The Last Bus
THE LAST BUS
The bus was late yet again. He had waited at least thirty minutes and was beginning to get very cold although he was well wrapped against the elements.
Henry Wilding was not a young man. He would never see seventy-five again With age had come many of the infirmities and problems associated with it.; Lack of mobility, shortage of breath and a touch of Angina to name but a few. Standing in the cold during a late evening was not conducive to his health and well-being.
Henry was a widower. A long and happy marriage had come to an end just one month earlier. He still missed Elsie desperately and was having difficulty coming to terms with his loss.
And still the bus did not come. It was getting dark and a heavy mist was beginning to form, swirling and eddying above the tarmac on the lonely country road.
At long last as the mist began to thicken into an icy fog he heard the distant sound of an engine and the pale yellow of headlights coming towards him but it was not until it had nearly reached him that he could make out the shape of the large red double-decker bus pulling up at the Bus Stop.
Henry noticed that the downstairs seemed quite full. The driver opened the door. ‘Come on Granddad; Room for a little one upstairs.’ He said.
Henry would have preferred not to have to negotiate the stairs to the upper deck but looking inside He could not see an empty seat and besides, the passengers did not appear to be a very salubrious bunch.
At the back a large group of hooded youths were making a nuisance of themselves. And the strong smell of something illegal seemed to fill the air. Three or four not so young ladies with short skirts, fishnet tights and very revealing décolleté were performing unseemly acts with middle aged men who should have known better and there seemed to be more than the usual number of drunks. One of whom had been sick on the floor.
Incongruously a man wearing a clerical collar and another dressed in a smart business suit and carrying a brief case sat together in the middle of the bus.
‘I really think you’d be better upstairs’ said the driver. ‘Yes, I think you may be right.’
Henry managed to negotiate the narrow stairswih difficulty. He was quite surprised to see that there were plenty of empty seats and very few passengers. As he sat down a small girl aged about 11 years dressed in a very pretty yellow party frock came up and spoke to him in the uninhibited way that children unsullied by life’s pitfalls do.
‘I’ve been to a lovely party and we had jelly n ice cream and birthday Cake n we played pass the parcel and blind mans buff n there were balloons and fissy pop n…..’
‘Now Angela’ said the child’s smiling mum a jolly buxom lady in her late forties, ‘You mustn’t disturb the gentleman.’
‘No. Please. I don’t mind in the least. In fact it has cheered me up no end to see someone so happy.’
Henry soon became engaged in conversation with Mum, Freda and her husband Frank. Frank was a bricklayer by trade but he and his wife devoted all their spare time to voluntary work, Frank as a Special Constable and Freda as a voluntary helper at the local Hospital.
Henry was interested to learn that Frank had run a Marathon in aid of Cancer Research the previous Saturday. ‘My wife has recently died of Cancer. Let me give you something towards it.’ He offered.
He looked in his pockets but found they were all empty. No wallet. No coins. Come to think of it no mobile phone, although he could have left that at home, and not even a handkerchief. Thinking back he did not recall the driver asking for his fare when he first got on the bus. He would check when he got off but how he was going to pay he did not know.
‘I’m sorry’ he said. ‘Don’t worry’ replied Frank.
Precocious Angela had moved along the bus and stood looking at a pretty young girl in a nurse’s uniform sitting next to a young soldier with his arm in a plaster cast.
‘Are you making him better?’ ‘ Asked Angela
‘I’m trying to.’
‘Were you hurt in the war?’ to the soldier.
‘Whats that?’ She pointed to a plum coloured piece of braid above the soldiers tunic pocket.
‘It’s a medal ribbon’.
‘What did you get it for?’
‘I had to collect a lot of Corn Flake tops.
‘Don’t tease her Ralph’ said Jane, the nurse’ ‘I’ll tell you. He got it for doing a very brave thing. He saved his friend from being killed while under fire. He was very badly injured and nearly died himself. The Queen gave him a medal. The highest award.
He was brought to my hospital where I helped to make him well again.
‘Are you going to marry him?’
‘If he will have me’.
Ralph kissed her on the cheek..
All the other passengers had heard this and burst into a spontaneous round of applause.
“Which conflict were you engaged in’ asked Gerald a forty year old man who sat with his wife Mary beside him.
‘We were part of the so called peace force at Camp Bastion fighting the Taliban.
‘Mary and I worked in Pakistan two or three years ago for UNICEF. It was heart breaking. We have just returned home on leave from Africa where things are even worse.
Henry listened avidly to all these revelations. Other passengers joined in the conversation and it seemed that every one of them had in their own way made their mark in a way benefitting society.
‘What about me? How do I measure up against all these worthy individuals? I’m just an ordinary chap. My life with Elsie has been happy but uneventful. We tried to raise our children to be good citizens and are immensely proud of them. I have never knowingly caused harm to any other person and we have tried to help those less fortunate than ourselves. Is that enough?’
The fog was very thick now. Henry could not recognize any of the familiar landmarks.
He had a very strong feeling that there was something odd about the journey although he couldn’t put a finger on it. Why was the bus travelling quite smoothly when it must have been difficult for the driver to see his hand before his face? Why was the downstairs so crowded with undesirables whilst here all the upstairs passengers were just the opposite.? Where had the contents of his pockets disappeared to? And even more puzzling; ‘Why wasn’t he worried stiff about it?’
Eventually the bus came to a stop. ‘Dropping off point for downstairs passengers only’ called out the driver. The downstairs passengers filed out and disappeared.
From out of the fog came the sound of screaming and cries of anguish. The driver engaged his gears and the bus glided on and came to a stop outside a pair of huge open gates
A small group of people were waiting at the gates. As he alighted Henry looked in amazement ‘its Elsie my wife. She is waiting for me. ‘ he cried’
He rushed to hold her in his arms. No need of sticks, no struggling to get down the stairs. He had never moved so quickly or so painlessly in years.
Elsie looked radiant, the picture of health. The two were overjoyed to be re-united.
Other passengers were also joyfully greeting friends and relations and a very happy group of people progressed through the gates and into the future.
The following day the local Newspapers carried two stories. On the front page in large headlines
In thick fog a service bus careered off the road and crashed after dropping 100 feet. The driver and all the passengers including an 11 year old girl and her parents were killed.’
On a centre page a small column.
‘PENSIONER DIES AT BUS STOP’
Henry Wilding, a pensioner was found dead at a local Bus Stop. Death is believed to be due to natural causes.