Thursday, 2 March 2017

The Representatives

After my discharge from a foreign hospital, I was directed to the nearest bus stop, in my slightly crumpled suit leaning on my wooden walking stick, carrying my battered holdall and umbrella, where the Head Nurse had said I could resume my journey on an intercity bus. What she neglected to tell me was whom I might come across, but then, perhaps my myopic eyes were still growing used to such spectacles of humanity.
I come from a very provincial town, where people don't move around – out or in – so that the families that are there date back centuries, which as you might imagine, limited my experience of humankind, and which is how, in some ways, I came to be here: at this bus stop.
Actually, I tell a lie, as that's more of the why and not the how. How is an entirely different and lengthier story, one which involves an illness and an inheritance, both unrelated to me, then a cancelled flight and a twelve hour delay, which is to say I missed all the pre-booked arrangements that the person whose place I'm in had originally and carefully made.
Why it fell to me, in the autumn of my life, is yet another, though far shorter, tale: it was proposition put by him to me. All expenses paid, on the proviso I would send him postcards; he's a collector.
Who is this he and what is he to me? An old, old friend, much older than me for if I'm in autumn, then he's in winter. Both of us are old-timers at any rate, but up until recent problems with his ticker he had far more energy and zest. He put me, quite rightly, to shame, and so, actually, I'm rather a poor stand-in for this planned adventure. Yet, here I am: having unscheduled ventures into the unknown.
Which is all well and good for an courageous type but not for someone who'd rather dream and sit at home; the fact that I agreed is a human kindness and a miracle. Like a prospector, he struck gold on that particular day. And I don't default on promises made, never, especially not when, as with this friend, it was his dearest wish to see me go. He even advised me on what and what not to pack, though I drew the line at him accompanying me in the taxi to the airport, which was certainly fortuitous considering the mind-numbing hours I spent at Heathrow.
Nothing has been as I expected or imagined, which I think of as two very different things, although you, I know, may not agree; nor has it been restful, so far, not even with the five-star hotels and minor hospital stay. The former, which my friend had scrupulously researched, I felt out of place in, and the latter, well, it all happened so quickly. And anyhow, just as I begin to adjust, it's time to leave. To move onto the next stop, though I am now a few days behind, which is why to make up this time I'm about to step aboard a rickety bus that's just turned up in a cloud of dust and exhaust fumes.
One observation I have made, which waiting for this bus again confirmed, is that queues are universal, though the etiquette in joining one or being part of one may vary. This one, it was clear to me immediately, was like those in England, by order of arrival, and so I took the last spot on the end of the bench, nearest the phone booth and furthest from the timetable, placing my holdall and umbrella securely between my planted feet until such a moment when I needed to rise. All buses, I had been told, that went from this stop were intercity, and so I let my anxieties disperse in the sun for a while.
Until, as I previously said, the bus turned up in a plume of dust, and then gave a long, low sigh as it opened its door to admit us, where, inside, to my surprise, each class of society, as I've never in my life seen together, was represented: a female student, a businessman, a small boy, a mother, a manual worker with his tools, and a housewife with a shopping basket in which nested a live chicken; these, I found myself riding alongside, lost, as ever, in thought yet with still-seeing eyes.
My passage of time as distorted as the weaving of this bus, as if the universe is split in two: one where time runs according to clocks and calendars, and one where time overlaps and bounces me forward and back at random.

Picture credit: The Bus, 1929, Frida Kahlo