How many zones?

Pulling up to another stop, the tired aging Bus driver inwardly groans at the thought of picking up another fare, because that’s all people have become to him, just another fare. He’s pretty sure that he said ‘how many zones’ the other morning, after 3 hours of sleep, when his wife climbed into the car. She looked concerned. Her hazel eyes seemed to absorb her husband’s lamenting and she really was worried.

Margret works in the office of the same bus company as her husband and she was becoming increasingly concerned for many of the drivers, so much so, that Margret got in contact with her union and filled them in on the dangerous situation that was back building. Almost every day, a driver on a split shift has knocked of the drivers mirror on a set of street lights, or scraped the side of the bus along the metal barriers that skirt the highways. Margret knew that it was only a matter of time before a driver fell asleep at the wheel longer than a few seconds. The driver would not only harm himself, but also his passengers.

The highlight of John MacDonald’s working day was stop 71, Warrik Road. The pretty young woman who always got onto his bus reminded him of his granddaughter. The first time he saw her Chestnut brown, flowing hair, he felt quite protective of her. She was always safe on his bus. Today as he pulled into her stop, his bleary eyes turned into smiling eyes and his tiredness all but forgotten. She always dressed in very nice, yet sensible shoes, her skirts always dropped just below the knees and if she wore pants, they were never tight. Summer or winter, she always wore a nice blouse with either a light or heavy jacket. Every time she climbed the steps of the bus John would ask ‘how many zones?’ and she would reply with a smile her usual, ‘two please’. ‘Such a nice young lady’ thought John as she made her way to her normal seat.

At stop number 72 Warrik Road John picked up ‘a nice enough young man’ he thought, but John instinctively knew that he has designs on his stop 71 passenger. Each afternoon John watched the young fella stroll down the aisle with a ‘hey, I’d like to get to know you look’ on his face and everyday John made sure that the bus went over every pot hole or divot he could find in the road, just to make the young fellas attempts just that little bit harder. ‘If he wants to date my granddaughter’ john thought ‘then he can bloody well work hard for it.

Today however, John was at the end of a 60 hour week; his reflexes were a little off. Stop 72 pressed the bell indicating to John that he was getting off at stop 83. John acknowledged stop 72’s intent and ran slowly through each pot hole and divot, it was a ritual that they had all come to know. However, today is a special day as it had rained earlier and there were also some corrugations lining the edge of the road too. Crawling closer to stop 83, John noticed that his granddaughter, by proxy, smiled at the young fella. In an effort to stop 72 approaching her in her seat, John lightly touched the brakes ensuring that stop 72 had to take hold of the low hanging belts to steady himself.

Holding tight to the belts overhead, stop 72 looked to stop 71 and smiled. He began his last few steps to the rear automatic doors that had opened in line with stop 71’s seat. As stop 72 took his final step to the lip of the stairwell, John’s foot slipped on the brake bringing the bus to a sudden stop and a brief acceleration before braking again. In the ensuing melee, stop 72’s right leg slid down the short stairwell, twisting and scraping his left leg on the metal strips lining each step before stop 72 fell out the door onto the damp grass. Bruised and shaken, 72 started to pick himself up of the ground, 71 was out of her seat assisting him and John locked the bus driver’s cabin and raced as quick as he could to make sure 72 was OK.

Stop 71 and 72 had finally met, sure, 72 was feeling rather embarrassed at his tumble, but 71, who always disembarked at stop 84, offered to walk 72 home. He accepted.

John was frazzled, he thought that he was going to have a heart attack. After making sure 72 was OK, John sat down on the damp grass and began to re-evaluate his life. 71 and 72 were making sure that John was alright by this time and they sat with him for a moment while he gathered his thoughts. ‘Im just too old, too tired to play this game anymore’ John said to them. ‘I think today is the last time I shall see you both, but let me leave you with this small piece of advice; don’t allow your life to become your job. ‘I need to go home now’ john thought to himself as he stood up, with 71 and 72’s help. They walked him back to the drivers cabin, and 71 said that her daily trips wouldn’t be same without him. Then she turned and put her arm around 72 and walked him home.

Being that this was his last run for the day, John drove straight back to depot. Margret was waiting for him. As they met up, John told Margret all about his day, he concluded with ‘I am quitting my job today Marge’s, I’m too old and to tired. I could have killed that young fella today, I hope you understand?’ Margret looked deeply into Johns green eyes and she could see that he meant what he was saying. She hugged him and finally spoke. ‘Then I hope you will understand that I have just become the delegate for the depot and I have been working with the union all day on ways to make driving safer for the drivers and their passengers.

It was Johns turn to hug Margret. ‘I couldn’t be more pleased my Marge’s and maybe I can help you with some insider knowledge…?’ ‘Look at us, 50 years together, at work and at home, and I love you just as much today as I did when I first saw you walk though those doors over there, let’s go home Marge, let’s go home… I need to sleep for a week or two now’ said John. They hugged and walked hand in hand to the car. Margret looked at John and said ‘now maybe I can just be your wife and friend and not just another passenger on your Bus’. ‘That’s alright by me said John, alright by me.’

Frank’s Stool

Frank sat brooding at the end of the bar. ‘Mel’s Drinks for Skinks’ has a dank and dusty mood to its dully lit atmosphere, and it’s just what the doctor ordered. With his back against the cold stoned chimney stack, Frank stared aimlessly at the ice melting into his bourbon. With an audible sigh, he thought about how he came to be ‘that sad old drunk, with his name symbolically etched into the solid black wood of the bar…’, the seat that no one else sat in. Frank, once upon a time, would laugh with his buddies about the ‘sad old drunk at the end of the bar’. He never once thought that he would become that man.

Franks Stool

Becoming angry at the world, Frank began to examine how it had royally screwed him, how it was everyone else’s fault that he had become the man no-body wanted to become. The din of voices and occasional laughter broke through the darkness seemingly mocking Frank. He hated them, he hated that their lives were full of happiness while his had crumbled around him, then he consoled himself with the thought that ‘one day, one day you bastards will be lining up for this stool, one day your lives will fall apart all around you too… and on that day, I will laugh at you…’ though Frank knew that he would not be around for that day, ‘to relish in the destruction of their youth, their lives’.

Then different voices began to pierced through the dark thoughts of Franks mind; the voice of his lawyer telling him that his wife had filed for divorce, that she was taking the children away from him, that she had had enough of his drinking, gambling and abuse, and the voice of his doctor that very afternoon, informing him that the lifestyle that had lost him his family, was now going to take his life. Frank hated everyone at this moment, the drink that diseased his liver was fast becoming a ‘Lazarus bar’ whiskey; watered down straight from the bottle, and his life was playing out in his mind. Even now, Frank blamed every-one other than himself, for his life… and death.