The Bus and the Bag

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Time travel fiction. A guy gets an opportunity to relive a defining moment in his life. How much does he change...

Submitted: March 20, 2012

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Submitted: March 20, 2012

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Section 1

The Hoppa bus was busier than usual, standing room only on a wet Thursday afternoon. Tom had already spent 20 minutes wedged into his seat near the back, growing bored with the slow journey and the foggy windows offering no chance of outside distractions.

 

He tapped his fingers on the walkman in time with George Michael and did his best not to stare at Kylie who was three rows in front. Tom believed he had perfected the art of watching someone without them being aware; though he himself was blissfully naïve of the stranger just behind to his right who had barely taken his eyes off Tom.

 

Kylie sat between an old man with a trolley and a large lady with a baby, accentuating her small frame. She sat quietly reading from a folder thankful to have a seat to catch up on her coursework. The bus stopped and started with more wet people getting on until the body heat rose to the point that the young mum asked the young girl to open a window vent to allow some fresh air in.

 

She smiled back and reached up to open the window, noticing with the corner of her eye the big boy at the back quickly look away. He went to her college, she didn’t know his name but at well over 6ft he was hardly inconspicuous. She often noticed him at the bus stop looking at her and though she had never spoke to him, he looked kind though obviously very shy.

 

Tom was what you would call a loner. Since arriving at six form college he had made few friends and was acutely self conscious about his height and physique. He was 6ft 4” and though 17 years of age was still growing.

 

His frame had not yet developed and he felt and looked awkward and clumsy. The last remains of severe teenage acne dotted his face combined with an out of date badly kept ponytail hairstyle. He had struggled through secondary school and this break to a new college where no-one knew of his lack of street cred should have been a great opportunity to create himself a new identity.

 

However, Tom had become even more insular since joining. He had no self confidence and spent most days alone. He would try to convince himself he was focussing on his A Levels and had matured, but he was a far more insecure boy than a year ago and life wasn’t going as planned.

 

Lisa was thrilled to be at college. She had done well at secondary school in Pinner and was thriving on the more mature attitude and atmosphere at college. She now had a regular routine of classes and had made many new friendships, most notably Daniel.

 

Daniel was a lucky chancer who had been fortunate to get the grades to start his A Levels, he was ticking by now in physics and IT studies but his main interest was skiving off at any opportunity, something his diminutive girlfriend Lisa didn’t really understand. She was thankful for this chapter in her life, she was ambitious and saw the next 2 years as a stepping stone to future successes.

 

It was in both life and love that Daniel was a step above Tom who had no girlfriend. Instead he idled and mumbled his way around college trying his best to be discreet about the girls he was watching. He was always so weak when it came to a larger than life bubbly blonde and there were so many around, however far and away it was the small girl with the mousey curly hair that he was drawn to.

 

She was not his type in any way, she stood a little over 5ft and was petite all over, though her sweet smile and big eyes attracted her to him in a way he didn’t really understand. He watched her from afar, often walking around with the poncy show off with that leather jacket.

 

If only things were different, if only he had less scars on his face, if he only had more confidence, if only he had the style and sophistication he saw in others, then perhaps he would be casually strolling around with the girl he had nicknamed Kylie.

 

Section 2

Everyday Tom told himself he would talk to her. He caught the same morning bus to college and often the same evening bus, though occasionally leather jacket boy was around. He knew she was with someone, but he felt this connection and desperately wanted to start a conversation so she would sense the real person within him, not the lanky spotty greaser he feared they all saw.

 

Today, here and now he would do it. He would say Hi, I’ve seen you around college, what are you studying. He would speak calmly and clearly and show no nerves, just being friendly. This is what he told himself. Everytime he saw her.

 

And every night in bed he would recount why he didn’t talk to her and justify why not and tell himself it wasn’t right, but he would know deep down that a better opportunity would present itself tomorrow and he would be better prepared then.

 

The stranger continued watching Tom and remembered the feeling. He remembered the day. He remembered the conversation. He shuddered and quickly blinked to regain his focus on the task in hand.

 

Tom closed his eyes and pictured how it would happen. He would get off the bus, he would say hi as she passed him, she would stop to talk and he’d maybe suggest they grab a quick drink. They’d discover shared interests, a unified approach to college and an identical dry sense of humour. She’d laugh with him and his confidence would be doubling by the minute. Daniel – Daniel who!

 

Suddenly the bus lurched forward and Tom woke from his dreaming. What had happened there, a surreal sense of déjà vu coursed through him as he saw Pinner High Street ahead. He’d never fallen asleep on the bus before, but maybe it was a blessing as it saved him from his daily staring at Kylie. The bus was busier now with a fair few standing passengers at the front, though Tom was unaware his own stalker had moved from the back to the front during his nap.

 

Tom was almost on autopilot as he got up for his stop. He’d obviously done this journey many times before but he had the strangest sensation that he’d already done this today. The little nap had refreshed Tom, he was remarkably calm and felt ready to make the first move with Kylie. He shuffled slowly towards the exit remembering to get his rucksack from the front. As he reached up to bring it down a voice called out to him.

 

 

“Hey, allow me man” called a deep voice beside Tom, who immediately froze and turned to see a large man smile and nod towards the purple bag, handing it over to Tom. “Ta” mumbled Tom shuffling forward. “No probs guy. And good luck”, replied the huge stranger with a wink as Tom continued off the bus.

 

The helpful stranger grinned to himself allowing Tom past him and waiting for the tiny blonde girl to get off before stepping off himself.

 

Tom loitered at the bus stop and inspiration suddenly took hold of him. As Kylie stepped off into the rain and glanced at him, he smiled at her. He actually smiled at her. Time stood still as he could not believe he had done it, and equally he could not believe the reaction and what followed next. She gave a half smile back and he stepped forward to speak his first words to her.

 

Section 3

 

The big man stood watching as the old but now very new scenes unfolded in front of him. This wasn’t how he’d remembered it happening.

 

As the bus pulled into Pinner, Tom felt the butterflies return to the pit of his stomach. As they did everytime he planned to talk to her. He was used to this feeling. He stood up and fought his way from the back. He wanted to get off the bus before Kylie; he would get his umbrella out and offer her shelter as she got off.

 

He was first out of his seat as the bus began to slow down. He was aware that other people behind him were also moving forward to alight and he noticed Kylie stand up and shuffle out of her seat. He had left his bag in the luggage rack at the front and paused to reach up to take it. Kylie was two persons behind him as he pulled the bag down, unaware of the black woman under the rack who had just stood up.

 

As Tom brought his bag down, it brushed against the lady’s head and as luck would have it, she had styled her afro into what can only be described as a bouffant beehive. Tom couldn’t believe his luck as the zip from his rucksack caught in her hair and wouldn’t let go. The lady was half standing, half crouching as Tom held the bag over her head demanding he take it off. If only it was that simple.

 

Turning redder by the second Tom mumbled that the zip was stuck and he couldn’t get it loose. Those people behind him wanting to get off were starting to push against Tom and he couldn’t resist a glance back at little Kylie as she looked up at this bizarre situation, wondering what on earth the boy was doing.

 

After what felt like hours of embarrassment, an older lady offered some assistance and Tom was saved by her managing to untangle the hair from Tom’s bag. In the meantime everyone behind Tom had struggled past him including Kylie who only glanced at the lady in sympathy as her hair was brutally pulled away from the purple rucksack. Tom felt the entire bus staring at him as he eventually was free and rushed off with the lady muttering his apologies over and over.

 

Once off the bus he could just see Kylie up the hill, she was away, another opportunity had passed and instead all Tom had done was manage to embarrass himself and appear even more of a clumsy ugly oaf than he already felt.

 

He probably knew deep down this would never have been the start of an exciting new relationship. She was too good for him. Anyone was too good for him. He couldn’t even get off a bus without screwing things up. But it cemented his fears of self loathing and feelings of insecurity and the world conspiring to make his life as miserable and unhappy as possible. He had felt more ready than ever before to talk to her today and now this had happened. Could he not catch a break!

 

The incident had marred Tom’s life. He didn’t sleep for a week having nightmares of his bad fortune, reliving the embarassement of catching his bag in this strangers hair, delaying everyone on the bus and remembering the look on Kylie’s face as she had eventually managed to get through the mess of people and hair and get off the bus.

 

Tom had watched her get off that day and cursed himself. He couldn’t live with it any longer so after a week, desperate for some kind of closure, he had indeed waltzed straight up to her one morning and mumbled an apology for the incident which she had by this point long forgotten, which only added to Tom’s embarrassment.

 

He never spoke to her again, and eventually got used to not looking at her for fear of her looking back at him with shame, so that he forgot about her.

 

Far from that girl and that day being the launchpad to a brighter and more confident lad, from then on he became more insular and insecure and it was only on rare occasions he could muster the alcohol induced confidence to talk to girls over the next five years of his solitary life.

 

Thankfully maturity combined with some professional confidence and finance gave hope and in his late 20’s he did settle down. In fact these days, Tom’s happy.

 

In his late thirties, he has a loving wife of 10 years and three great children. In 2012 he’s contended with his lot, a good job, a good house, a good life. No problems, no worries. But he wonders still, about the missing years.

 

What happened to him in those late teen years, how much did he miss out on, stuck wasting on the wilderness. What caused him to stagnate and endure lonelieness for so long. He thought back to college, back in 1992 and his mind always zoomed onto what he considered the crucial butterfly effect moment. The bus and the bag!

 

He could look back now with a smile about it, the bad luck he experienced on that fateful day, and more so the impact on his already low self-confidence.

 

Section 4

Approaching 40 doesn’t worry Tom. He’s happy with his lot. But nature catches up with you and the big man was getting too big according to his lady wife. He’s joined the gym and is doing well for a big guy, running a steady 25 minute 5k three times a week.

 

Various tunes on the iPod as he sweats his bulk on the treadmill. He’ll judge the 6 or 7 songs it takes him to run his distance, doing anything he can to distract his mind from the pains in his knees, the stitch in his gut and the dryness in his mouth.

 

Boredom is the worst on the ‘mill. He’ll turn over complex fractions and percentages in his mind to keep the brain active, he’ll mime along to lyrics, he’ll shake his arms and towel his face. Anything to pass the 25 minutes and to stop that right index finger for reaching out to hit the STOP button.

 

George Michael was keeping him company on the Shuffle today, some old favourites to run to and as he hit the 3k barrier the sweat was running down his head into his ears loosening the earphones. Being a warm Spring morning, most other runners were outside on the street so it was quiet in the gym, save for a few guys doing weights. He watched the others in the mirror in front and was aware of the main door opening in the reflection.

 

Just as he noticed a tall brunette enter with a fantastic figure his left earphone slipped out. He reached up to put it back whilst watching the new girl breeze around. It was too much for his knees all this twisting, weren’t they doing enough already hoisting his heavy frame up and down, on and on.

 

He lost his balance on the running machine and slipped backwards, falling over and whacking his head on the heavy plastic arm guards. He should feel pain. He should feel shame. He should feel the eyes of everyone on him. But instead, as he opened his eyes he felt none of these things.

 

He could hear George Michael still.

 

But he was on a bus.

 

He was sitting on a single-decker bus, at the back, wearing plain jeans, a blue shirt and red sweater. Headphones sat on his head playing “Freedom”. He didn’t know how he’d got there, where he was and what had happened. He felt his body, there was no bruising or cuts from his fall. He was the same. Pulling off the headphones, he rubbed his stubbly face and pulled at his short greying hair.

 

What happened. He looked around the bus which was full of various people, all looking old. Not old in age, but old like he was watching an old TV show full of characters from the 1970’s. It was raining. He could hear the rain on the window next to him. The warmth generated by a bus load of damp people had misted the windows so Tom wiped them with his hand, noticing he was wearing his new watch, a present from his wife on his 38th birthday last month.

 

That was Stanmore outside, he was sure. He knew these roads, after all he’d travelled to Stanmore from his home in Eastcote for two years to college. By bus in fact. The old H12 service had transported him around faithfully in those simple years before he got so used to train commuting.

 

But he was acutely aware that something wasn’t right. The bus looked as old fashioned and knackered as the passengers and the cars outside he could tell were dated. Panicking he glanced around rapidly, inside and outside trying to work things out when suddenly his eyes stopped like a bolt. He stared forward and knew what he was looking at immediately.

 

A young guy, so young, so innocent, so carefree was sitting two rows in front doing his best to avoid being caught watching a girl who was near the front of the bus. In a flash Tom knew where he was.

 

Obviously he was dreaming, he was back in 1992 on the H12 bus and there in front was his younger self. This was the day. The bag day. He was back to relive that horrible moment that he considered a defining moment in his college years. But was he here to relive it, or to change it.

 

 


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