The morning, as most mornings, had not got off to a good start for Percy. He had cut himself shaving and believed he was going to bleed to death when the blood wouldn’t stop pouring. He thought it was amazing how something so innocuous could result in a person’s complete non-existence and their eternity in Hell.
‘Do people really go straight to Hell after a bad shave?’ he had asked himself. He decided that they did. People go straight to Hell as soon as they get run over by a motorcycle, so why not after a shaving accident? And between the bathroom and the underworld, there isn’t anything else; one moment you’re in your bathroom, trying to stem the blood, and the next moment you’re shovelling coal for Lucifer. He could recall another seemingly innocuous incident that he had experienced just a week earlier. He had eaten a particularly hot helping of beans on toast, which burnt his mouth, causing rivulets of blood to droop from his orifice. For the best part of an hour it looked as though a tin of beans were going to send him to meet his Maker.
Percy believed in God. He prayed before bed every night because he had done so since he was a child and believed that if he broke the routine something bad would happen to him. He didn’t have the mental capacity to debate whether God actually existed or not but believed what his mother had told him when he was a child, which set him up for a life of worry and fear. She had said that God knows everything and that defying Him would result in punishment. It had led him to fear authority in every form. Committing a crime for Percy wasn’t an question of ethics but of fear. He feared punishment.
On this rainy Monday morning, his irrational fears surfaced as they usually did. He could not go a day without worrying that he would be late for work and, as he stood at the bus stop waiting for his bus that would take him to his office, he became anxious because it was four minutes late. It had never been this late before. He consulted his watch every few seconds, allowing it to be sprayed with rain, and looked up the street, squinting his eyes to see if there was any sign of the number 14 bus. There wasn’t. Traffic shot down the street, as worker’s rushed to their workplace, but there was no bus.
Percy had a pathological fear of the sack and thought that if he was late, he would be fired. His mother said that it was a disease but she couldn’t say from whom he had caught it. She had never feared the sack and his father had certainly never feared it. She categorised his disease as a sub-virus from the genus, ‘FRA (Fear of Reprimand from Authority)’. He didn’t fear the sack because he would be without a job but he feared it because he was terrified of punishment. He was terrified of a public scolding. He didn’t want to be verbally chastised for a mistake, believing all his mistakes would eventually be judged by God. More than all this, he was terrified of being wrongfully accused of something. He lived a life of trite routine and anything that disrupted that routine, be it his own public execution or a holiday, set him awash with nerves.
Yet he felt that he was perfectly normal for fearing the sack if he was more than ten minutes late for work and believed that most people were the same. His own boss, Mr Hyde, was hardly a benevolent gentleman. He was a stern man, a ruthless businessman who spoke to Percy only in monosyllables. He often spoke to him as though he were vermin. Percy always tried to impress him but sensed that he was just waiting for him to make a mistake so that he could reproach him in front of his colleagues, humiliating him and reducing him to the frightened schoolboy who allowed himself to be persecuted by boys who were bigger than him. Percy knew that being late for work was just the kind of mistake that would see him reprimanded in front of his colleagues before being sacked. He cursed the bus for setting his nerves on edge.
Percy was at the bus stop with five other passengers. All of them were dressed in black, as though they were going to a funeral service. But what unnerved him as he glanced at them was that each one seemed to be grinning to themselves until, as soon as they noticed he was looking at them, they coughed and developed a more serious expression before retraining their eyes on the road ahead in anticipation of the bus. They seemed more eager than he was for the bus to arrive; they seemed to be almost willing it as a collective to come soon. One particular passenger had his ticket clutched tightly in his fingers, as though he were adamant that the wind wouldn’t take it away from him. As though the ticket for this bus meant more than any other ticket.
At last, six minutes later than scheduled, the number 14 bus turned the corner at the end of the street and wearily trundled towards the bus stop, its engine huffing and puffing. Percy couldn’t contain his excitement.
‘Thank God for that,’ he exclaimed, looking around him to see if everyone shared his delight, forgetting his earlier anxiety at their reactions. They were, indeed, delighted that the bus was arriving at last but it was as though they were trying not to show it; as though they were trying to suppress a needless amount of pleasure. Percy caught one of them, a middle-aged woman with an umbrella, smirking in his direction. It was a smirk which seemed almost malicious. He dismissed it as being a product of his paranoia that nobody liked him and opened his wallet to pluck out the correct change for a day saver. He always had the correct change for the driver, believing that if he didn’t, the driver wouldn’t let him on the bus.
Yet he began to tremble slightly when he couldn’t find any change in his wallet. There was a twenty-pound note, along with his bank card and a photograph of his mother – but there was no change. Not a pound, not even a penny. He thought back to the night before; he always prepared his change the night before work and he was adamant in his mind that he had deposited four pounds in his wallet. With his fingers now shaking, he desperately clawed through his wallet to find those four pounds – but there was nothing except a palpable feeling of emptiness in his soul.
The other passengers had already stepped onto the bus, with the final one paying the driver for a ticket. Percy swallowed hard and looked with seriousness at his twenty pound note. It was the only money he had and he knew he couldn’t be late for work so the only thing left to do was to chance his arm. Perhaps todays driver would be in a good mood. Perhaps he had plenty of change and wouldn’t treat his twenty pound note with contempt. Perhaps.
Percy stepped onto the bus and out of the rain. He was met with a stern glance from the driver, Jones, who already seemed exhausted and irritated even though it was only early in the day. His ginger head was shaved and his left ear was pierced; his arms were heavily tattooed – his short sleeved shirt was exposing them, which Percy thought was unusual etiquette for a public servant.
‘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.
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