Isn’t it always the way, you have this brilliant idea for a story, or something happens and you think, I have to write about that, you get home, you put the kettle on, sort out the washing, take the rubbish out, I’m lying again, it’s just not my job. I don’t ask for much, just the odd thirty cups of tea made for me over the weekend, the washing up done and the bins emptied. I digress, the point is, I get distracted and all my good ideas get scooped up by the housework fairies and whisked away.
But this I’ll never forget, THE BUS JOURNEY.
It’s official, I have my disabled bus pass and will take it and go and be awesome, the other thing I’ve got is agoraphobia. Didn’t know I couldn’t even spell it until a couple of months ago, and now here I am wallowing in the doorways of doom. I was, at least until Wednesday. My motivation, a friend’s birthday and a cheque that needed banking. Money and friends, you can’t get better incentives, or should that be friends and money.
Bus time table checked, the stop is right out side my door, I even plumbed into Google Maps to make sure I was on the right route. Standing at the bus stop I did what every bus rider does, I read the time table. Now I’m no expert but I must say I have a deep respect for every one that takes the bus. I found myself wishing I’d taken a degree in Timetableology, not Accounting. Rows of numbers and letters and ‘#’. Yep the dreaded mini noughts and crosses box. I traced down to the bottom of the table and there it was. ‘These buses only run during school time. I went directly to Google maps, yep I wanted the 594, have you ever wondered where the other 593 buses go to and from? Next, I looked up the school holiday roster, was it a half term, no, safe. But just to double check I rerouted Google maps. There was another option. Stop D, on a road, down there. I looked in the direction the map indicated. Then back again, 30 minutes from now.
The fear started back up again, if this bus didn’t arrive, then what would I do. I just knew that all my neighbours were hanging out of their windows watching me. Whatever I did was going to cause a complete melt down. Stay and wait for another hour if I miss this one, stay and wait for the schools to start again if I’d misread the school roster, walk boldly forward into an unknown road, and wait where I could be seen by just about everyone. The worse thing was the discrepancy between Google and the Timetable and reality. Google told me the bus was due at 12minutes past the hour, the timetable said it was due at 13minutes past the hour and it was now 14minutes past the hour, the sweating began and the mouth dried up. How long could I stand this.
The nightmare firmly fixed in my imagination a double decker bus approached, as it neared, I could just make out the number. (Amazing how you can make something as benign as a bus journey feel so horrendous) 321, no not a countdown, the number on the bus, Manchester. The thought ran through my head, I could go to the Trafford Centre, what a lovely day out. The ground engulfed me, and my fear rattled my cage. Stupidity, sheer lunacy, me on a bus for an hour, don’t make me laugh. The 321 didn’t stop and I stepped back, 15minutes past 9, the bus was late, and the sweaty palms had become clammy inside my gloves. I could feel my heart racing and began to feel sick.
If you’ve ever watched one of those cheesy films, you know the ones, the hero rides over the horizon with the sun shining behind him, making him look like an angel, then you have a rough idea of how relieved I was when I saw the 594 approach.
Back in school it was easy, we all stood in a gaggle at the bus stop, terrorising the other passengers, there was no doubt the bus would stop, no worrying if it was the correct bus, no wondering if you had to show, swipe or present you bus pass with panache, you just got on and waited for “Ticket Tracey” to come and check your pass. Just wave it around for a while and that was it.
The bus was modern, and did I hear, oh my good Lord, it was, there humming away to itself was piped music. Stepping on the platform I made a complete prat of myself. “I have a bus pass.” I declared. The driver looked at me as though I was dim. What was I expecting, a smile, a round of applause, a “Yes, thank you.” Not a bloody word, he looked up, looked down and I moved on into the bus.
Choosing a seat, easy, you weigh it up. What OCD, me, never. To the left three seats, one lady in the back one, to my right three seats a couple in the middle ones. To even it up, I should sit in the front seat, but I can’t. That’s for other people. Go to the back. NO WAY. The back is the caged area, I just didn’t belong. The buses have double seats, gaps for wheelchairs, mother seats with space for prams, single seats and I have no idea why there was a seat glued to a pole. I chose my seat, second up on the left, my senses clawing at my dry throat, I had disrupted the equilibrium of the bus, would we survive the journey. First stop, the women behind me got off, the balance returned, the second stop…
He was say mid-sixties, but had obviously had a hard life, grey, skinny and stooped I avoided eye contacted. He had a bus pass as well. That made me feel awkward, I was now feeling old. There must have been 20 spare seats in total but he had to sit in front of me. I held my breath as he approached and I knew it was my own fault, I smiled at him, after all it was only polite, I will never, ever grin at a grandad again. Cross my heart. It wasn’t his greasy dishevelled hair that got me, I can allow for that, I’ve watched my mums as her ability to care for herself has decreased and understand that it can’t be easy. It wasn’t the coughing, the worn collar on what was once a good coat. Neither was it the smell of stale tobacco combined with whisky and urine, no, I was disturbed but not shaken, it was the singing. For there, inserted into what must have been wax city ears, the old man had a pair of state of the art ear phones.
Not the melody of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, nor even a classical Beatles tune, no we were treated to the rocking anthem of the 70’s….
“Bye bye baby, baby bye, byyyyyeee”
The croaky voice gravelled through the chorus, as the bus plodded towards the town centre.
I wasn’t sure whether I should laugh or shrink from the embarrassment. As I disembarked I could smell him behind me and he was singing, “Everybody was Kung Fu fighting.”
Why would an old man be singing songs that I rocked to at school disco’s? “Why?” A little voice inside me said, “Why? Because he is not much older than you and they are his memories as well.”
I’m ashamed to say I laughed at his singing and felt disgusted at the sight and smell of him, but then I remember, if it wasn’t for Mark who cares for me, and my friends that are there for me, then who knows, I might have become the little old lady who didn’t notice my own body odour, nor notice the frayed hem of a favourite pair of trousers. But I tell you what, I’d like to think that I’d still be able to rock out.
To the man who takes the 594, “Keep rocking, but please any chance you could invest in a bar of soap.”
Oh one last word, this wasn’t the story I was going to write, I was going to tell you about my new hobby, but that’s another story.