eyes are thickly lined with kohl. On her head was a ‘fro-styled wig which seemed at odds with the post punk outfit she wore, but each to their own. At least she was looking forward to their up and coming night out, unlike her worried friend. They are so different I wonder how they became friends.
‘Blondie’ was having a mini crisis over whether she had brought enough makeup, or the right outfits (she had brought several in case someone had the same) – if ‘Mike’ was going to turn up, she felt sick, she didn’t want to go – no have to go in case ‘Mike’ is there babble, babble, fret, fret.
Her friend just rolled her eyes in a total ‘OMG I couldn’t give a flying fig’ look that only close friends can give each other without causing offence and tells her to ‘chillax’. There’ll be tears before bedtime I’m sure of that.
Finally the bus arrives. Why do people always shout at the bus driver if the bus is late?
’Do you know how long I’ve been waiting? (As if he/she will know)
‘Where’ve you been?’ (Like the driver is some errant school kid or wandering spouse)
‘What happened to the missing buses?’ I’m sure the driver would like to say something sarcastic like ‘They were abducted by aliens on the by-pass madam’ but they don’t because they have a *mortgage to pay.
I’ve always thought of this as odd. After all – this driver turned up, they are doing their job. Shouldn’t they be shouting at the bus company instead? Filling in a ‘How can we improve our service’ form or ringing Customer Services will do more than giving the besieged driver a rollicking.
There were plenty of grumblings at the bus driver of:
‘This bus service is dreadful! Been waiting hours!’ And then:
‘Does this bus go to the city centre?’ asks a slightly inebriated young woman shushing her boyfriend as she spoke to the driver.
‘You need the stop on the opposite side of the road love’ said the driver.
‘Crap’ replied the girl, pulling her boyfriend off the bus.
A muffled ‘Told you, you never listen to me, I think we should go home. Please let’s go home’ from the boyfriend as she pulls him with her as they try to cross in front of the bus.
‘Can I get on with this?’ The driver is proffered an out of date train ticket held by a giggling, very slightly built, but staggeringly drunk man, as he holds himself up by holding on to the door frame. It’s the guy from earlier.
He has come to the end of his Halloween night early (probably run out of money) his skin has a slight tinge of yellow and I think he looks a lot older than he actually is.
The driver lets him board the bus, saying to him:
‘Okay, get on, but behave yourself. No bothering the rest of the passengers or throwing up’ for which the drunk is as pleased as a kid in a sweet shop.
‘Thanks mate, thank ve’mush’ he slurred, giggling. He thinks, in his inebriated state, that he has tricked the driver with the out of date rail ticket. The driver however, lets him board because it’s safer than the guy weaving in and out of the busy road traffic asking people for bus fare (as he had been doing before the bus arrived).
We all eventually get on the bus and settle down for the journey. The drunk chuckling and talking to himself at the front of the bus.
A current of warm air permeated around my legs from the heating system, thawing them slightly. Bliss.
I was sitting near the two young girls listening to the chunnerings of ‘Blondie’ – still panicking over her outfit – more eye rolling from her kohl-eyed friend.
Suddenly -‘BANG, BANG, BANG’!!
A few teenagers were throwing raw eggs at the bus, splattering egg yolk and shell all over the windscreen. A bit late for ‘Mizzy Night’ I thought.
Everyone jumps with shock, but the bus driver doesn’t even flinch (kudos to the driver by the way) and just turns on the screen wash and wipers to clean off the mess as if it was all in a day’s work. He doesn’t even glance at the teenagers, but drives on shaking his head slightly.
The bus trundles on and I start to see children walking along the pavement as we weave our way slowly through the traffic.
They’re all dressed as ghosts, ghouls, vampires and witches, holding on tightly to their ‘trick or treat’ mini plastic buckets. They are followed closely by their Mums or older siblings – some of them getting in to the Halloween spirit and dressing up also.
Through the open window I can hear the squeals of joy from the children as they pirouette and dance and chase each other down the road, swinging their little buckets in their hands. Is there anything so joyous to watch as children enjoying themselves with such abandon?
We next stop further along the route at the cinema complex. I, Blondie, her kohl-eyed friend and ‘tantasique’ guy alighted from the bus. I have come to like ‘Blondie’ and ‘Kohl-eyed’ and now feel a bit sad I will never know if ‘Mike’ ever did turn up. They carry on their way, whilst I walk over the crossroads to get the connecting bus home.
Disgruntled people at the new bus stop as well – ‘What has happened to the bus service today’? I think to myself.
‘Been waiting 20 minutes already’, ‘It’s bloody freezing’ etc. going on.
I move to the back of the bus stop trying to shield myself from the wind when a bus pulls up and most people get on.
Unfortunately – it’s not my bus. I’m envious of the passengers, warmly going on their way.
I and a couple of teenagers are left behind. A boy and a girl – who obviously feel very awkward, dressed for Halloween as a skeleton and a witch – shop bought costumes, but none the worse for that. I guess from the icy atmosphere between them, (which is nothing to do with the weather) that this is a regretted first date or an ‘about to break up’ date.
I then notice there is also a guy dressed as an ‘old time’ entertainer. He has an expertly coiffured black moustache, he wears a gold coloured waistcoat, a white shirt with rolled up sleeves and black suit trousers. He has on a black bowler hat with a ‘key board’ motif around the middle – his bus pass sticking out of the hat band. I half expected him to have a bow tie that lights up, but no (unless he’s taken it off).
He’s leaning against the bus stop. Maybe he had finished a party early or was gearing himself up for a later gig. He has a half empty bottle of Lucozade precariously dangling out of his trouser pocket and a battered sports bag with all of his accoutrements in, lying next to him on the floor.
Out of the blue – he started singing ‘oh what a crap public service’ to the tune of ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning’ loudly to us, but stopped and fell into a sulk when he saw he had no audience as we fastidiously avoiding any eye contact with him.
By this time, I just want to get home, I’ve had enough ‘quirky characters’ for one day.
My bus finally arrives and everyone piles on, glad to be out of the now frosty air.
The ’entertainer’ plonks himself in the seat In front of me, resigned to his anonymity. He pulls the bottle of Lucozade from his pocket and takes a slug of the contents.
Whatever is in that bottle is definitely NOT Lucozade! The smell was overpowering! I think it probably could be used to dull the shine on chrome!
I feel a bit sorry for him now. I imagined that he had a gig earlier and got himself drunk when it hadn’t gone too well. He had been ready to ‘cheer up’ the captive audience at the bus stop to build a bit of self-esteem, or maybe a bit of camaraderie – but no-one had been interested. (lets face it – it’s flipping Winter & its NOT Wimbledon in the rain!)
The bus pootles off on its way into the icy darkness. I settle down and go to ‘switched off’ brain mode. Suddenly, there is a loud heavy ‘thud’ on the window next to me. I look out and some guy dressed as ‘The Scream’ from that horror movie has thumped the window with his fake rubber hands and put his masked face right up to the window to try and scare me.
Unfortunately for him, I am too tired and jaded by this time, I couldn’t have cared less if it had been the real ‘Scream’ at the window. So I just stare at him with a ‘meh’ look on my face.
He is not happy with this reaction and starts churning himself up on the pavement for a second launch at the window. I just look him straight in his mask and yawn, giving him the ‘two fingered nose scratch salute’ as the bus picked up some speed, leaving him running alongside the bus for a few yards, impotent.
The ‘entertainer’ alights outside an off licence and with a slight swaying, – two steps forward, one step back – he makes his way towards the door to obtain a refill and an early night (I hope).
I eventually get to my stop with no further shenanigans and walk the last few hundred yards home.
Key in the lock, close door, coat off, shoes off, throwing my bag into the corner of the hallway. I go straight to the kitchen.
I am met by a sink full of dishes, bowls and pans still there from the night before. Three pairs of muddy footie boots strewn on the floor. A pile of clothes stacked up next to the washing machine.
‘Lovely! Welcome home’ I say to myself. The house is empty as everyone is out. A note left under the fridge magnet says ‘Don’t make tea for us. Gone for Chinese with the lads, love you’
I throw a pasta ready meal into the microwave. Then after changing into my ‘slobs’, pour myself a glass of white wine – gulping down half whilst waiting Impatiently for the microwave. I swear if we had teleportation, someone would still press the ‘start’ button several times as it wouldn’t be fast enough.
The microwave ‘pings’ I burn myself (again) peeling the cover off the meal.I top up my wine glass. Can’t be bothered pouring the meal out on to a ‘proper plate’ so I grab the oven glove to rest the very hot microwaved meal bowl on and flop in front of the TV.
I grab the remote and press ‘on’ to find a Halloween episode of ‘Futurama’ showing.
I raise my wine glass to the TV ‘Happy Halloween guys’ I say and snuggle down with my big soft dressing gown wrapped around me and – vegetate.
(*mini detour – the word ‘mortgage’ means ‘death pledge’. Makes you think, doesn’t it).
© Kate McClelland 2015