On The Bus

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic


A short story that I basically wrote as a way of getting out some personal anxieties about my life. Some of it is autobiographical but I made a character to specifically differentiate from myself,
and some details are different.

Submitted: November 22, 2017

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Submitted: November 22, 2017

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Fuck, where's my lighter?”

 

Katie stood in the middle of Buchannan Street, fag hanging out her mouth, after a rough shift in the Shop. She was just after speaking with her Manager, who was moaning about her not meeting her sales targets again, before leaving.

 

If sales don't pick up, Katie, we'll have to review your position here,” she had said. Katie was well aware this was management talk for, fuckin' sell suhin or yer gettin' the sack hen. Sales were something that had never come naturally to Katie, even in the eight months she'd worked in the shop since leaving uni. If someone doesn't want to buy something, what's the need in making them?

 

Katie approached a man in his mid-forties who was smoking a little bit further down the street. “Got a lighter mate?”

 

Wordlessly, the man fumbled about in his jeans for what seemed like an eternity. Fuckin' get a move on pal, thought Katie, or I'll miss my bus. Finally, the man handed her a yellow clipper with a faded ganja leaf just visible. Katie laughed to herself at the thought of a grown man carrying around a lighter bearing that kind of logo. For the length of time it took for it to get that faded, too. Nevertheless, she promptly lit her cigarette, thanked the Man and headed towards the bus station.

 

Am sneerin' at that idiot, she thought, but at least he's probably content in his life. He's walking about, wae a fucking weed lighter, and he doesn't gee one solitary shit. He's living the fucking dream, truth be told.

 

Then there's me, working this pish job for fuck all, that am no even good at, when I've got a degree. Katie had graduated from university, studying History, almost a year ago. She'd gained a upper second-class honours too, no less. The only problem was, she'd discovered about two-and-a-half years in that it was, in her own words, fucking useless. So here she was, working in some shop in the town, performing badly. Her life was still boring, even since all the weird shit had started happening. Guess am just a borin' gal, she thought. Oh well, at least am no on the fucking broo anymore.

 

Katie reached the bus stop after about five minutes of walking. It was about seven o'clock when she finished that night, so she'd missed the half-five rush. There were only a few other people at the stop, an Old Man, whom Katie had seen before many times. He had a perpetual fag sticking out the right side of his mouth, and wore a dirty raincoat and a Russian hat. They exchanged a knowing glance when Katie arrived: they knew each other despite having never spoken. Other than the Old Man, there was a petite Blonde Woman with a small child, whom Katie thought looked vaguely European. A tourist maybe? It didn't matter.

 

The quietness of this later time was a relief, and one of the few things Katie enjoyed about working in retail. Although it did mean she didn't have a lot of time when she got home. She still lived with her parents – well, she had tried moving out while in her first year at uni, but it hadn't gone well. She wasn't ready for it, and she looked back now at her eighteen-year-old self and saw a young child, naïve to the ways of the world. Too hopeful, too trusting, perhaps? Or maybe, she thought, am just too cynical now? Is this the wisdom that comes with age, or am I just thinking am an auld wummin at twenty-two?

 

Shit, she thought as the bus drove by the stop, forgetting to wave it down. There was no-one on it to get off, as far as she could see, so the driver kept going. She blamed herself for this mistake despite there being two other people at the bus stop: the Old Man didn't look like he was on the same planet as the everyone else, and the Blonde Woman's child was being, well, a child. Maybe they weren't even getting the same bus as her: Katie had never noticed the Old Man getting on at the same time as her. So she stood for another twenty minutes before the next bus came, making sure she was alert for when it came.

 

Removing her earphones to purchase a ticket, The Rolling Stones' 'Moonlight Mile' put on hold, she surveyed the Bus Driver. He looked as miserable as she felt, only more. His own misery seemed to have deepened with his age: this guy looked as if he'd spent twenty-five years driving buses and hated every second of it.

 

This is the type of life Katie had been dreading for the last little while. Since leaving uni, her prospects hadn't been great. No-one necessarily wanted to hire someone with a degree in History, no matter how good said degree might have been. Katie sometimes wished she'd dropped out. Her friend James, who'd studied Physics at the same university as her, dropped out a month or two into his second year, and was doing fairly well. He had a pretty decent job. Not the best, by any means, but he'd used his time well to get into a good position within the company he'd started working for not long after he'd left. Like, yeah, I've got a bit of paper saying am clever, thought Katie, but that counts for fuck all in terms of getting a sustainable job. She sometimes wished she'd had the bottle to drop out rather than wasting her time.

 

Katie herself had never been able to hold down a job. Working in the Shop had been her longest-held position, but she couldn't see herself working there too much longer. Especially now she'd been called out for having shit sales records. She'd had a few other jobs while she studied, but it was really just for extra beer money – uncle SAAS took care of the rest. They'd all been on a temporary basis, which didn't bother Katie as she never seen herself working in Asda, a call centre, or any of these places full-time once she graduated. She'd imagined the magical twenty-five grand a year job she'd be able to walk into saying, look, I got a degree! Perhaps, she thought, I was just as naïve a year ago as I was at eighteen.

 

A dark-haired man in his thirties stepped on the bus, catching Katie's attention. “I canny gee ye change pal,” said the exasperated Bus Driver. The man looked confused. Katie noticed now his generally dirty demeanour, and his sunken cheeks, at odds with his relative youth. Just visible under the arm of his manky, loose-fitting North Face jacket was a bottle of fortified wine marked 'Mad Count XL40'. Poor guy canny even afford Bucky or real MD, thought Katie, half amused and half feeling sorry for the man. The Wine Man turned his attention to the four bus-goers (which Katie had realised included the Old Man, whose fag, thankfully, was absent from his mouth), “Anycunt got change of a tenner?”

 

Jesus, thought Katie, someone better gee him that, he must need that tenner for something important if he's buying that paint thinner drink. Katie didn't have any change herself, having given the last of it to the Bus Driver. Being honest with herself, she wasn't sure how comfortable she felt approaching the Wine Man either. Clearly that was the case for the other people on the bus, as no-one approached him to give him the money. The Bus Driver warned him not go any further when he attempted to approach people: “You're goin' nowhere withoot a ticket pal.”

 

Fuck this,” sighed the Wine Man, exiting the open bus door. How was he getting to his destination now, wondered Katie. Walking? Train? A lift? It was to remain a mystery.

 

Poor sod eh?” sighed the Old Man out of nowhere, “Ye have to wonder how someone ends up in that state.”

 

He was seemingly talking to no-one, as there was no-one next to, in front of or behind him. Was he okay? Senile? Without thinking, and mostly out of sympathy, Katie replied, “Aye. Ye don't go out one day and decide to become a jakie. The cunt had hopes and aspirations, just like anybody else.”

 

After saying this, she wondered about what her own hopes and aspirations were, drawing a depressing blank, which was surprising even to her. She might've been at a crossroads in her life, unsure of what she wanted to do, but she never thought she had this little of a plan. It was a disconcerting new thought in a head of thoughts were already pretty disconcerting.

 

Aye, well, some of us only had hopes and aspirations,” retorted the Old Man, changing the subject, “Av lived for seventy-seven fuckin' years n regret every single wan ae them,” the Old Man paused, “except nineteen-fifty-six, wit a year a tell ye. Seen Chuck Berry at some bloody thing n my pal pished, shat n whitied all over himself at the same time. They were the days I tell ye...” he paused, “of course he was a mad bastard . 'Sixty-two the cunt died ae a drug overdose. Or was he the cunt that patched us all n settled down wae a nice wee burd? 'Magine he could see all this shit wae these cunts that can zoom aboot these days....” the Old Man sorted of drifted off, but continued to mumble long after he realised no-one was listening.

 

Great, thought Katie, the first time the mysterious Old Man had spoken to her, and it concerned a deceased drug addict expelling bodily fluids from every orifice. She allowed herself a giggle in spite of her disgust. The whole situation was so ridiculous that she felt she owed herself it. Putting her earphones back in, she stuck on 'You Never Can Tell'.

 

As the bus pulled up near Katie's estate, she left promptly, thanking the Bus Driver as she did and began to walk home. He barely registered her gratitude, but then again, why should he? Thinking about her similarities with the Bus Driver, Katie realised their individual versions of existential misery were probably altogether different from one another. While the Bus Driver most likely happened upon his occupation out of circumstance, stumbled onto it with no other choice, Katie had been given plenty of opportunities in her life.

 

In general, she thought, things are better for younger people than when the Bus Driver would've been ma age. Like, a member of a working class family might not have been able to attend university like me. A simpler time, too, there weren't any of these weirdos floating about fighting each other.

 

Katie had the benefit of better education and a more functional support system, but had still, in her eyes, fucked everything up, because of her lack of ambition. The Bus Driver might have had big plans, but not had the resources to follow them. Arguably, am the opposite, she thought.

 

Then again, she thought, am no alone in my post-graduate blues, so things may not have changed that much. She also thought about the number of successful people her age, who had got there through sheer ambition and talent. Perhaps the increased normalisation of university courses wasn't necessarily that good a change. Sure, they helped, but, Katie thought, a degree is worth fuck all without all the other shit.

 

She thought more successful working class people was generally a good thing, but the whole thing just depressed her, on a personal level. If they can do it, she thought, why can't I? Somewhere inside her, she suspected that the answer was that she wasn't anything special, and was thus destined to become another drone, devoid of talent or ambition. Just like the Bus Driver.

 

Katie hadn't quite come to a conclusion on her own thoughts when she walked through her front door and heard her Mother's familiar refrain, “Hi hon, how was work?”

 

Katie hated her Mother's use of the word “Hon” - she seen it as an Americanism, and thus out of place in a household in the East End of Glasgow. But she'd gotten used to it after twenty-two years. “Aye alright,” Katie replied non-committally. She hated going into too much detail about the mundane day-to-day goings-on of a working life she found incredibly boring.

 

Anything interesting happen since ye've been in?” she changed the subject.

 

The Gaffer wis on the telly again,” replied Mother. “Six-o'clock news. Stopped some bank robbery in Easterhoose.”

 

Barely registering her Mother's assessment of the news, Katie nodded and went, “Aye...” before heading up to her room. She sumrised that by the time she'd showered and eaten, she'd have to sleep, in order to be up for tomorrow's shift. Load of pish, she thought, as she accidentally drifted off for a little while.

 

About twenty minutes later, her Mother interrupted a forgettable dream by knocking on her door, firmly but lightly informing her that her dinner was ready. She barely spoke to her Mother while they ate together, but eventually Mother did pipe in. “Katie, are you alright?”

 

It seemed like a serious question, but Katie shrugged it off as she normally did. “Aye, fine. Just tired. Work n that.” It was half-true, she supposed.

 

Okay,” said Mother, unconvinced. “It's just, I worry about you, yeno? I know yer not where ye want to be, but something will turn up. I want you to be happy.”

 

This was neither the time or the place for an expression of Katie's thoughts on the matter of the direction her life was taking. She wasn't lying when she'd told her mum she was shattered. She loved Mother, and sometimes felt guilty at the level of unwavering support she'd given her, in spite of her lack of success.

 

Thanks, mum,” she said, “I'll be fine.”

 

This, Katie thought, would let her Mother know she appreciated her and put her mind at rest, while simultaneously shooting down any avenue for further discussion on the subject. Mother and daughter continued to eat in silence.

 

Katie then returned to her room, lying down for a while, determined not to fall asleep again before she went for a shower. Getting up, she began to think about the significance of her Mother's words at dinner.

 

Making her way to the bathroom, switching on the shower and stripping, she couldn't escape the thought of those words. Her Mother was genuinely concerned for her, and that had always made her feel guilty. But there was something else about her words that particularly interested her. She continued to ponder this as she put on some shower-accompanying music – Queens of the Stone Age's '...Like Clockwork', (a modern respite from the fifties rock 'n' roll spiral the Chuck Berry incident on the bus had sent Katie down).

 

As she stepped into the shower and the water began to pour, she had it. “I want you to be happy.”

 

What was so special about that sentence? Surely this was true for any good parent.

 

It hit her as water enveloped her body and she reached for shampoo – her Mother had vocalised what Katie's ambition was, her hope, her ambition. She thought back to the bus, when the distressing thought of having neither of these had crept in. She thought about the success of others her age. And she reached a conclusion that was at once horrifying and liberating. The reason I've gone nowhere, the reason I've no ambition, she thought, is that I don't care about any of that shite.

 

I just want to be happy, she realised. She had thought she wanted the elusive twenty-five grand a year job sought by other alumni, the graduate scheme that would fast-track her to success, because that's what she'd been fed these past four years. But she didn't. God knows, she didn't want to work in the Shop for the rest of her days either, but she'd realised the prospect of being a corporate shill wouldn't make her happy either, even if it was well-paid.

 

She just wanted stability in her life, to do something she liked, have someone to share it with and enough money to do it. And most of all, she wanted contention and real happiness – something that had been fleeting for most of her adult life. It didn't matter how she achieved this or what she actually ended up doing in her professional life.

 

Of course, this wasn't going to get her anywhere immediately, but it was a step forward. She just wanted to be happy. This contextualised all of her anxieties about failure, about doing nothing with her degree, and gave her resolve to move forward.

 

Katie stepped out of the shower and grabbed a towel. She began drying herself, feeling she had turned a corner, and was a new woman. She just wanted to be happy. Super-happy.


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