5 Jan


It’s starting to rain and I sit myself next to a man at a bus stop; don’t say much, don’t have to. You know the type…late to middling years, neatly dressed, tied and shirted, exuding a martial air. His jacket brushed, his tie shaped, his trousers creased – burnished black brogues mirrored to a shave-yourself sheen. It’s always a giveaway. On his hands the faded blues and blacks of inks indelible, criss-crossing his gnarled flesh changing the once female formed renderings into daubed ink smudges. Tattooed beauties picked out in some foreign port and needled for posterity on willing flesh. An age when there wasn’t a tomorrow, when one lived in the moment, for the hour, for the possibility.

The shelter’s cold and damp, stinks of piss and as per usual the bus is late. The gent next to me looks to the front, his thousand-yard stare burning holes in the concrete of the municipal Ministry-of-What-Not across the street. Despite his tenuous hold on life,  he has time enough. No rush, no haste, if not today, then tomorrow; obviously he’s post ticketed for the fast track experience – voyaged an ocean of pain – ridden the bullet train to hell – and in no hurry to go back. Been there, done that, and purchased the rights to a t-shirt printing press of the mind. No doubt remembering when minutes lasted hours, seconds a lifetime. A time when waiting for public transport would have been a luxury, a urine-splashed bus shelter a god send.

You can always tell. It doesn’t take badges and medals, blue-blazered crested affirmation nor regimental bands and battle honors. The horror of conflict under jungle canopies and death-raked beaches does something to a man. Marks him forever, stamps him as an initiate forged in an era of getting things done. No complaining, stiff upper lip, “mind your p and q’s”, back home for tea and crumpets – or more likely a beer and a cuddle at the Pig and Whistle.

Squared shoulders, straight limbed bravado, the epitome of hidden youth. A warrior spirit concealed within the trenches of wrinkled skin, behind the camouflage of greyed hair and sandbagged eyes. Hard to shake memories of when the air sang. Dream-filled insomnia of death and destruction, oceans of sand and mud, of men screaming for their mothers. Seas of unforgotten faces left and lost on unpronounceable battlefields, on foreign shores in countries now packaged for summer holidays. The rows of white stones, part of the attraction, the Dunkirk Kodak moment that you can show to friends and smear onto the web. Not happier times, just different. When thoughts of tomorrow were as improbable as moon-shots, their only possession the here and now – love today because who knew what the dawn would bring.

The rain comes down harder, pelting the shelter, water streaking down the glass, framing the tardiness of a red number seven as it splashes its way to a hurried stop. The clang of bells and the crump of pneumatics as the door close. The old boy in front of me fishes for plastic tokens and a faded photo pass, the ephemera of a grateful nation. Life and limb given for half price transportation but then only outside of rush hours and dependent on calendar dates – excluding Easter and Christmas! There’s no complaining, no whining, just smiles as he thanks the driver and takes his seat. Surrounded by forgetful ignorance, a public more interested in commercialism than recent history, there are no handshakes, shoulder slaps or words of gratitude. Deep down he probably likes it that way; no fuss no bother, just insulated anonymity. No use in blowing one’s own trumpet, nobody appreciates a bore and what would be the point anyway?

The bus stops and I make my way to the exit, hanging on to the handle before electing to eject myself into the dank wet of the city street and away from the wombed warmth of metropolitan transportation. I catch his eye and he finally notices me. I scream my recognition, implore my understanding, open my mind to telepathic transmissions and broadcast my affinity with the warrior code – what it is to be a soldier. The old boy simply looks right at me. Does he recognize one of his old mates in my face or is he even now crouched in a shell hole screaming for his life, pissing himself in abject fear? Perception is reality and thankfully mine involves a takeaway Chinese and a couple of cans of lager.

I stare up at the rain spattered windows, the condensed fug of opaque passengers as it drives away – wheels splashing through gouts of water. I pull my jacket around my ears, tighten my scarf, and try to avoid the puddles. The weather is really starting to close in and I have a hungry wife and a couple of starving kids at home. Decisions, decisions. What will it be, chicken Chow Mein or egg fried rice?



  1. John Wiswell January 6, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

    A good tone rolls along this one. Not the attitude of last week’s, just a tone that can absorb any detail you like. Strong narration and very readable. Thanks for sharing.

  2. L'Aussie January 8, 2011 at 2:57 am #

    Hey I felt like I was right there. What a messy day. Very readable, believable and a poignant ending. I really like your use of the senses.

  3. adampb January 8, 2011 at 3:22 am #

    Such strong imagery and tone in this piece. Glad I stopped by for a read. And thanks for stopping by my fiction.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  4. brindabanjee73 January 12, 2011 at 8:12 am #

    I thought the voice of the character stood out strong, in your use of the
    language and the way he tells it – interesting.

  5. flyingscribbler January 13, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    The descriptions you use here are so well observed, they drew me right in: i was at the bus stop, on the bus and even in the young man’s mind. For me, it is about lives lived but unknown, the fact that we never know who is sitting next to us or what their lives could mean. It is a lovely piece of writing.

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