‘Day saver, please,’ asked Percy quietly. The window wipers were noisily clearing the front window of rain.
He slowly and conspicuously placed his twenty-pound note in front of the driver whilst looking away, as though he were conducting some discreet and seedy business. Jones shrugged.
‘No change, mate.’
He closed the doors and switched on his right indicator. Percy, bemused, asked what he should do.
‘Take a seat.’
Jones was inferring that Percy had a free ride. Yet, rather than accept this with glee, Percy was anxious. He knew that such a thing was against the law, even if the system had permitted it. It didn’t feel right. He asked if there was any way he could be given a ticket. Jones didn’t answer but instead focused on the rain-sodden road as he pulled the bus out.
‘Sir?’ repeated Percy.
‘Take a seat, mate,’ snapped Jones, who had already had enough of Percy’s pettiness.
But Percy felt naked on a bus without a ticket. He felt exposed and vulnerable, knowing that, in some ways, he was committing theft. He continued to stand next to the driver’s cab and looked around him. He looked beseechingly at the other passengers, as if crying out for one of them to back him up. But all their faces were staring straight ahead at the road. He spotted the female passenger from his bus stop, the one with the umbrella who had smirked at him. He caught her quickly glancing at him and smirking again. She was enjoying his moment of awkwardness.
‘Can’t you at least just print me off a ticket? I would rather have one on me,’ he asked of Jones. He was beginning to irritate the driver. Jones didn’t answer at first but, seeing that Percy still wasn’t moving, he said tersely:
‘Mate, take a seat.’
Percy’s head dropped and he eventually complied. He took a seat upstairs, next to a window, and began forlornly to make doodles out of the steam on the glass. He drew a sad face because it was how he felt. He drew the angry driver’s face next to his; two simple, abstract circles with lines and dots for their expressions. He felt like continuing and drawing the female passenger with the smirk; he felt like drawing all the other passengers with their same, serious expressions. Everyone today, he thought, looked the same. They seemed excited about something but were unwilling to properly show it. As though they were containing it. The female passenger with the smirk summed them all up. It was as though everyone was laughing at him, as though they knew how he was feeling.
He checked his watch and thought about work. He considered that he should make it on time if only a handful of people got on the bus from now on and the bus didn’t encounter any traffic. Otherwise he may have to do some explaining to his boss, Mr Hyde, and he began to review his excuses. The easiest, most natural one would, of course, be that the bus was late. But it was far too simplistic and Hyde, who had probably heard it a million times before, wouldn’t accept it.
He began to think about cancer and how high, or low, the odds were that he would get it. They were quite low. In fact, he may have cancer right now for all he knew. All this stress he went through each day certainly wasn’t good for him, he reflected sombrely. He could be riddled with tumours.
Prostrate cancer was popular with men. He had even read recently about a case where a man died from bladder cancer. He hadn’t even known that you could get cancer in your bladder until then. It was a frightful thought. He had been urinating lot recently and he wondered how unusual that was. He even felt like urinating now. His bladder felt full. But he was letting his imagination run wild and he knew he had to train his thoughts elsewhere.
His mother always told him to stop imagining things because his imagination was so vile and negative. She recounted the amount of times his imagination had caused him to choke on his phlegm. She often said that she was so glad nobody could see his imagination because, otherwise, nobody would marry him.
But Percy knew he would never marry anyway. He was too uptight and too much of a worrier to even consider having a relationship with a woman. The whole thing would burden him with far too much to think about. Instead of having to worry for one person, he would have to worry for two. And if they had children, maybe three, four or five people. It was too much to bear.
As the bus trundled along, its exhausted engine giving all it had to give, he became relaxed, sensing that he was going to make it on time. The journey from Syke to Failsworth was sometimes even pleasant once the bus left the rundown precinct of Syke. There was a stretch of fields that lasted five minutes, which Percy always enjoyed looking down at from the top deck. He liked to watch the animals as they grazed in the grass. It made him think of the moments of bliss that people have; it made him pine for simple moments of bliss that he knew were inaccessible to him. The sheep led such a simple, carefree life, unaware of fate. The bus passed by A.R James’ butchers; Percy had always said to himself that he would buy some meat from here sometime, because it always looked so good from the top deck. Sometimes, during the summer and the buses windows were open, he could smell the meat and it was the best smell in the world. But, so far, he had never stepped foot inside the place. Indulging in these thoughts, he even began to forget that he didn’t have a ticket; he made himself comfortable in his chair and tried his best to relax and become one with the engine. It was a quiet journey, without a scrap of conversation from anyone, which was just the way he liked it. There were three other people on the top deck besides him and they, too, seemed to prefer silence. If the engine made less noise, the only thing he would be able to hear would be the rain as it lashed against the windows. Percy liked the rain when he wasn’t in it; he took mild pleasure in the fact that other’s were getting wet and he wasn’t. It was one of his rare moments of fortune – like when another child at school was being beaten and he was, for once, observing rather than being the one getting thrashed.
The bus had come to a halt at a stop, where it had remained for well over two minutes. Percy hadn’t noticed because he had closed his eyes and was thinking about his office and how neat he had made it. He prided himself on his neatness and admired the way he had arranged his stationary equipment. But the thought soon came to him that they had been stationary for quite some time. He opened his eyes and looked out of the window to see what the hold-up was; he had to press his face against the glass to see anything. All he could see were one or two passengers standing in-line to get on the bus. Somebody must be arguing with the driver, he assumed; otherwise, there was no reason for the hold-up. He checked his watch; it was quarter-past eight, which meant the bus had been standing still for longer than he thought. He flushed with anxiety, sensing once more that he may be late for work after all. Again he pressed his face against the glass to see what was going on outside; this time he saw the impressive figure of Slade, the bus inspector, standing outside the bus, writing on his clipboard, seemingly unaware that it was raining.
Percy whitened and swallowed hard.
Excerpt taken from The New Job and Other Stories by Will Titterington