8 June 2007

The Journey

I thought you might care to read another of my short stories. It's called "The Journey" and I have no idea who She is. Honest...

“And I can’t seem to stop the bleeding” it said, “Cause it flows through my heart, and my soul, and my head. And right now I wish I rather was dead, cause I can’t seem to stop the bleeding”.

The words slipped out of her mind and rolled onto the page so fast, her notes looked like they’d been written in the spidery hand of one of the old ladies that drove her bonkers in the queue at the Post Office on a Thursday morning.

With the man’s leg shifting and pressing uncomfortably close next to her, and the already unbearably hot sun beating through the smeared glass onto her arm, she stared straight ahead, eye’s glazed, focussing on the annoying sounds and unpleasant smells all around her.

The Fat Snorer was running late. She could see him puffing and panting his way along the road, white podgy arm waving aimlessly around in front of him. His hairy calves poking out of his all-weather shorts were wobbling uncontrollably, and she almost laughed out loud at how ridiculous he looked. He reminded her of the lead dancer in that all female troupe that were always appearing on Sunday Night at The Palladium…all high kicks, sequins, Lycra and tummies like barrels. “Oh for fuck’s sake” she murmured, searching her brain for the name and causing The Leg to move away from her. “Mission accomplished,” she thought. Why on earth he always had to sit right next to her when there were at least 6 other free spaces she would never know, but each time she would wait till the last possible moment before moving her bag off of the seat and onto her lap, and closing her legs to allow him just enough room to sit with both buttocks on the seat.

As The Fat Snorer checked every pocket once, twice and then a third time, she could feel her blood pressure rising. “It’s in your bag, you dumb fuck” she wanted to shout. Why didn’t he just keep his oyster card in his right hand jacket pocket? Why zip it up in the inside compartment of his rucksack? Was he stupid or something? Every day, every single day he would hold her up by at least 15 seconds with his aggravating “Sorry, sorry – it’s in here somewhere” apology.

She glanced down to the passage she’d written and re-read it again. “Bollocks,” she grumbled, noticing a dot missing from above the ‘i’ in ‘wish’. Now he would know she’d had to correct herself, and he would know she wasn’t perfect, and he wouldn’t love her anymore.

The Leg tutted, and she whipped her head sharply to the left to glare at him, but stopped herself from speaking by curling her nails into her palms and squeezing gently. It was a trick she’d learnt early on, and the grooves and calluses etched into her lifeline would remain there way past her death.

Knees behind her was dry coughing, and she could feel the expelled breath warming the back of her neck. She shivered from her shoulders to her groin; her lips curled downward and she started to count slowly 1, 2, 3, 4.... just like she’d been taught. “I’m not contaminated, I’m not contaminated” she reminded herself, and breathed deeply and evenly to calm herself and prepare for the next stop.

The White Hart. Her own personal nemesis. She’d sent over 50 letters to London Transport about it in as many days, and still they did nothing. Why couldn’t they have a special non-stop route like the 607 express? It wasn’t an unreasonable request. After all, she was a paying customer and they weren’t. The Twearlies. The fucking Twearlies. How two people could have lived that long without ever having learned to tell the time was beyond her, and she braced herself as the bus slowed down to a juddering stop. There they were – a vision in lilac and plum, jade and apricot. One of them seemed to be sporting a tea cosy on top of her plastic rain hood today. The fucking Twearlies.

She wanted to jump up and shout “Buy a fucking watch” but didn’t. She breathed deeply through her nose and was bought up short as she realized she hadn’t stuck her Vicks Nasal Stick up there this morning before she left the house, (and locked and double locked the door behind her). Was that the left or the right? She could feel her pulse quicken as the panic set in. Left or right? Left or right? She could picture the stick just where it always lived. Second drawer down, lying on its side, rounded end towards the back of the draw. What to do, what to do? Get off at the next stop and catch the 8.27am going back towards home? Or not breathe through her nose for the rest of the day? She took out her diary from her bag, making sure not to dislodge the purse and key pouch sitting side by side, and selected the green refill from her 4-in-1 pen. Green for Reminders. She opened her diary to the Reminder section and thanked God that the bus was still stationary as she made a note – 8.57am BOOTS – Vicks Nasal Stick. She drew a small square box at the end – waiting to be completed.

“Hang on” she thought. Reminders? Wasn’t that a Thing To Do Today? Could it be both, or was it one or the other? Just to be on the safe side, she selected purple on her pen and duplicated the entry in Things To Do Today. With a sigh of relief, she glanced up to watch The Twearlies were still there, struggling with tartan trolleys and Zimmer frames, wooden walking sticks and overnight bags masquerading as handbags. “For the love of God” she thought as her leg started to shake and her foot started to tap.

Here we go again. They would struggle on, orange passes clasped tightly in gloved hands, checking with each other that they were “Ok love?” or asking in wobbly voices “Can you manage my dear?”, then stand side by side, faces pressed up against the Perspex anti-mugging shield, and whisper “Are we too early?”. The driver would either laugh and wave them on with an easy going “Come on then..”, or stare straight ahead and bark “It’s not 9 yet, wait for the next one”.

“Please let them on,” she prayed to the Bus God. At least it took them less time to sit down and settle themselves than it did to ease themselves slowly off the bus. She cocked her head and strained her ears, hoping to hear those magic words – but no, with a frustrated groan she realized the bus driver must be having a worse day than her, and the lowering button had been pressed, and another five minutes would be wasted as they made their way back off the bus, backwards.

The shaking in her leg reached fit proportions as the seconds ticked by “Hurry up, come on” she growled as Knees started to cough again. She heard the rustle of nylon at the same time as she felt herself being pushed a hundredth of a millimetre forwards. She pushed back as hard as she could, tensing her thighs and wishing that the rigid plastic frames didn’t give so easily. With tears in her eyes she pushed and gritted her teeth, pushing, pushing – furious with him, she tutted and snorted and pushed and pushed, and finally the pressure in the small of her back receded. “I won” she thought, “I won”. Her first result of the day, and a satisfied grin spread over her face as she glanced back up in triumph.

With a sigh, she turned back to face forwards and staring at the snowflakes in the hair of Dandruff in front of her, she let the feeling of joy wash over her; until she was brought up short by the realisation that Camel Dung had slipped on behind the Twearlies, and was now sitting two rows in front of her. “Damn”, she cursed, as she involuntarily lifted her nose and tested the air. She took three quick, shallow sniffs before she remembered to breath through her mouth, and the piercing squeak from her nostrils penetrated her brain like lightning rods. “Nasal stick, nasal stick” she repeated, and took her phone from her bag, hit menu, scrolled to organiser and made a Day Note; BOOTS – Nasal Stick. Setting the alarm for 8.57am she settled the phone back in her bag, and rearranged the contents back to their proper places, all lined up and neat and tidy.

Taking the pencil from behind her ear, she started to write again.

”And the tears go away
Less and less every day,
But I want you so much –
I crave for your touch,
So come back to me please
I’m down on my knees, and
I can’t seem to stop the bleeding”.

“Hang on a second” she thought. “That’s not right”. Two rows? Two rows in front of her? Camel Dung always sat at the front, on a side seat next to Tissue-The-Refugee. What was going on? Camel Dung was in Jimmy-No-Socks seat. So where was Jimmy? And who the fuck was that New Boy at the front, on the side?

Eyes darting this way and that, she counted off her fellow passengers.

The Leg? check. Knees? check. The Fat Snorer? check. Camel Dung? check. Tissue-the-Refugee? check. Dandruff? check. The Twearlies? Ha-ha, “Absent Miss” she said out loud, and New Boy looked over, startled. Setting her chin defiantly she met his gaze full on, searching for that familiar look of surprise, fear or disappointment. His eyes were blue, and watery, and lazy, and she let her smile return. “Phew”. Disaster avoided, stand down soldiers! It was The Hood – minus his hood. He must have stayed at his girlfriend’s house last night – Pancake-This-Thick. He often left his anorak there. Maybe Pancake washed it for him in the horrible smelling cheap detergent she favoured. Or maybe he’d lost it. Anyway it wouldn’t do to worry about it too much right now. Although just to make sure it didn’t slip her mind, she opened her bag, took out her policeman’s notebook, selected black on her pen, and set herself the task of working out WHAT HAPPENED TO THE HOODS ANORAK. She set the deadline as BY THE END OF THE WEEK, so she had three clear days ahead to think of every possible solution.

Looking around the bus, she couldn’t help but stare at Tissue-the-Refugee’s get-up today. At his best she thought he looked like a tramp, but today he really had outdone himself. The finest that Elizabeth Duke had to offer around his neck, wrist and at his ears, and some half-price T K Maxx “Italian Collection” black and white vest with Dulchey and Cobana printed over and over again, this way and that, that made her eyes swim. She could feel herself fall into the magic eye zone, and she let her brain sink into the depths of her conciousness. With his skin tight faded denim drainpipe jeans and dirty grey baseball kit, he did look a sight, and she felt the hairs on her arms start to spike in anticipation of the sniff that was bound to come any second now.

“BLOW”, she wanted to scream at the top of her voice. Why couldn’t he just keep a hanky tucked into his sleeve, or his pocket, and blow his fucking nose once in a while. Of all the personal habits she loathed the most, the constant sniffing was at the top of her list. Along with coughing. And of course, stupid people. Or people who breathed heavily, or deeply or through their mouths instead of their noses. She hated fat people that smelt of clammy sweaty bodies, and of course skinny people who smelt of cabbage soup and really tall people with short trousers, and those funny midget sized short people with specially made shoes. She hated people who blinked in an obvious way, or winked in a twitchy way.

“Sweet baby Jesus” she laughed as the Fat Snorer snuffled, snorted and hiccupped, bedding down deeper in his seat and into dreamland.

Checking her watch, she realised it was nearly time, and glanced out of the window to double check their location. “ETA 2 minutes” she mumbled, and by the looks of the traffic ahead they would just about make it. Gathering her notepad in the crook of her right arm (she didn’t have enough time to properly pack it away now) and hoisting her bag over her left shoulder, she reached behind The Leg and pressed the bell twice. She hoped she wouldn’t have to say, “Excuse me” and willed The Leg to “Get outta the fucking way”. Oops, she thought, that one slipped out, as he turned to her, his face awash with horror and surprise.

Standing with her back to the whole sorry bunch, she braced herself for the sharp braking of the bus as it lurched and shuddered to a halt at her stop. St Bernard’s Hospital. Adjusting her staff name badge on her chest, she stepped down to the pavement as the driver lowered the cripple ramp. Insulted, she called “Cunt” over her shoulder as her phone bleeped its reminder – ‘BOOTS – Nasal Stick’.

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