Is There Space?

“There’s fifty passenger seats on the bus,” said Norm. “So the first fifty of you will make it to the City today. The rest of you will have to wait. The next bus leaves in four hours.” There were grumblings along the line winding through the morning mist. Norm wondered why there were so many people today. Where were they going? What for? He counted off the first fifty people and separated them from the rest. “Ok I’ll load up your luggage and then let you onto the bus. This is an express City service, with no stops en-route.”

Some people said, “What?” and “Huh?”

“So any of you going to Strattus or Squashy should not take this service. Take the local bus to Strattus, and an express service from there.” Six people left the queue. “Ok, we’ve got room for six more.” Six more people stepped up from the grumbling mass, grinning now. Another couple also came forward but he ordered them back. Norm’s military service stood him in good stead. He was used to commanding people.

He loaded up everyone’s luggage and then opened the door. He checked tickets carefully and counted fifty people on. The last passenger – an East Indian guy – was sweating and seemed slightly nervous.

The waiting crowd was still hoping that seats would appear magically. He said, “I’m sorry, folks, but the bus is full. As I said, the next service is in four hours. If you don’t want to wait that long, you can try your luck at hitching. Either way, I wish you a good journey. Maybe see you on the other side.”

He boarded the bus himself and started the engine. It would take five minutes to warm up – the lights and air conditioning in the cabin, and fluids and motor beneath the hood. There was a tap on his shoulder.

“Excuse me,” said the East Indian guy. “I do not have a seat.”

“Have you looked carefully?” said Norm. “Have you walked right along the bus?”

“I have looked carefully,” he said. “Yes, I have walked right along the bus.”

“Wait a minute,” said Norm. He liked having people around him, if not his buddies then at least these passengers, that’s why he liked working on the bus. He pushed the tannoy button. “Ladies and gentlemen, it seems that one of our passengers can’t find a seat. This service is full, and we need every seat. So anyone taking more than one seat please remove your personal belongings from the extra seat.” There was a slight commotion which Norm assumed was somebody shifting their bag, or their dumb ass, from the seat next to them. “Thank you for your co-operation.” He said to the East Indian guy, “Ok Sir, there should be a seat for you now. Enjoy your journey.”

If he was still in the army, he would have done things differently. The fool taking two seats would have been made to do fifty push-ups, load and unload everyone’s bags, and maybe enjoy the journey from the comfort of the hold. But he was a civilian now and couldn’t boss people around. He had to be nice to them.

This was ok most days, but some days – just some days – when he’d drunk too much the night before, or when he was feeling lonely, or when some young punk gave him lip, or tourists complained about lateness, he felt like announcing to the bus, “Do you know what I have done for you, and where I where been? Can you imagine the things I have witnessed that I can ever forget? Do you know the nightmares I endure most nights, and how scared I still am of loud noises? How I play classical music on headphones and stay indoors every Halloween? Did you know that my marriage disintegrated? She said that she didn’t know me anymore. Did you know that my buddy Tom was blown up trying to save me? He looked like a pile of butcher’s offcuts. Do you know about my sessions with the psychiatrist, and how hard it is to reintegrate into society after killing other men?” But he never said any of these things. He would lose his job. God knows it had been hard enough to come by. He just wished his passengers bon voyage.

There was a tap on his shoulder. The East Indian guy was back. “I am sorry, I have still not found a seat.”

“Ladies and gentlemen. You are making me unhappy. Despite my request, somebody is still taking up two seats. I’m going to walk down the aisle and see who it is. God help them.”

Norm walked down the bus, once more a sergeant-major, inspecting turn out. He checked people’s clothes and shoes; their faces and haircuts. He was back in Afghanistan… No he wasn’t! He snapped out of it. He was a normal guy driving a bus. Every seat was full. He didn’t get it. He had counted fifty people on. There were fifty seats. Why was there no seat available? “Ladies and gentlemen. We have a logistical problem. I’m going to ask you all to leave the bus, and count you on again. Just to ensure all is in order.”

The passengers grumbled and disembarked. The queue of hopefuls cheered, thinking that seats may yet appear. The passengers lined up again. Norm checked their tickets and counted them onto the bus. “One, two, three… forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty.” The East Indian guy again found no seat. “Please Sir, my mother is very sick and I must get to the City immediately. My flight home is at 2pm.”

Norm was about to lose his temper. Bloody idiots wasting his time. Fooling around like this got people killed. He ordered all passengers off the bus again. Then through the mist he saw one extra person exit the bus. He was uniformed, familiar. It was his buddy Tom, barely defined. So Faint. His ghost often yearned for company, and came along for the ride. But this bus was full, and a passenger was distressed. Tom gave up his seat, like he had his life, for another. He saluted Norm and stood to attention, awaiting the next bus.

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