(Another recycled item, slightly edited)
Well dear reader, I know this is personal preference, but if there’s a journey to be made, the bus is always my last choice. It may be the passion of countless anoraks to travel on an old double-decker, or the conscious choice of all those keen to save the planet, but frankly, give me the alternate options and I’ll take them all every time, regardless of cost too.
Am I a snob, hostile to the thought of sharing my journey with strangers? No, I would use the train or the tube with the usual pressing throng around me, so then that doesn’t phase me.
Is it the almost constant risk that my magnetic aura – for that is what it must be – attracts every oddball freak who boards and then decides to sit beside me to then share their life story? No, I get that fix satiated on the trains too.
No dear reader, my absolute avoidance can all be traced to one specific single journey, several years past now. Fair to say that I was not involved in any traumatic encounter, no imposition into my personal space from one of the newly acquired ‘friends’, or from anyone else who shared that route at that particular time. It all came about from a simple observation. And a decision not to bother.
It was a usual drawn-out stop-start trundle into town. The beginning of a standard working day. The window provided the opportunity to watch the neighbourhood slide past, as well as the safety of avoiding eye contact with any fellow passengers. You know, that embarrassing risk of a furtive glance matching their furtive glance back at you, at exactly the same moment, where neither of us know in that moment of connection what we should then do about it. Gazing slack-jawed through the glass avoids all that.
We arrived at a set of lights and waited our turn at that junction, always busy with lots of traffic. As I sat there, I saw a man with a ladder propped up against the front of a shop, looking up at the task in hand. There were no obvious tools in sight and he seemed to be concentrating on the signage above the main doorway. It was a slightly awkward spot – on the corner, encroaching on the pavement, the leaning ladder dominating the passing pedestrians, who all – every single one – refused to walk under it.
He seemed ignorant to any of that, quite engrossed in his job, and left alone to get on with it. And that was why I sat there and watched. And worried.
I had remembered my old forestry work days from decades before.
‘Don’t use a ladder without someone else footing it.’
It was a mantra of sorts in those days when I was a lot younger, said to me by wiser and less impetuous heads. Now I found it rolling around my head again, and I had this strange and sudden urge to get off that bus, to indeed insist that the driver let me off, so I could wander over there and tell him. Even to offer to brace that ladder myself for this complete stranger.
Maybe I was tired, even before getting into work, maybe the breakfast had triggered some odd chemical reaction. I know not – I just know ‘rational-Me’ kicked in at that point to remind me I had two urgent phone-calls to make as soon as I got to my desk.
The bus lurched forward and turned right, and I was awarded a perfect panning shot of that man and his ladder, the shop-front, the sign, the pedestrians, his t-shirt, shorts and rigger boots, until passing traffic obscured my view. And within ten minutes I had departed the bus at my usual stop, crossed the road at my usual place, waved my security pass at the usual security crew. Just the start of a usual day that steadily increased in tempo until nine hours later, I was glad I got a lift home.
A few more days and a few more bus-trips rolled by with nothing happening of any particular consequence.
Then at the end of the week, I found myself casually page-turning the local evening newspaper and there on an inside page was a single column of typeface, headlined ‘Tragic fatal accident’.
That man with the ladder had died. A simple slip, fell from the unsafe and unfixed ladder while using it without any assistance, and lost the straight forward contest of head meeting pavement. And it had probably happened just as I was getting off the bus. Or just as I was entering my office building.
I re-read those fifty or sixty words probably a dozen times and I sat there perplexed as to what I should do. Should I tell anyone? But then what would be the point? I handed back the newspaper with a barely audible stuttered thanks – and I just walked out of the office and went home early. And at home in a darkened silence I just sat alone and drank alcohol.
So that, dear reader, is not fiction, it is a brief recollection of a true event. And why I now do my best to avoid buses and why I never ignore brief moments of doubt when I see anyone in potential danger.