I check my phone again. I resist the urge to send a scathing tweet via text message but to the outside world, I'm checking the time -- it's 08:35, by the way. My work day starts in twenty five minutes but I'm an hour away. I've been at this bus stop for fifteen minutes. Like this is all rehearsed, the woman in the parka thrusts one bright pink sleeve from her wrist, checks her watch and 'tssks' through her teeth.
'Ridiculous.' She hisses under her breath, and she stalks over to the bus schedule again, shaking her head. No wonder she thnks it's ridiculous. She was here before I was, muttering and shaking her head, fury and madness seeping off her like radiation. At first it was quite intimidating and I stood on the other side of the bus stop from her, to avoid getting swept into her insanity. But now that I'm used to it, I'm starting to agree with her.
According to the bus schedule, there was a number 15 due not long after I got here then another one due at 08:34. I know that I should think this is my fault. You can't rely on a bus schedule any more than you can rely on anything. I know what they're like and I should've planned for it. If I'd managed to haul my carcass out of bed ten minutes earlier, maybe I could've avoided this situation.
It's just been getting harder and harder to muster up the energy recently. Every day I fight with the part of myself that just wants to roll over and fold myself deeper into the warmth. The part of myself that listens to the rain slashing at my window and thinks 'nah, fuck it.' The part of myself that remembers every derogative snort, every sneer, every panicked flap of crisis and every hour of unpredictable over time. That part is getting too big to roll off me every morning.
Another bus puffs through the fog. The number is unlit cardboard, hard to read until it's right up close. The woman in the parka marches past me and throws her hand out.
It's a number 18, we both quickly realise. She darts backwards and tucks her hands in her pockets. I hold my breath and freeze, not making eye contact with anybody -- just staring down the road and hoping.
'FUCKIN' 'ELL! DON'T STICK YOUR FUCKIN' 'AND OUT THEN YA DAFT BINT!' and the bus driver slams his doors and roars off. I like to believe that I don't hear him still swearing to himself as he pulls away, then I pretend the incident hasn't happened at all and let myself relax.
'Ridiculous.' The woman mutters to herself again and she goes back to the schedule. I check my phone, 08:40. I'm going to be so late.
It's only twenty minutes back to my flat. There's no law keeping me out here. Nobody can force me to go to work. Yeah, it might start to feel shitty tomorrow when I have to come back and expain to everybody why I ran away, and I might feel a little guilty when they try to call me to find out where I've been. But it comes to me right there -- I don't have to come back. I can just walk away.
I have enough saved away to pay my rent with enough left over to keep me in beer and 75p packs of pasta for two or three months. What's stopping me? Why do I do this to myself? I could just go back home, start writing and get my book done by the end of the week. Throw some of that money behind some online promotion and then start on the next one. That one is more than half way finished, I can roll it out in just under a month if I work hard enough.
I actually start feeling good again. I can do it. I can make a go of it. If it comes down to it and I run out of money, I can always sign on again. They'll probably try to sanction me for daring to reject a job, but I can just explain that I couldn't take it anymore. They tell me everything I do is shit, make me feel awful about myself and still demand that I keep doing it because there's nobody else there who'd take up my role. I only wanted a fair wage for a fair day's work, but they want to force me into being everybody's emotional punching bag, the scapegoat for every problem and the chosen one for every rotten task and every screaming phone call.
The knot in my stomach starts to unfold and I take my first step towards freedom while the woman in the parka is still scowling at the bus schedule.
We both get caught off guard by the 15 that comes screaming out of the fog like a hellbound ghost train. I manage to throw up a hand to flag it down without even thinking about it. A part of me starts to scream, but the knot in my stomach tightens around its throat and chokes the sound down to a tiny squeak.
The bus rattles onto the side of the road without indicating. The doors pop open and the driver trots out.
Me and the woman in the parka try to catch his eye at the same time. He looks at us, briefly, and bellows, 'JUST GETTIN' A DRINK' not quite smirking as he jogs to the shop over the road. I start to feel guilty because I know what it's like to be expected to work without a break.
He comes back from the shop over the road with a can of coke and a copy of the Daily Mail under one armpit. He trundles onto the bus and slams the door behind him to keep us out. He settles into his seat, rips open his paper and starts to read about how the immigrants are all out for our jobs.
I check my phone, 08:45 now. I'm definitely already late. So I wonder why I'm even bothering. I don't get much more than minimum wage even though I manage staff and I'm personally accountable for their every action. As if anybody can really every be responsible for something another person does. It's not my fault that this bus driver is having a crappy day, nor is it his fault that I'm going to be forty five minutes late for work. Not really. We're both just tiny cogs in some great machine, getting ground up against one another until one of us rusts or tears right off its axis and we're replaced without any thought or regard.
Minutes blend into one another and my thoughts start to drift. I start to wonder about what the point of any of it really is, if there is a point, and if I found it, would it even be something positive in the end? It's too early in the morning for these kind of thoughts, or any thoughts at all and I start to get numb. Even the knot in my stomach starts to slide into oblivion. But my bed is twenty minutes back that way.
I nearly miss the bus as it tries to drive off. So does the woman in the parka -- but she's faster than me and connects with a solid left handed smack on the doors as they try to close.
'PAY A-FUCKING-TENTION THEN!' The bus driver howls at her. He makes a noise that is almost like 'God' and almost like 'Argh!' and comes out sounding like a seagull's call. He scowls at me as I show him my pass and climb on. I walk past a woman shoving a baby pram with one hand and holding a phone to her ear with the other.
'HE THINKS HE'S FUCKIN' BOSS BUT HE FUCKIN' ISN'T THOUGH. HE'S A FUCKIN' SHIT HOUSE I'M LIKE GET A FUCKIN' JOB THEN, LAD! I KNOW, GIRL. WHAT A FUCKIN' SHIT HOUSE. FUCKIN' SHIT HOUUUUSE!'
And there go my hopes for a sleepy early morning commute with a book. I pop in my headphones and try to drown her out, but even at maximum volume I can barely hear the music over her voice.
'YER WHA? YER WHA? YER WHA? YER WHA? YER WHA? EEEEEEEEEEEEEE, I FUCKIN' NEVER. I FUCKIN' NEVER. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.'
Half way to work, her baby starts to howl along with her. The baby's voice is hoarse and scratchy, but still loud enough to make my ear drums ring. The kid is throwing all the effort in its tiny lungs into being heard. Desperate, terrified wails that burst through all the thoughts in my head like a hurricane through a glass window.
And the woman keeps on pushing the pram back and forth while the baby screams. She's still on the phone and I start to worry that this isn't even her baby and she's pushing the pram for some other, nefarious reason.
But then: "OH MY FUCKIN' GOD, THIS BABY IS DOIN' MY FUCKIN' 'EAD IN!" And she leans into the pram and screams "SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!" Over and over in a monotonous, mocking tone. But the baby keeps screaming and the woman keeps screaming and the bus driver watches a fat man just about get to the stop in time but still slams the doors in his panting face and drives off and I check my phone again and I'm half an hour late and the woman in the parka keeps on shaking her head.
This is humanity. This is life. This is every morning from now until you die alone.
I manage to get into work without anyone spotting me, sliding into the office and acting like I'd always been there. But at five minutes to five, I get three frantic, back to back phone calls that are all desperate to blame me for someone else's mistakes and I feel obligated to stay because I was so late.
Then the bus home is even later than the one that took me there and the people are all just as loud. There's only enough time to hastily microwave last nights stir fry and gobble it down before I have to collapse into bed again. Stomach knotted, ears ringing, heartburn raging until my phlegm tastes like motor oil, feeling like I've just spent nine rounds getting clobbered by someone who hates me.
And the clock propels me through enough dreamless night into another dreamless day and I wish I was interesting or funny or dedicated or that I had the time to learn how to do something else or that I was strong enough to say no or that I had better words than the fragments I manage to piece together at the end of another rotten day.
It won't be long now until I wake up at the crack of dawn so I can stalk bus stops, shaking my head and muttering the word 'ridiculous' and the only people who hear are the ones who are trying not to listen.