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Voyage Home

I stand up. The sun’s on my left and gelatinous grey clouds pool on my right. Rain is everywhere.
It’s rainbow weather.
I raise my arm and the number twenty-three stops just before me. I let the handful of people board before me and they let a woman wheel her pram off.
I board and pay the fare.
I look down the gangway. Decisions, decisions.
The bus is almost full due to the rain. Lots of people from what I imagine are lots of walks of life. There are young men, young women, mothers and fathers with their kids, some in prams and buggies, some old enough to sit on their knees. There are middle aged men and women and there are older men and women.
At first I decide to stand in the gangway. It’s not a long ride home, so I won’t be on too long, but if I do that I’ll be in everybody’s way. Both on-comers and off-goers will pass me and even sometimes slightly, so slightly I won’t notice myself, glare at me with irritancy because I’m in their way.
I arch my neck and look down. I see one lonesome seat. It’s abandoned next to a young woman. I glance over at her as I do everybody else on the bus. Faces look back, waiting for me to make a decision. She’s listening to music. Wearing a leather jacket and shoulder length red hair frames her face that shines with red lipstick.
She’s femme-fatale pretty with a modern day twist.
She’s sitting alone for the same reason I’m apprehensive about sitting down next to her.
She’s sitting alone because she stands out.
I know that if I sit down then a menagerie of thoughts would sprint through her head.
I’m sat there because I’m attracted to her. I’m sat there because I want to get close due to said attraction and with the hope of sparking conversation. The fallacy becomes self-perpetuating and never realises its own erroneousness.
It’s never ‘I’m sat there because it’s the only seat on the bus’. That one’s the money-shot.
People have a tendency to over think simple gestures and direct the arrow straight at themselves. It’s kind of selfish really.
Maybe I’m the only one over thinking this? I don’t know.
I sit next to her and think of what I’m going to do tonight. I’ll probably make some food then go round to Dave’s house for a while; I called him last night and arranged it all. After that I don’t know what I’ll do. It’ll probably be bedtime.
The bus sets off.
I sit next to the woman with the red hair and she shifts herself. I know what she’s thinking.
I perch myself on the edge of the seat as to not give any wrong impression. After a few hundred yards I feel stupid. I shouldn’t have to do this, to act this sheepish for something as insignificant as a bus ride.
I shift my weight and sit in the full of the chair. My leg brushes hers.
Oh my God.
I half whisper an apology and I wonder what I’m apologising for really as she moves away like a scared fox being prodded at by a spear.
I want to make a scene as I sit there in silence. I want to stand up and shout ‘Look at me, I’m amazing and aren’t afraid to break the social boundaries, do you know why I’m not afraid? It’s because I don’t care.’
But I don’t. I sit there quietly, over thinking every electrical signal my brain sends to my muscles.
We pass traffic lights and tilt around a roundabout.
I hold on to the bar on the seat in front of me. The gravity pushes my shoulder into hers.
We say nothing.
What could there possibly be to say? I imagine it.
“Did you know?” I’d say. “That a spider has trouble making a web as well in deep space?”
I’m full of useless information.
“Also, Kermit the frog is left-handed. You can tell by the way he holds a guitar.”
Yeah, I’m the lone gunman, I’m smokin’ dynamite, I’m a blazing freight train tittiling off the rails, I’m going so damn fast.
Me and my titbits of esoteric information, we’re on fire.
My first answer would be a whispered ‘Excuse me?’ as nobody’s ever paying attention on a bus. Any noise ever to come from the person sitting next to you is to say excuse me as you stand up to get off. Then it would likely be a simple ‘oh’ and finally she would move away or get off the bus pre her preferred stop to escape the dreaded me. I’d be vilified as some creepy guy on the bus home and avoided like a plague rat on future crossings.
So what do I say to this woman who has got me all on edge?
It’s simple, you already know the answer.
I say nothing at all.
I go to speak and she turns her headphones up. The audible drum-beat reminds me of a song. I know the song she’s listening to, but I can’t place it.
The windows are all steamed up with condensation and we drive past the University library and down the sloped road.
Why do I feel the need to break the tension? Why is there any tension at all? Yes, she is attractive. No, I am not attracted to her. My girlfriend is at home right now and is expecting me home soon which is why I’m on this bus in the first place. I’ve always liked talking to people and I don’t think I should have to apologise for it.
We hit a speed bump too fast and her phone drops from her hand.
It’s by my feet, so I lean forward and pick it up. I hand it back to her and she looks at me.
“Here you go.” I say.
“Thank you.” She replies.
Formalities.
She presses a few buttons on the device and the screen lights up.
I ask if it’s working ok and she hands be the faintest of ceremonial glances. She heard my voice, but not the words inside it.
The phone goes away and she reaches for the ‘stop’ button and the action’s receipt comes: A faint ‘excuse me’.
Nobody speaks at a regular volume on a bus. The gangway of a bus has the sanctimonious silence of a library or a church. Although churches and libraries don’t ask nicely for silence, they take your words away with the grandeur. Any words you might have stewing in there are extirpated by the hollow vastness born from the abundance of tomes, old and new and the architecture and presence of a lord.
If being in God’s presence doesn’t shut you up, nothing much will.
A spider may have trouble building a web in space, but if you give one lysergic acid diethylamide the web it could create could be perfect and has a larger catching area. At least that’s what NASA found when they tested it, along with various other chemicals.
I could be wrong, I’m no scientist and I don’t dabble with those kinds of things.
And I’m terrified of spiders.
I shudder at the thought as I slide out of the chair and back a step to let the woman out. I look where we are.
This is my stop too.
I walk to the front of the bus and I worry it looks like I’m following her. I hope I’m just being paranoid, that I’m over thinking again.
I pray she doesn’t turn around. If she does, that will only incite more quizzical erroneousness.
I don’t know why I even care.
The bus stops dead and we sieve off the vehicle. She never looks back.
She sets off in the same direction as I do. I’m a few paces behind. Four I’d say. Four of mine anyway. I’m taller, so I’d take longer steps.
If she sees me she’ll think I’m following her, that I’m going to follow her all the way back to her house and make some form of move, be it of facetious or sinister intent.
I’m being paranoid again. People- normal people don’t think this far into this stuff.
She continues straight thankfully and I cross the street and turn right down my road.
I carry on down my street, glad the awkwardness of the daily bus ride is over. Tomorrow will be a pastiche of today and then the sequels will follow suit, and so on and so forth.
All that fussing for a ride home… God I’m an idiot.
The sun’s on my back and gelatinous grey clouds stare at me from the front. Rain is everywhere.
It’s rainbow weather.
I smile as I walk home.

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Short about a guy’s journey home and notices the awkwardness of riding the bus.

Published by the LEP on 16/10/10

Tags

sam, graham, bus, ride, awkward, girl, town, city

Grew up in Hull (Yorkshire), moved to Preston (Lancashire) at 21 to study at UCLan. Graduated in 2011, wrote first novel in same year.
A few of my shorts have been in Preston’s newspaper (Lancashire Evening Post) and on Oct 1st 2012 had a short story published in a proper book! Chuffed about that.
Currently working on a tech-noir crime story I started in 2010.

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