Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Bus Stop

I could hear it, but I couldn't see it.

We always just called it the "Eddie Road"; there's one in every Scottish town I guess, possibly barring Edinburgh itself. The ancient road leading to the nations capital, tarmacadamed and given an A-road number, ultimately leading nowhere but another road map grid reference.

This particular one runs through the Glasgow's east end, long and lightly curved, with less than a handful of junctions to break up its run. From a standing start a corporation bus builds up a lot of momentum by the time it gets to our stop.

I could hear one now, but I couldn't see it past the trees. It was still some way off, round the curve between the primary school and the petrol station, a bright orange double decked behemoth, as aerodynamic as an iceberg and just as implacable. The drivers tended to the surly, not surprising given the average Glaswegian attitude to those in public service, so they drove like they had a point to prove, a bone to pick. "We're getting there eventually so don't complain about the ride quality."

Corporation buses stank of smoke and beer and piss. Upstairs the seats would be torn and melted by bored school kids with their stolen lighters. Graffiti would obscure the windows, names and dates and football slogans slapped across the plastic in pen or ink or just carved straight in. There'd be a week old Daily Record on the floor and an empty Irn Bru can rattling about somewhere. That's just the way it was. Downstairs the old folk in the front few rows would be hanging on grimly, dentures clenched and handbags clutched tight. At this time of the day there would be a pram folded up and thrown into the joke of a luggage tray at the front. Everyone in the back half would be carrying a poly bag of shopping.

Mid afternoon on a clear July day. The traffic was light, the sun was poking its wee face out in between the expected showers and I could hear the bus powering its way along the Eddie Road towards me. I had a brick in my hands and my throat was dry. I still couldn't see the bus, but it was getting closer. A green car wooshed past, a small child peering out the back window at me, index finger pointed and thumb straight up. I could almost hear him say "Ptchoo ptchoo!" as he shot me. I raised my free hand and shot back as he dwindled into the distance.

Across the dual carriageway at the bus stop for the other direction, an old man was staring down the road. He could see the bus I was waiting for. I could only hear it. A breeze was picking up. It made the stitches on my face tickle.

The last corpy bus I'd been on, I'd got on at the stop, heading to the shopping centre. I'd been allowed to go myself, to pick up my Dad's fishkeeping magazine. It was an adventure, of sorts. I had bus fare and magazine money and some change for whatever I wanted – football stickers, sweets, comics. I'd got on, paid my fare and ran upstairs to the front seat. Somehow bus rides where always more exciting from there, right at the front of the bus, as close to the road as the driver was but higher.

At the next stop four older boys got on. They all wanted the front seats and I told them no, I was sitting there. They dragged from the seat, kicking and punching. When the driver finally stopped the bus, halfway between where I came from and where I wanted to be, he threw me off, bleeding and crying, dishevelled and sore, with all my money stolen and my glasses broken. It was easier to get rid of one than four. He dragged me off the bus and left me on the pavement, wiping my blood off his hands and onto the sleeves of my torn jumper. "Sorry, wee man," he said. He had a moustache and curly hair and a fag hanging out of the corner of his mouth and he didn't care.

I could hear old women tutting and muttering from the front seats of the lower deck, but no one offered to help me, no one tried to get my money back. They drove off and no one looked back.

The corner of the bus appeared round the trees, slowly gaining size and speed and momentum. The roar of the engine washed over me as it drew nearer. My fingers tightened on the brick. The wind was getting stronger.

I got home that day, eventually, still bleeding and disoriented. Fourteen stitches in various places, including seven above my eye. "No, I couldn't describe any of the boys who did it. No, I didn't know any of them." I did, though. They were from the scheme on the other side of the Eddie Road, boys we would regularly fight with – as long as you counted throwing stones from 60 yards away and trading insults about each others mothers as fighting. One of them was Jai Hendries big brother, another was a boy in sixth year at my school. I could have told the police who they where but at the end of the day I'm not a grass.

"No, I couldn't tell you what the bus driver looked like. It was an orange corpy bus, number 41, and he was just another driver."

The bus was ten seconds away, looming in my vision, hurtling towards where I stood on the edge of the pavement, brick in hand and lump in throat. I could see two boys about my age in the front seats of the top deck, feet up on the window, probably talking about football or films or trying to invent new swearwords or complaining about school or any of the hundred things I would do with my mates when we were together. Nine seconds.

I could see a pram in the front luggage tray, handles forward, wheels sticking out at odd angles. It didn't look like it was folded properly. Eight seconds. My arm swung back and I could see the driver looking at me.

Seven seconds. He had a moustache and curly hair and he drove by here every day around this time. I started my arm swinging forward. The drivers mouth opened and I saw recognition.

Six seconds before the bus reached me and I let go of the brick as my arm completed its forward arc. The brick sailed slowly upwards and forwards and I turned to run, feet slipping on the muddy verge. It took me two seconds to cross the pavement and start running down the grass towards home. I imagined the look of surprise on the drivers face as he saw me run, saw the brick in mid air, wondered what it was. How quickly would he react? Would the brick even hit the bus? I hadn't practised it, perhaps I'd used too much force and it would fly past.

Three seconds, two. One. I was twenty yards away when the brick hit.

I couldn't see it, but I could hear it.

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