What It's All About

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


If anyone can tell me what this all means I'd be glad to hear it. Sometimes the characters just introduce themselves and speak up. In this case there is a chance meeting in a bus shelter.

Submitted: June 30, 2018

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Submitted: June 30, 2018

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Hayley was sitting in the bus shelter and reading her book, when she noticed a smartly dressed man rush in. The part of his attire she noticed first though was the paper bag on his head.

As he looked back out, the man said “Wow, it looks like rain. That can be a bit of a hazard for a man in my condition.” As he took a seat he noticed Hayley staring at him so he said “I hope you don't mind me sheltering here for a while?”

“No, no not at all,” said Hayley trying hard not to stare.

“I admit I probably look a bit odd, you don't often see men in cravats these days.”

Hayley shook her head and tried to read her book again.

“What's it all about?” said the man.

After looking at the front of her book, Hayley said “It's a murder mystery.”

“Oh, I didn't mean the book. I was thinking about everything.

“Everything?”

“You know; you, me, life, the world, everything. What’s it all about?”

Hayley put her book down, got up and walked over to the man showing him her name badge. “What does it say on there?”

“Budgens.”

“Below that.”

“Hayley.”

“It doesn't say Alfie does it?”

“No.”

“That's because I don't know what it's all about,” said Hayley before going back to her seat and picking up her book again. Though there was silence between them Hayley couldn’t concentrate and she put her book down again.

Russell looked across at her. “I’m sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you.”

“Oh you didn't. You come in here with a paper bag over your head and ask me what it's all about, but you didn't mean to disturb me.”

The angle of the bag on his head showed that the eyes were downcast. “Well, I suppose I didn't exactly make the best entrance.

“We could try starting all over again. Why don't you take the bag off your head first?”

“Oh I couldn't do that; you wouldn't want to see what I look like under here.”

“Oh come on, it can't be that bad,” said Hayley reaching towards the bag.

Fending her off the man said “No please don't.”

“Well all right but it's a bit odd talking to a man with a paper bag on his head. What do people call you?”

“Russell.”

Hayley tried not to laugh.

“I know; what a cruel twist of fate,” said Russell.

Hayley decided this situation called for the direct approach. “Why are you going around with a bag on your head?”

“Well you must admit it is a good way of drawing attention to myself.”

“Maybe, but there must be less embarrassing ways of doing that.”

Russell looked around the bus shelter. “Look I'm not trying to embarrass you, you know.”

“You're not embarrassing me.”

“Disturbing you then?”

“Only one of us is disturbed, and I'm looking at him right now.”

“And you really don't mind?”

“If I'd minded I would have said. Having you come in here wasn't exactly what I was expecting but it helps to pass the time before I get on the bus.”

Pointing at the recently discarded book, Russell said “Don’t you want to read?”

Hayley picked up the book and examined it. “To be honest it's a load of pretentious twaddle. I'm glad of the excuse to put it down.”

“Put it down? That seems a bit drastic.”

“Believe me, it would be the kindest thing for it.”

“No chance of finding out what it's all about from that then?”

“You never know, while in the catatonic state it reduces you to, some kind of enlightenment might come through.”

“I think I'll try some other way,” said Russell.

“Like sticking a paper bag over your head and asking strangers what it's all about?”

“Seemed as good a method as any; not that it’s worked so far.”

“Not so far? How long have you been doing this?” said Hayley putting her bag on her lap.

“This is my first day; around here anyway.”

Looking through her bag, Hayley pulled out a mirror and checked her eye makeup. “Where else have you tried this?”

Russell gestured all around him. “Oh, all over really, the police keep moving me on.”

Hayley put the mirror away and got out some mints. “Still raining?”

Russell looked out. “Yes, I'm afraid you're stuck with me a while longer.”

“Well it seems that since we are stranded here together,” said Hayley holding out the mints, “I might at least share my rations with you.” 

“Thank you,” said Russell as he took the mint.

Hayley just popped hers in her mouth, but for Russell it was a much more difficult affair, as he had to slip it up under the bag to his mouth. He turned his back on Hayley while he did it.

“You made heavy weather of that,” said Hayley, “why not just take the bag off?”

“No I couldn't do that, you might treat me differently if you saw what I looked like.”

“Oh come on, I'd treat you just the same whatever you look like. Looks aren't that important.”

“Important enough for you to put make-up on though.”

“That's different.”

“Yes I suppose it is,” said Russell “You don't need the makeup, you'd look just fine without it.”

Hayley smiled. “Thank you.”

“Perhaps now you’ll tell me what it's all about.”

“I don't know quite what you're asking me. Ask me something more specific.”

“All right. Why are we born, why do we die; and why do we spend so much of the intervening time quoting from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?”

Hayley got up and paced back and forth; thinking.

“You're making me nervous,” said Russell.

“Good,” said Hayley as she continued pacing. Then she stopped, looked at Russell and said “Because we are the product of our parent’s biological imperative to pass on their genes; because any machine even an organic one wears out; and because it was written by a genius.”

“Wow, those are good answers.”

“Will it stop you going on about it?”

“I have to say, the odds are against it.”

Hayley sat back down. “Oh well, I tried.”

“Seriously though, don't you want to know what it's all about?”

“Not really.”

“Oh.”

Hayley got a small object out of her bag and handed it to Russell. “Here take a look at this.”

“What on earth is it?” said Russell looking closely at it.

“That is my lucky rabbit’s foot.”

“This isn’t a rabbit’s foot. It looks as though it’s just a piece of shriveled up plastic.

“It is, but it’s a lucky one though.”

“You’d better have it back then. If you’re happy to call it a rabbit’s foot, far be it from me to argue.”

“That’s the spirit,” said Hayley as she put it back in her bag.

“Where did you get it?”

“I found it in the ashes of a bonfire.”

“How do you know it's lucky?”

Hayley just smiled. “You have to have faith.”

The conversation had got a bit deep for both of them. Hayley looked at her watch to see how long the bus was going to be, while Russell started rooting around in his pocket.

“Guess what I have in my pocket,” said Russell.

Hayley immediately pointed at Russell and said “You're Gollum and I claim my five pounds.”

“No, no come on.”

“Yes, you're Gollum, I'm in a strange scene from the hobbit, and you've got paper bag over your head, so that I won't recognise you."

Russell folded his arms. “Okay, it was just a simple question.”

“I've offended you haven't I.”

“No it's fine,” said Russell, looking away.

“I see, then it does matter what I think you look like,” said Hayley. She got no reaction from Russel so she picked up her book again and said “Oh well, I'll just go back to reading this riveting book.” She rifled through it, found her page and began reading again.

“Gollum doesn't have pockets,” said Russell.

Hayley looked up from her book. “Is there a draft in here?”

“It's not Gollum that asks what he's got in his pockets. It's Bilbo that asks Gollum.”

“Oh yes, yes of course it is.” Hayley did her best to carry on reading but Russell went back to fiddling in his pocket and Hayley couldn’t concentrate so she asked “What have you got in your pocket?”

“Guess.”

“I don't want to guess.”

“I was just trying to pass the time.”

“I suggest you find another way,” said Hayley looking at her watch again, “we've still got a while to wait.”

“It depends what you're waiting for I suppose.”

“I assume you're waiting for a bus, same as me.”

“Yes that's the problem,” said Russell “we often assume things, but not always correctly.”

“Ah, here we go; you're not waiting for a bus, you're waiting to find out what it's all about.”

“No, I'm waiting for it to stop raining,” Russell said as he got up and looked out at the weather. “I'm not going to find the answer here.”

“Perhaps the answer lies with what you've got in your pocket.”

“So now you want to know.”

“Let's just say you've piqued my interest.”

“Maybe I should just sit here quietly and wait for the rain to stop.”

“Oh no you don't. You started this whole conversation thing, the least you can do is keep going until my bus arrives.”

“I thought perhaps you might want to have a moment with your own thoughts?”

“How can they possibly compare to the promise of what you have in your pocket?”

“Are you making fun of me?”

“Hardly; I'm not the one with a bag on my head.”

Russell sat back, he knew it was a fair point. “All right then what do you want to talk about?” 

“I don't know really.”

“Okay well I'll just wait until you think of something.”

Hayley looked around for inspiration; she was on the verge of giving up, event reaching for her book, but a thought came to her. “I know; this is a good way to start a conversation: what kind of old person would you like to be?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“Come on, what happens to a paper bag when it gets old and wrinkled?”

Russell rubbed his fingers over the bag on his face. “Are you saying I'm getting wrinkly?”

“I don't believe this, how can a man with a bag over his head be so vain?

“Just a simple question.”

“No it's not particularly wrinkly.”

“When you say not particularly wrinkly, how wrinkly is that?”

“Wrinkly enough to iron if I had one with me.”

The two of them sat in silence for a moment. Hayley kept looking expectantly at Russell, while he looked everywhere but at her.

“Well?” said Hayley, “are you going to answer my question?”

“What kind of old bag do I want to be?”

“Not quite my words but pretty close.”

“How do you know I'm not an old person?” said Russell, adjusting his bag.

“I don't, you could be anyone or anything hiding under that bag.”

“That's right, it means you won't have any preconceived ideas about me.”

“Who says I don't? You're a man for a start.”

“That doesn't tell you that much about me.”

“Enough to form prejudice.”

“Oh,” said Russell surprised, “I thought it would make people more open towards me.”

“Don't be daft, people are used to reading facial expressions, they don't tend to be happy with just seeing the eyes of someone peering out through holes in a bag.”

“I thought that the eyes were the windows to the soul?”

Hayley tried to look in through the holes in Russel’s bag. “Would you buy a house if you could only see the windows.”

“No, I suppose not.”

“Of course not, you want to see the whole package.”

“But you talked to me even though you couldn't see the whole package.”

Hayley smiled and put her hands in a praying position. “That's because I'm a saint, hadn't you guessed that yet?”

“There didn't seem any point stating the obvious.”

“And in any case, I'm curious by nature.”

Russell sat up keenly. “Curious enough to want to know what it's all about?”

“That's just something to be worked out a day at a time.”

“What if you never work it out?”

Hayley shrugged. “Why worry about it?”

“You said you were curious by nature.”

“There's a line between curious and obsessive.”

“Are you saying I'm obsessive,” said Russell, concerned.

“No I'm not saying that.”

“Are you sure? Because you could say you know. If you thought I was. You know: obsessive.”

“Yes I know, believe me, I know.”

“There's no need to keep on about it,” said Russell, as he fiddled with the object in his pocket.

Hayley looked at him fiddling and said “You'll wear it out you know, keep fiddling with it like that.”

“Do you want to see it now?”

“Wow, you don't waste much time with small talk do you?”

“Don’t misunderstand me,” said Russell “My intentions are purely honorable.”

“Story of my life,” said Hayley resigned.

“I would very much like to know the story of your life.”

“Are you sure you wouldn't rather wait for the film?

“Depends what certificate it would get.”

“Oh I think you'll be all right, PG is about the limit of my experience.”

“All right then,” said Russell, “if not the story of your life, how about just today.”

“Oddly enough, today started like any other day, but it did take a strange turn: I met a strange man with a paper bag on his head.”

“Hey, I'm not a strange man.”

“Normal people don't go around with paper bags on their heads.”

“I'll admit my head wear is strange, but that doesn't mean that I am.”

“Well I'd better give you the benefit of the doubt, otherwise what would it say about me; a lone woman sitting and talking to weird people?”

“It would mean you are a nice person,” Russell said softly.

“Thank you,” said Hayley bashfully, “I’m not going to argue with you.”

“Well it's not an avenue of conflict I want to head down. All it would do would be to distract me from my true quest.”

“To find out what it's all about?”

Russell was again fiddling with the object in his pocket. “Exactly; to find out what it's all about.”

“What made you decide to go around accosting innocent people and asking them what it's all about in the first place?”

“I don't know; everyone needs a hobby.”

“Seems it's more of an obsession.”

“What is a hobby if not just an obsession kept under control?”

Hayley grinned. “It's a bird.”

Russell was so surprised, and he turned so sharply that his eye holes were in the wrong place. “You what?”

“Falco Subbuteo to give its Latin name. The football game is named after it.”

“I never knew that.”

“Yes, it was lucky that he didn't want to name the game after the Tibetan Blackbird.”

“Why, what do they call that in Latin?”

“Turdus Maximus.”

Russell raised his eyebrows. “How do you know all these names?”

“I’m a bird watcher.”

“So you can appreciate the search for something.”

“Yes I can, and I hope you find what you're looking for, I really do.”

“Do you mean that?”

Hayley stood up to show what she was wearing. “Do you see any rosettes on my clothes?”

“No.”

Sitting back down, Hayley said “Have I handed you any written manifestos? Have I asked you to vote for me?”

“No.”

“That's because I'm not a politician. I have only one home, I don't cheat my expenses and I mean what I say.”

“I hope that you also get out of life whatever it is you are searching for.”

Hayley looked at her watch once more. “I haven't worked out yet what I'm looking for.”

“Perhaps you should try to work that out first, after all it is said that if you don't know where you are sailing to; no wind is favourable."

“I prefer to think that if you don't mind where life takes you, no wind is wrong.”

Russell’s voice became earnest. “Do you not care where life takes you?”

“Not really, as long as I can be happy.”

“You have a good soul, you should care about it.”

“Maybe I just need to find the right person who also cares about it.”

They looked at each other for a moment and the conversation was killed. Hayley flipped through her book and Russell fiddled once more.

Hayley put her book down. “Come on, you can't keep me in suspense forever.”

“What?”

“That thing in your pocket; you keep fiddling with it.”

“It's very precious.”

“I should think so the amount of time you've had your hand on it.”

“I don't want to lose it.”

“Then why do you bring it out with you?”

“It'll do no good left at home.”

“It’ll no good here if you leave it in your pocket.”

Russell got out a small box. “All right then,” he said as he took it over, sat next to Hayley and handed the box to her.

“It's bigger than I thought it would be,” said Hayley.

“Are you pleased?”

“I'm surprised.”

“You'd better open it then.”

“Really; are you sure?”

Russell looked her straight in the eyes. “I've never been so sure.”

“All right then,” said Hayley as she opened the box. As she looked inside she was moved to tears of joy. “It's wonderful.”

“There aren't many of them left these days.”

Hayley closed the box and handed it back to Russell.

Russell held up his hand and pushed it back to Hayley. “No you keep it.”

“I couldn't possibly.”

“You have to. Once it has been given you can't take it back.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes it belongs to you now.”

“Thank you seems inadequate,” said Hayley as she put the box in her bag.

“It is a small thing compared to half an hour of your company.”

“You flatter me.”

“I know.”

Hayley had dabbed her eyes dry and was putting the tissue away when she said “Please take the bag off your head, surely you know me well enough now to let me see what you look like.”

“Okay, but I fear you will be disappointed.”

“I'll be the judge of that,” said Hayley as she reached tor the top of the bag.

Russell leant forward to make it easier for her. “Please do it quickly, before lose my nerve.”

Hayley briskly pulled off the bag to reveal another bag underneath.

Russell leapt up, clapped his hands and said “Well I feel strangely liberated.” He looked out of the shelter. “And it's stopped raining. Thanks very much, bye.”

Hayley stood with the paper bag in her hand, watching Russell go. She looked at the paper bag and then put it on her own head, and ran out of the shelter. As she went she called “Hey Russell, wait up; I know what it's all about.”

 

 


© Copyright 2018 Kevin Broughton. All rights reserved.

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