Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Late Assignment

Shivering in the cold I think dark thoughts to myself as I check the time yet again on my mobile phone. I’m tired and hungry from a hard workout at the gym, and I just want to get home. The bus I have been waiting for is ten minutes late, and the next one is due in just over five minutes. Finally a creaking old trolley bus rounds the corner, and as expected, the usual driver is at the wheel.

I always used to assume this driver was quite old, but one day I took a closer look and realised that he was probably only in his fifties. He is small-framed and his face wizened and chimp-like. Lines form around his mouth and jaw where the skin has been stretched too tightly over his face. He holds that face rigid, as if the stress of driving that huge vehicle and having to deal with a constant stream of customers compells him to keep as still as possible to remain in control. Hunched over, he clutches at the steering wheel with an air of fatalistic resignation.

The bus shudders up to the bus stop and the driver clips the irritable passengers on. In a series of slow, deliberate steps he closes the door, grips the steering wheel again, turns on his indicator, checks his side mirror and moves out onto Lambton Quay. He takes an almost imperceptible pause before moving on to the next step, as if checking off a mental list.

The ride home is mind-numbingly slow. Each micro-second he pauses causes the service to run even later. People are turning up to catch the next scheduled bus and getting onto ours, further slowing things down. As the seats fill bodies stand swaying in the aisle. Those lucky enough to be seated bury their noses in magazines or stare resolutely out of the window.

The driver’s face retains that taut impassivity for all but one passenger. She is a small Cambodian woman probably in her middle age, neatly and conservatively dressed in cords, a woollen jumper and jacket. This one passenger earns a smile and a few words of greeting. She acknowledges him briefly, but is already turning away as she places her ticket back in her wallet. For a few seconds his face crumples like a spurned puppy. He reacts this way every time, and she has never noticed.

The bus turns up Brooklyn Hill. The driver brakes heavily as we go through the shops, and everyone in the aisle struggles to retain their balance. We sit for an eternity waiting to turn onto Washington Ave. Every time the driver gets up the nerve to pull out, another car appears over the top of the hill. Predictably, the bus that was scheduled to run fifteen minutes after ours passes before we reach Mills Rd.

Finally, as if he has tapped into a hidden well of courage, the driver thunders down a hill, and the momentum carries us all the way to The Ridgeway. I press the bell for my stop and walk to the rear door. Worn out and grumpy I consider saying nothing as I step down to the footpath. However convention and a sense of guilt have me calling out my thanks. The driver turns his head slightly in acknowledgement as the door closes behind me and the bus shudders off towards Kingston.

More Sunday Scribblings here


Michelle said...

Your observations are really amazing! I love how you caught every little detail.

Catherine said...

Oh, it's the same bus route I used to take - about (insert large number here) years ago! I enjoyed taking the ride with you. I thought all bus drivers just pushed ahead, assuming cars wouldn't tangle with a bus - apparently there is at least one cautious bus driver in the world.

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?

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