Title: The Bus
Prompt: #4 – A bus @
Summary: A smile can change everything
Warning(s): Includes thoughts of suicide.
Word Count: 1,265
Disclaimer: All characters and situations in this story are property of me.
Mick sat in his driver’s seat and stared out of the window into the rain. The windscreen wipers swished in front of him to a steady beat as he made his way through the crawling traffic.
The day reflected his mood; dark, grey, miserable.
The traffic crawled forward a little bit more, enough to allow him to get to the bus stop. He pulled in and opened his doors. The queue that had formed there suddenly changed shape. Now their refuge was in sight it became every man for himself.
It broke Mick a little further inside. All these people; no care, no attention. Backs were turned, people pushed out of the way. Fit young men climbed onto the bus with no thought for the frail old lady reaching out a tentative hand for the rail.
School children barged on, without sparing a passing thought for the woman, a mother, like their mother no doubt, laden down with shopping bags.
As for him; well he existed even less in their world then the other passengers did. Cards were waved in his face, wiped across scanners, but no eye contact was made. No-one even looked at his face. Mick wondered briefly if he sat and pulled funny faces at every passenger as they got on, if they would even notice.
No-one used cash for the bus anymore. It was all pre-paid. Season tickets, school passes, elderly passes. No cash meant that no one ever needed to talk to him anymore. No singles to anywhere were sold. No arguing over whether someone was young enough for the child fair. No cash, no communication.
Mick had been a bus driver for twenty years. He’d loved his job. He loved driving. He loved sitting in this big, red, belchy, loud, rumbly bus, driving the streets. But most of all he had loved the people.
All walks of life got the bus. The commuters, smart in their suits; school children not so smart in theirs; the young mum harassed and busy, juggling buggies and babies and bags but always sparing a smile; the young men whose lives had taken a wrong turn, who looked older than their years, faces lined with the red veins of someone who has seen the bottom of too many beer cans and whiskey bottles.
Everyone got on the bus. And everyone one had asked for their ticket. Everyone paid for their ticket. The bus was the great social leveller. It treated everyone the same.
And everyone talked to him. For some it didn’t go further than asking for the ticket, but with most there was a please, a thank you. There were nods of recognition from regulars on his route; smiles; snatched comments about the weather; looks of gratitude when the bus welcomed them out of the rain and cold.
Now there was nothing. No nods, no recognition, so smiles, no hellos, no thank yous. Just wave your card in my face and be gone.
It made Mick sad. Caused an empty hole to open up in his stomach. And Mick discovered that once the hole was there a lot of things could flood in.
Everything that was missing from his life poured into the whole, suddenly greater. The loss of his mother, never finding that special someone, never having children of his own. The few friends he’d had all marrying, become parents, grandparents. All moving on except him. But he hadn’t minded because he’d had his bus and he’d had his passengers.
Now his whole life was empty.
Mick had been trying to decide what to do and had realised there was only one thing he could do. Only one way to make the hole go away; only one way to make sure nothing else fell into the whole and added to the sadness.
He had heard tales of bus drivers who had driven bus loads of passengers into walls, into rivers; wanting to take other people with them in their final moments. Making a big show of the whole thing. But that’s not what Mick wanted. His passengers may not notice him anymore, but he could never hurt any of them.
No. Mick had decided that he would go quietly. Without fuss. He had bought some tablets and they were waiting patiently for him at home. He had written a letter to the police that he would post as he took a final walk around the block. That would make sure that he was found before too long. He felt bad that anyone would have to find him, but better that it was the professionals.
He left instructions to his bank account so that his funeral could be paid for. Everything else was to go to the Bus Driver’s Benevolent Fund.
He would make things as easy for everyone as he could. He didn’t want to put anyone out.
The bus continued sluggishly through the rain and traffic as it approached the next stop. There was only one person at the bus stop. It was a young mother. The type he saw every day. She had a buggy and bags of shopping. He pulled over to the bus stop and opened the doors. He continued staring out of the windscreen, there was no point in turning round.
The woman appeared at the small window next to him.
“Hello, sorry, how much is the ticket? Sorry, I’m not used to getting the bus, but my boyfriend said he won’t come and pick me up and I need to get my baby home to feed and…sorry, you don’t need to hear my life story. How much please?”
Mick was startled to find himself being spoken to, but recovered.
“Two quid love.”
“Okay.” The woman started to rifle through her purse, her attempts getting more frantic. She pulled out coins and counted them onto the little tray in front of Mick. £1.42. That was it. The young woman searched her purse again, but it resolutely refused to hand over any more coins.
Mick studied the woman and her belongings as she looked. The shopping bags were from the cheapest supermarket in town and the buggy had seen better days, but the baby looked healthy and happy and clean. The little one smiled up at him from the comfort of the buggy and he smiled back.
He turned to the woman. “Don’t worry about it love. Put that back in your purse and go and take a seat.”
The woman looked at him, blinking in disbelief for a moment.
“Thank you,” she said, “thank you so much.” She smiled at him then. A warm, genuine, grateful smile. She scooped up the pile of coins and poured them back into her purse. She pushed the buggy down the aisle and Mick watched as she manoeuvred it into the buggy area, sitting down next to it. He waited until she was settled before closing the doors and moving off.
Mick eased back into the still slow moving traffic and glanced back in his mirror again. The woman looked calmer and was reaching in to stroke her baby’s cheek. He saw another smile break out on the woman’s face in response to something her baby did.
He looked back into the mirror, catching his own expression. He had a smile on his face. She was grateful to him, but he was so much more grateful to her.
That one smile. That was enough. That was enough to push thoughts of tablets and letters and benevolent funds from his mind for another day. It was enough to make tomorrow worth seeing.