It’s time to make a cup of tea, put your feet up and enjoy this light-hearted true story by Sharon O’Brien Allen that won a well-deserved third prize in our 2013 Writing Competition.
I hate public transport! I hate arriving at the bus stop first and being the last onto the bus. I curse the manners that have been bred in me since my earliest days that force me to join what is loosely called a queue and wait patiently for the arrival of this accursed vehicle. But the waiting is the least of my worries.
There is the fact that I must share this journey with the great unwashed, with wretched humanity. Like the drunk who insists that he knows and loves me and who stares so avidly at me that I’m inclined to believe him until his head starts to nod and he falls asleep (on me) - only to wake with sudden starts at every bump in the road and, if I’m honest, every elbow in his ribs. In this confused state, he stares at me again with only one half-closed, bleary, accusatory eye - as if he’d never seen me or anything like me before.
It’s a toss-up which is my favourite, though: my inebriated friend, who at least loves me, or my drug-addled friend who calls me “man” and gets angry with me when I tell him for the eighth time that I don’t smoke...I don’t smoke anything...man! And yeah, I am “a’righ”.
Sigh! I’m not all right. I am, in fact, a magnet for every weirdo in the metropolis. They all get on my bus. The weirdo will find me, sit too close to me, fidget, talk (or mumble), smell, and generally bother me. They get into my personal space even after I’ve twisted like a contortionist to avoid the slightest contact.
I am, in fact, a magnate for every weirdo in the metropolis.
One evening, after a particularly trying day, I was joined by a travelling companion in the form of a man apparently so drunk that he couldn’t hold it in. He was sick directly behind my seat. This is the point that no amount of good manners can help – I screamed, leaped from my seat, apologised to him (why?) and before I copied him, I ran - literally ran - downstairs on an already-crowded bus hitting countless others with my many bags, muttering one hasty apology after another.
I was blessed to find a seat, and for a few minutes I was at ease until I realised that travelling backwards at speed doesn’t make sense unless you are five and/or in a funfair. As soon as another seat became available I moved again, along with my baggage.
Much to my chagrin, I realised immediately that this was a mistake. No sooner had I sat than I began to slide slowly forwards until my chin was practically on my chest and my knees were almost under the chair in front. This could not be long endured, so I returned to my backwards-facing seat.
Fortunately, another seat became free and I moved again, toting bag and baggage. Again, my unsuspecting fellow sufferers received hits across head and neck, hats were knocked off and tights torn on the sharp corners of my bags.
By now it was dark and raining. Distracted by the moves, I could no longer tell where I was – I may even have missed my stop. The bus windows could show me nothing but a reflection of my harassed self.
Seeing my journey through my husband’s eyes, I could laugh at how extraordinary my behaviour must have seemed to others.
My mood had become equally dark and with a heavy sigh, and ignoring the women who elbowed each other and nodded in my direction (I was used to weirdoes on public transport by now), I moved to another seat and leaned so close to the window that my aching head was soothed by the ice cold glass.
In the hope of being able to discern something that would tell me where on earth I was, I shielded my eyes from the light and there I stayed, glued to the window until I could see a familiar landmark which told me I was just two stops from home. Home! My heart suddenly understood Scarlett O’Hara and her promise never to leave Tara again. I was home and I could escape the weirdos and their woes - escape the bleak humanity of public transport.
The weirdo on the bus
As I stood in the hallway, coat hanging off my shoulder, wet bags torn, hair plastered to my head and close to tears, I told my husband of my misery. It wasn’t long before I suspected that his coughs were too frequent to be real unless he had consumption. He soon gave up all pretence and laughed openly. It took me some time to see what was so funny.
The saying goes that there are none so blind as those who will not see. While I judged others, I had been unable to see that this day, at least, I was the weirdo on the bus! Seeing my journey through my husband’s eyes, I could laugh at how extraordinary my behaviour must have seemed to others. But to me, every move had made sense and was perfectly rational.
The man was sick and I was so tired. I’d had a long day. I was very uncomfortable and I really couldn’t see where I was. All I wanted was to get home where I’m safe and loved and cared for and where even laughter at my utter wretchedness is kind.
But I also thought about how readily I judge people and pronounce others “weirdos” or fools. I just wanted to go home. But maybe this is why my “high” friend asks the same question over and over. Is this why the drunken man wants to talk or even stare at another soul? Because he wants to feel ‘at home,' to feel connected to humanity?
It was a simple lesson. We are all on a journey to find home - even if it is in the face of a stranger.