the red towel

I tend, these days, to bring a soft fluffy hand towel with me, rolled up – makes a good pad for my knee to rest on, a red Ikea job, still very red – hardly been washed.

It’s one of those old motorcycle accident wound things, say no more. The seats are so cramped, so close together, that I can’t sit for 90 minutes in one position, so, soon after sitting I reach for my towel and prop my knee against the seat in front, there is rarely anyone in that seat, so who cares? It makes for a good plinth for the current novel. (Titus Alone now, been going back over the Gorm trilogy….)

There are a few seats at the front made for one. My perpetual seat is 3 back from the front on the left, top deck – natch. There are few occasions when the seat is already taken, but not many, I get on close to the start and get off at the end, on the way home is usually when there is a problem, if the bus is late or if I’m late.

I can’t hear the bus sounds, the personal stereo makes sure of that, but they are still there, subliminal, felt more than heard, I can predict when a gear change will be needed – unfortunately, the bus driver can’t, we seem to grind along most of the time. I’m sure it wouldn’t have to take so long if the driver actually knew how to drive. 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, 39 weeks a year, 2 and a half years so far. 1462.5 hours on this bus! Give or take a few when I’ve been off sick. I have worked it out often, in seconds and in metric time, just to amuse myself. In any case, a substantial proportion of my life.

I rarely discard my coat, even today when the September Sun streams in, my bag straps are entwined with me and in this way I am relatively safe and so are my possessions, the only exposed item is my book, and I’m sure that no one else on this journey would want it.

I like to remove my glasses as well, its one more level of distance from the reality, I can’t see much more than a blur without them so it can’t be real, can it? They go into a hard case in my pocket until just before I get off, and are only used in between when there is something interesting to see, like when we go through the town, down the main high street, the view is not the same as the pedestrian view, I can see over the shops, into a different world, residential or office, a couple of hairdressers and a few store rooms. Mostly this simply reveals a few office workers leaning out of their windows with a ciggy or some people having their hair cut, but there is always the chance that something different will happen, I will witness some dastardly crime and get off the bus early, reveal the dirty deed and become some kind of hero, unlikely I know, but it stops the boredom for a moment, anyway I get back to my book once we’re through the town.

Today Sam Brown sings to me from the CD player in my zipped up bag, she is passionate and deep, I am usually lost in her voice but today I am distracted. Using the remote control on the headphone wire I turn the music down, hardly there at all now but I leave the headphones in. The engine roar fills the gap quickly, but that isn’t what interests me.

I leave my glasses on today, try to angle my head to the sun through an open window so as to darken the lenses, allowing me to look without being noticed. Lenses never go dark enough though.

I would like to think that no one else uses the bus during the day, when I’m not on it, it should go into a big barn where its swept out, refuelled and tinkered with under the bonnet, if it even has a bonnet? Ready for the evening ride home. But signs show that this is not the case, things are disturbed during the day, the window position is adjusted or there will be a footprint on the seat which I have to brush off before I sit. The bus is used for other purposes when I’m not on it. It’s another reason for keeping my coat on, God knows who has been sitting here, adding to the chewing gum stalactite under the seat.

Suddenly the towel seems embarrassing, stupid, I put it away in my bag, sit up straight and try to concentrate on the book, but my mind is not content to do just one thing at a time, no no, the words fall past me, through my head without touching anything and all I can think about is her soft focus image 2 seats in front on the opposite side to me. She is perhaps one or two years older than me, which doesn’t help, I am at that stage in my book where Titus develops a relationship with an older woman, before I can stop it we are lying on a bed with fresh linen sheets thrown off, the Sun is blazing in and warming our naked skin, no words are spoken, there is no need, we are one, connected. I can feel the heat, smell the linen, I am there completely. A cloud shadows the light and I am cold once again, uncomfortable and fed up – still on the bus.

The book is irrelevant now, I just can’t read it. Memorise the page number and occasionally turn the page.

I haven’t seen her before, but I suppose she must have been here, perhaps even longer than I, or maybe this is a once off, I will make a note of where she gets off, unless she gets off after I do, which is unlikely.

We come to the high street, I already have my specs on, so the other world of the second floors is a welcome retreat for me, I don’t want to offend her by staring, but it is so compelling. I look on the other side of the road, I can see her from the corner of my eye, sitting alone as I do, but on a double seat at the front, the little window that the driver uses with a mirror system to keep an eye on the top deck has been covered up by her bag, which is a black mesh not unlike a fishing net.

An empty can of orange rolls out from under her seat as we turn a corner, I assume it was there before she got on, she doesn’t look the type to litter.

I’m looking for some distraction now, my routine is broken and my mind is racing, I look around for some stimuli, but aside from the rolling orange can there is very little. The floor of the bus is filthy, covered in a dark muddy grime, it makes a sanding noise when I move my feet, I would really like to know what colour and texture it had when it was new. a look under some seats reveals nothing, the floor there is as dark and grainy as everywhere else, I suspect that the major contributor to the colouring is fag ash.

Eventually I have to give in to my self and go back to my fantasy, her dark hair falls around the pillows in silky patterns and her red lips beckon me. She turns towards me, she knows I am watching her, as people always do, I quickly look away, hoping my glasses were dark enough to throw the scent. I flick back and she is still there, I offer a smile that I hope doesn’t suggest lunatic, but friendly love.

She smiles back! And turns away again, back to her text book, which appears to be on art, the pages are dog eared and the cover shows signs of leaving the spine. She seems engrossed, so I am offered some cover in my study of her – for the first time I notice the sleeves of her cardigan match the texture of her bag, slightly smaller holes in the fishnet, but black netting still, perhaps a softer fabric, the sleeves continue down her arm and over the majority of her hands, she could almost poke her fingers through the last few nets. Her hair seems to be a constant perplexity, it falls over her eyes and she brushes it back, but then a moment later, when the bus judders or turns her hair will fall down again, only to be pushed back. Mostly black, her hair, with blue highlights. There is no defined style, just sprouting – chopped off where the end should be.

The bus pulls up at a stop, someone has rung a bell – repeatedly – no one from this deck gets up. I look outside and see three people get off and start to wander towards a pub, the bus pulls away with great effort and grungy, heart throbbing vibrations. A short incline up to a bridge, too thin for two lanes of traffic, is met and I make my daily glance at the shopping trolley that has grassy weeds growing up through it in the little river under us. I can’t see the river on the other side, her side, but she, with her vantage point, doesn’t look.

The orange can speeds down to the front of the bus as we roll down the other side of the little hump back, clashing against the front panels. She reaches down and pops the can into the tiny metal bin. See, I knew it wouldn’t be her littering.

I could drop something, have it roll down towards her, then go over and retrieve it, a pen or something, but that could end in me losing the pen, the timing would have to be calculated precisely over a number of days to exactly gauge which way the bus would sway and so where the pen would roll. Far too complicated, but worth noting the direction of the sways from now on, just in case. No, obviously she will have to attract my attention if she wants it, much easier.

I go back to my book, turn back to the remembered page number and ingest the text, it is not comfortable without my towel though, so I fish around in my bag for it, re-roll and jam my knee against the seat in front, I can now resume reading. For a while I am engrossed by the words, they actually reach my subconscious and null all other thoughts, but slowly the niggling need to look at herself comes back and I have to consciously read every word.

I fall back into my world, what am I thinking? Contact on the bus with other people? Madness, I can’t believe I was seduced by her, nearly giving up my privacy, my independence, the force field around me almost broken. I take my glasses off and put them away in their case, turn the volume back up slightly on my CD player and fall back into the book and its descriptive passages.

There are no other interesting features left to the journey, apart from the lamp post that signifies 42 seconds until my stop, giving me enough time to press a bell, put my glasses back on, turn off the music and put away the book, but that is some time yet, so I can be undisturbed for the moment.

After the bus there is the other worry, will my little car still be there, over the road from the bus stop, will anyone have noticed the expired tax disc, will the windows still be intact and will all the tapes still be there? None of this can be gauged until I leave the bus and the bus drives away, Some of these questions will be answered immediately as I can see the car is still there, and others like the tax disc, will have to wait for a few days and the post.

She gets off at my stop, before I do even, up and down the stairs as I am still putting my towel away, I receive another smile from her as she passes me, she nods towards the towel and says “good idea!”
Her voice is sultry, like a Sax player in a tunnel, I can manage a pathetic laugh and smile in reply, but the million carefully constructed retorts are lost as she passes on down the spiral stairs.

I want to be able to catch up with her, ask her if she has far to walk from the stop, offer a lift if my car is still there, but its very unlikely that she will be going my way.

We get off, the bus that is, and I have to time this very carefully, the bus drives away, revealing my car is still where I left it, apparently in tact. She gets herself together and slowly starts to walk off in her direction, I cross the road to my car, trying to ignore her and watch where she goes at the same time. Once I am back in my car everything changes, this is my domain, I am free from the pressures of outsiders and I can take off my coat and dump my bag in the back, I start up the engine and start to pull away, when I notice her, she’s heading back towards me and waving, I open the door, as rolling down the window would cause it to stay down forever, it’s that sort of car, and she approaches.

“are you going in my direction?” she asks cheerfully
“erm, yeah” I reply, without knowing where she is going.
“careful as you shut the door, it doesn’t always work, ah…”

My car is not as well as it used to be, the door is very fragile, it isn’t used very often – she can’t shut it – it keeps opening, so I have to lean over and pull it to.

She smells of Strawberry and I am lost again, in fantasy. She settles down and pulls a towel from her net bag and folds it up, puts it on the dashboard and props her knee up against it.

“yeah, very good idea.”

I smile and introduce myself, she points in the direction she is going and I turn the car round and drive away. Sadly, the sunset is in the other direction…

the red towel


Joined June 2008

desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait
desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait

10% off

for joining the Redbubble mailing list

Receive exclusive deals and awesome artist news and content right to your inbox. Free for your convenience.