Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Last Bus Home

A chilly, northern, November night is no time to be wearing PVC pants,
particularly ones that have been subjected to nearly two hours of continuous
and frenzied pogoing in a hot, sticky club; and Darren was fast beginning to
regret choosing these over his ripped denims. He reflected on his decision to
go for the leather clad Adam Ant a la 1977 look as he made his way to the
central bus station in sub-zero temperatures with his favourite ‘leather look’
kegs clinging, clammily, to his skinny, white legs. The lining, which in the
stifling heat of ‘Zero Hour’s’ cellar disco had felt pleasantly warm and moist,
was now transformed into a skin-tight, icy cocoon with the clammy
consistency of a cold seaweed wrap that seemed to be inducing rapid
hypothermia with every step. Luckily the station was only about five minutes
away and the thought of sitting on the downstairs back seat, absorbing the
heat of the warm, toasty engine, was putting extra purpose into every stride.
The smell emanating from his plastic pants was something else altogether
and reminded Darren of a cross between sweaty, French cheese, old people’s
underwear and wet dogs, straight after a dip in the local canal. He dreaded to
think what effect this would have on the other bus passengers as the warmth
of the engine began to turn this relatively benign aroma into some kind of
devil’s pot-pourri on the journey home…
With his ‘real’ leather jacket zipped up under his neck and his fingerless PVC
gloves providing as much protection from the cold as such a hopelessly
inadequate item of fashion wear can do, he entered the almost deserted bus
station and glanced up at the 70’s style clock. “Five to eleven,” he thought.
“The last bus leaves in two minutes!” Panicking, he began to run towards
departure bay 12, conscious of how much noise the segs in his black,
motorbike boots were making as they clattered and skidded across the
concrete floor. He fairly shot up the escalator, stumbling near the top and
attracting the attention of a man waiting at departure bay 2, just to his left.
There was a brief exchange of smiles and a bit of embarrassed eyebrow
raising from Darren as he picked himself up, checked his pants for rips, and
continued his quest to catch the number 667, which would drop him virtually
outside his flat and save him a 4-mile Arctic trek on foot. He arrived just in
time to see his bus pulling away. The driver saw him, and could indeed have
stopped to let him on, but, having noticed Darren’s appearance, decided that
a cheerful smile and wave goodbye in his rear-view mirror would suffice.
“Fuckin’ ‘ell!” spat Darren, through gritted teeth, as he struggled to catch his
breath. “Fuckin’ townie bus driver.”
Now ‘Townies’, or ‘Tetley Bittermen’ as they were sometimes called, were the
punks’ sworn enemy, well, apart from Teddy Boys and Mods and Football
Casuals. Townies, though, they were the worst; Farahs, soul boy haircuts,
Pringle jumpers, slip-on shoes with white nylon socks, bad taste in music and,
particularly in the North, a liking for Tetley’s Bitter. Darren had lost count of
the number of times he’d been abused, punched, kicked or just chased
around the city centre by pissed up Townies, pouring out of nightclubs with
names like Cloud Nine, Blue Lace and Dukes & Silks, usually with their porky
girlfriends in tow, sporting white mini-skirts, white stilettos and dodgy perms
and shouting encouragement. He could really have done without one of them
being in charge of his last bus.
“Bugger it.” muttered Darren, “Looks like I’m bleedin’ walkin’ again.” Sighing
deeply to himself, he pulled up the collar on his leather jacket as far round his
close-cropped head as he could and began the slow trudge back into the cold
night air. His legs were now numb with cold, and he was just considering
whether to attempt to jump a taxi when a voice from nowhere made him
“Excuse me. I don’t suppose you’ve seen a young lad, have you? About 13?
I’m supposed to be picking my nephew up and he said he’d be coming in on
the last 637, but I’ve been waiting for 15 minutes and I think the last one’s
been and gone. You didn’t see it, did you?”
“Eh no, sorry.” Replied Darren, noticing the voice was coming from the man
who he’d clocked on the way up the escalator. “I haven’t seen a kid or a bus.
To be honest, I was concentrating on catching mine, but the driver thought
it’d be a laugh to not let me on ‘cos I’m a punk.”
“I was wondering what all the leather gear was about.” Commented the man,
eyeing Darren up and down. “I thought you must have had your motorbike
nicked, or were just on your way back from one of those fetish parties, or
something!” The man laughed a little as he said this, but stopped quickly
when he noticed that Darren wasn’t sharing in the joke.
“I’m sorry,” said the man, a little sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to cause offence,
it was just a comment.”
“Yeah, hilarious.” Darren replied, as he decided he’d had enough of pisstakers
for one night and started to walk towards the exit.
“Hang on!” Shouted the man. “I really didn’t mean to annoy you, I’m just a
bit angry that I’ve come out to pick up my nephew and he’s gone and made
his own way home and left me waiting here like a lemon. If you’ve missed
your last bus, then maybe I could give you a lift instead? My car’s just in the
car park. Which way are you going?”
Darren stopped momentarily and half turned to look at the man again. He
pondered on how wise it would be to get into a complete stranger’s car at this
time of night. Then he had a good look at the man who couldn’t have been a
day under 50 and was probably 5 foot 2 at the most.
“If he tries to abduct or kill me,” Darren thought to himself, “I should be able
to sort him out. After all, I’m a good 30 years younger than him and, if it
comes down to a straight chase, I should be able to outrun him, even in
these boots.”
“I’m heading towards Keighley.” Darren told the man.
“Well that’s great.” Came the reply. “I’m headed that way myself so, if you’re
interested? It is a cold night, after all.”
Darren didn’t like his tone much, and what the hell did he mean by ‘if you’re
interested’? But, it was a bloody cold night, and he felt as if he’d probably get
frostbite before he’d got half way home, so he reluctantly agreed to the offer
and followed the man down the steps and towards the main door.
As they approached the man’s car, Darren noticed how small it was. He didn’t
know much about cars but he thought he’d seen this type before in The
Italian Job, not a Mini but one of those tiny Italian cars. What were they
called, again…”
“The Fiat 500!” Announced the man in a very jovial voice. “Italy’s solution to
traffic congestion. Drive anywhere, park anywhere, put it in your pocket when
you get home!”
Darren eyed the miniscule motorcar and began to wonder exactly how he
would get his gangly 6ft 2 frame into the thing without actually doing himself
some irreparable damage.
“It’s very small.” He said.
“Don’t worry,” said the man, reassuringly. “It’s a bit like Doctor Who’s tardis.
Once you’re inside you’ll find it’s really quite roomy.”
Darren opened the door, got in, and found the man was lying. In fact, if it
was possible to have a tardis in reverse, this was it. It looked small from the
outside but was positively Lilliputian inside. The effect was rather like climbing
into a contortionist’s Perspex box, but not as comfortable.
As Darren struggled to jam his feet into the foot well and move his head into
a position of least resistance against the roof, he noticed the man gliding
effortlessly into the driver’s seat before pulling the seat as far forward as it
would go, ensuring that the steering wheel was virtually pressed against his
Being in such close proximity to this funny little man in his funny little car,
particularly as he found himself stuck fast in his seat with his knees jammed
under his chin, made Darren feel very uncomfortable indeed. As the man
turned the ignition time and time again, pumping the accelerator to attempt
to get the car’s circulation going, Darren observed just how scruffy and
stained the man’s overcoat was. It was, or had been, a sort of beige or khaki
colour but now looked as if it served as a coat, a blanket and a tablecloth,
and perhaps a towel, too. His trilby hat had also seen better days and
reminded Darren of the one that Harry Worth used to wear in his ‘hilarious’
TV show, except the man’s looked like it had been chewed. Perhaps he had a
After what seemed like an eternity, the tiny, Italian engine spluttered into life.
The man gave a little whoop, winked at Darren, and pulled out of the car
park. The first part of the journey was made in silence as they passed
through the city centre and on to the main Keighley Road.
“Does the heater work?” Asked Darren, concerned that he might actually end
up frozen in his current position, like some piece of crappy modern art.
“It’s on.” said the man, “But it’ll take about 20 minutes to warm up. The
Italians don’t see car heaters as a priority, and with a tiny car like this it takes
twice as long as your Saabs or Volvos.”
“Fuckin’ great.” Thought Darren, as his teeth started to chatter. Still, at least
he was getting a lift home, and the bloke seemed to be concentrating on
driving. Hard not to, with his face squashed up almost against the windscreen
and his body touching the steering wheel. Not having the heater on also
prevented his PVC trousers from bursting into fully pungent life, although,
judging by the state of the man’s clothes, he might not notice Darren’s odour
over his own aroma of stale biscuits and dirty linen baskets. Darren was just
beginning to feel bad about questioning the bloke’s good intentions in offering
him a lift when the man finally instigated a conversation.
“So, do you do a lot of sport, then?”
Eh? Thought Darren. “No.” He replied.
“Don’t you play rugby or football or anything like that?” The man continued,
glancing across at Darren.
“No, nowt like that. I used to play at school, but that was ages ago…”
“Really!” Said the man. “I thought so.”
“How do you mean?” Said Darren, shuffling towards the passenger door as
best he could.
“Well,” continued the man, leaning over and slapping Darren’s leg just a little
too hard. “You’ve got a great pair of thighs on you. You look good in leather.”
As he said this he squeezed his leg, gently and moved his hand up towards
Darren’s crotch.
Too shocked to speak, Darren looked out of the windscreen and noticed that
they were coming towards the lights just by the park and that they were
turning red.
“Red light!” Spluttered Darren.
“Shit!” Said the man as he braked sharply, moving his hand from Darren’s leg
to change down to first.
As they came to a stop Darren started to frantically search for the door
“What are you doing?” Said the man. “We’re not there yet. We’ve got another
couple of miles to go!”
“I can walk from here, thanks.” Replied Darren, as he finally found the handle
and pushed open the door.
“Don’t be daft!” Pleaded the man, “I was only making an observation. I didn’t
mean anything by it. I’m not a pervert or anything - I’ve got a wife, you
“All the same, I’d feel safer walking from here. Thanks, anyway.” Said Darren,
as he slammed the door and quickly crossed the road.
As the lights changed to green, Darren glanced back at the Fiat and noticed
that, instead of going straight on, it turned left and headed up by the side of
the park. The man never looked back as he disappeared from view, his face
still pressed against the windscreen.
“Bloody hell, that was close!” muttered Darren, to himself, before allowing a
little, wry smile to play across his lips. “I look good in leather, do I! The bloke
can’t even tell leather from PVC, what kind of pervert is he? Still, maybe
choosing them over me ripped denims was a good move. After all, it got me a
lift, didn’t it?!”
He laughed out loud as he began to stroll the last mile to his flat. No longer
conscious of his cryogenically frozen limbs, he mused on what a strange night
it had been. He thought about what might have happened if the bloke had
had a knife, or a gun? He wondered if it was a one-off, or whether he was
just the latest in a long line of victims, and if he did the same trick every
week? He even wondered whether his 13-year old nephew actually existed?
“Still,” he said to himself, “it could’ve been a lot worse. He could’ve been a
This last thought gave him a warm feeling all over - even in his legs - and he
began to hum the song that had been playing as he left Zero Hour that night:
his favourite Adam & the Ants track, ‘Car Trouble’...

HJ Lawrence, who writes really quick, or needs a new clock...

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