The Night Bus
The Driver’s Tale
I never rode the bus, never. Sharing a ride with anyone else was an anathema. My life to that point had been all about me and as far as I was concerned it always would be. Believe me I’ve had a lot of time to mull over my decision making that night. It tortures me sometimes, but I still can’t fathom why I chose to climb aboard. I can only assume that somehow I was meant to.
Just a matter of minutes earlier I was being vomited into the night through the doors of a bar. The staircase to the street had been steep and dark. I remember the sensation of being on an escalator, driven forward by the pressure of bodies behind and lacking any control over pace or direction. What a great metaphor for where I find myself now.
The air outside was crisp and it froze the sweat on my forehead and back. The feeling was glorious and I sucked it in, allowing the night to fill me up. It was so good to be alive and I felt invincible. Of course, I now realise how fragile such delusions can be.
Amy was just behind me. I ran into her and her friends earlier in the evening. I had been stood alone at the bar and she had made a bee-line for me. The two guys she was with didn’t seem to mind, so I tagged along with them. I had been bored and they seemed like fun.
She was laughing as she stumbled into the street. I don’t even remember what she was so amused about. I had said something that tickled her. I was funny back then, always the entertainer and not even an unpleasant but necessary run in with a heckler had silenced her merriment. I could ignore him interrupting the act. That was an occupational hazard. Besides putting pricks like him in his place was part of the fun.
Problem was he kept it after I’d left the stage and followed me into my dressing room. I still had blood on my shoes and pants. Amy had shrieked as my foot struck his face, but I actually thought it turned her on a little bit.
I could have stayed with her for the night, or joined the others on a tour of city’s pubs and clubs. Instead I chose to leave. Always leave them wanting more, or so the saying goes. I was full of that narcissistic bullshit in those days. Sometimes I wonder how I stayed upright, given the weight of my bloated ego. Having said that, it was a happier and stronger me and that me never saw the tiniest glimpse of what was to come.
Besides I had Beth waiting for me back at the house. Truth was, after the exertions of that night, I had nothing left to give anyway. It had been a tough crowd and the after-show ‘party’ had left me spent.
Matthew Street was awash with bodies, each of them soaked in beer and cheap cider. I remember a scuffle erupting outside Flannagan’s. Two teenagers who could barely stand, let alone fight, were doing their best to look hard. I put my arm around Amy and pulled her close. She pressed herself into me and it felt good.
“You act like a tough guy,” She said “but you’re more than that aren’t you?”
“Nah I’m really not.” I smirked.
“You can’t kid me funny man.”
I looked down at her upturned face and immediately wanted to kiss her, but Jeff and Karl put paid to that.
“Get a fucking room.” They were on top of us now and their laughter made my stomach knot.
I flipped them my index finger without looking back and walked on. They had no idea I was letting them off lightly. Without even thinking about it I had released my hold on Amy. I’d already started to let her go.
I think she sensed the separation and it all got a little awkward for a bit, before finally she broke the silence. Her voice was all nerves and embarrassment and I realise now that her obvious vulnerability probably fuelled my arrogance.
“You want to share a cab?”
“We’re going in opposite directions aren’t we?” I knew what she meant. There was no need to add to her unease, but that was me back then. I always had to be in control and I got off on making people squirm.
“Well, yeah, but you could come back to mine for a coffee or…..” She smiled and I remember being overwhelmed by the sense of power.
“Sounds great,” I said allowing just enough of a pause to watch her smile grow, before ruthlessly wiping it away. “But I’ve got to be up early tomorrow. You don’t want to see me in the morning without my beauty sleep, believe me.” I laughed, but she didn’t reciprocate.
Sometimes I go back to that night in my head. I watch that scene play out in my mind and I scream at the idiot playing games. I’d be out there free now if only I could tell him what was coming. It would have been useless though, because even if I could go back there and grab him by his stupid Pierre Cardin shirt and tell him what a fool he was, he wouldn’t listen. Him and me you see, we’re altogether two different guys.
Jeff and Karl were stoned and couldn’t stop giggling. I told Amy she should stay out with them. No need for her to go home just because I was. Then I started spouting some pretentious bollocks about the night being ‘pregnant with possibilities,’ before calling out “I’ll call you” as I walked away.
I actually wasn’t lying. Beth still had plenty of life left in her, but I’d eventually grow tired and have to let her go. It was always good to have a replacement lined up. It would save me going to the effort of hunting down another plaything.
It was around two in the morning and Town was just getting started. Half naked girls teetered across Whitechapel, dodging cars and pretending to be offended by the cat-calls that came their way. The smell of spice and grease filled the air and I drank it all in, the sights, the sounds, the aromas of the night.
It was all magic to me and for a moment I thought about heading back into the bars and clubs alone. There was adventure to be had, conquests to be made, but I really didn’t like to leave Beth on her own too long.
Our paths collided about three of four days earlier. I found her crying in the doorway of a bar on Slater Street. She had a black eye and her lip was cut. It had been so easy to get her back to my place and she’d been there ever since.
As I turned the corner into Williamson Square I almost tripped on a loose shoelace. A couple of drunks laughed as I stumbled and I quelled an urge to chase after them. My shoes were badly scuffed after my earlier run-in with the idiot in the club. I hadn’t realised I’d kicked him so hard.
By now you will have realised I’m not a good guy. There’s a darkness behind all comedians right? Well I don’t really know about the rest, but it’s true for me. I take no shit from anybody and if that means people get hurt, then that’s how it goes. I told the others he was still breathing when we tossed him in the rubbish skip at the back of the club; he probably was.
The guy was an arse-hole anyway. He was a big drunk one at that and he seemed to be on a mission to humiliate me from the start of my act. I was furious, but I probably would have let it go until he chose to follow me back-stage. I couldn’t have him showing me up in front of my new friends, so I put him down. He’d clearly been on the ale all day and his reflexes were shocking. It really wasn’t a fair fight. I remember chuckling to myself as I approached the terminus on Roe Street. The look on his stupid face when I hit him; he really didn’t know what hit him.
I was aiming for the taxi-rank that night. It wasn’t my way to travel with the masses, but I had to go past the bus-stop to get there. It was empty apart from some tramp slumped against the shelter. The taxi rank was just across the road and a crowd had already begun to assemble there.
I was on the verge of stepping off the kerb and running across the road to join the queue when I spotted a poster someone had pasted onto the perspex next to the routine bus schedule.
‘Night Bus. New Service.’
It looked like someone had taken exception to the sign. There had been an attempt to scratch it away. It actually looked like there were claw marks across the poster and I wasn’t sure if there was just a faint tinge of blood too. Actually it was probably just nail-polish, but vodka shots and strong lager bring out the dramatist in me.
Despite the vandal’s best efforts, I could make out that the service was due to start tonight. I checked my wrist-watch and realised it was just a actually only a few minutes away. I wondered how it all worked. Did the driver just take you where you wanted to go? Was there a set route? If so, did it go anywhere near my house? The bus service was bound to be a cheaper option and it could be interesting. In the end I just shrugged and said to myself, ‘What could it hurt?’
The guy on the floor was starting to stir and when he caught site of me he started to get agitated. I did my best to ignore him and lit a cigarette. The temperature had dropped and my shirt was offering little protection from the cold. I could feel myself getting irritated and checked my watch again. The bus was late, only by a couple of minutes, but it was enough to set in motion a spiral that usually ended with violence.
I had begun to recognise the signs. I even knew what sort of stuff would trigger an outburst, but I’d never managed to use that knowledge to stop myself. Truth is I’ve just never cared enough to do anything about it.
The tramp was getting noisier. He was pointing at me and was grumbling something unintelligible. I hissed at him to shut up. The filthy bastard made me sick. I had no time for these fuckers and their sad pathetic sob-stories and this one just wouldn’t let up.
I flicked my cigarette at him, but it made no difference. It must have hurt because I could see the mark on his face, but he just went on. In the end I couldn’t stand it any more and I lunged at him, grabbing him by the throat. His breath reeked of strong cider and tobacco.
I’m not actually sure what I was thinking, because just across the road there was a crowd of potential witnesses. I guess the truth of it is that I wasn’t thinking at all. By the time my head reached this point I was rarely capable of thought. I was like Chernobyl and I was in full meltdown. It didn’t matter how many alarm bells were ringing I was going to blow and he was going to shut up one way or the other.
Then he just stopped. His eyes widened and he pulled away from me, scrambled to his feet and began to crawl away. I watched, heart thumping as he staggered to his feet and broke into a run of sorts. Part of me was relieved he was gone but there was that other side, the dark side that burned far too near the surface most of the time, that wanted to run him down and retire his miserable arse.
Fortunately for him the hiss of hydraulics woke me from my fugue and I spun around. The bus stood next to the kerb, lights blazing and engine purring. As far as I could see it was empty and I looked around expecting to see recently disembarked passengers wandering off into the night. There was nobody. The drivers seat was empty too.
How long had I been distracted by the tramp? It really hadn’t seemed that long. I’d have surely heard the chatter of people getting off the bus, surely the driver or someone would have tried to intervene. After all I was really raging. I stepped back and looked up to the windows of the top deck, but there seemed to nobody up their either.
I remember muttering ‘…this the fucking Twilight Zone or something?’ Then the doors opened and nearly stopped my heart. ‘Fucks sake!’ I almost screamed, but instead started laughing. I admit I was getting a little hysterical. I wasn’t too drunk. I’d certainly had heavier nights in my time. There was the line I did in the dressing room after I sorted out the heckler, but that was hours earlier.
There was someone on this bus and they were trying to mess with my head. At least that was my thinking. I felt the anger again. It wasn’t as bad as before, but it was enough to energise me. If someone wanted to play that was fair enough by me.
There was nobody on board at all. I looked behind and under every seat. Back downstairs I checked the drivers cab. Reaching through the glass partition it was easy to unlatch the door and climb into the seat. The keys were still in the ignition. I felt a rush of excitement and a brilliant but stupid idea occurred to me. Maybe I’d get that door to door service after all. Why follow someone else’s route when you can carve out your own.
It was time to go home. Maybe I’d wake Beth and have a little fun. I was feeling pumped and pressed my foot on the accelerator. The engine revved and I tingled all over. Then the door swished shut. I looked down at the door release, thinking I had accidentally activated it. There was no way.
“Who’s there?” I shouted, but nobody answered.
I admit I got a little scared at this point and decided to get the fuck out of here, but the door was jammed. No matter how much I struggled with the catch it wouldn’t budge. Panic started to set in and I hurt my hand trying to wrestle with it.
Then the engine roared and I was moving. The bus veered towards the central reservation. It looked like it was going to hit the railings and I grabbed the wheel steering it into the centre of the road. Then I attempted an emergency stop, almost putting my feet through the floor. It just rolled on regardless.
That’s what I have learned about the bus you see. It goes when it wants and it stops when the mood takes it. I can steer it this way and that, but otherwise I’m just as much a passenger as you. I have no idea what it has planned for you tonight, but you aint getting off until it’s finished.
Why don’t you take a seat. If you’ve got alcohol or anything stronger take it now. You won’t want to be sober on this ride. Sometimes, it let’s people go. I’ve seen a few over the years. Not many though.
If it does see fit to spare you, could you do me a favour? Go to the police. Tell them there’s a house on Hallow Hill they should check out. Specifically, they’ll want to look in the cellar. There’s a girl called Beth tied up in there. She’ll be long passed by now, but her parents are going to want to know where she is.