Meet Andy. He’s not having a good day!
Carston Interchange, West Coast
Andy pulls the bus into the station as his guts gurgle, the remnants of last night’s meal ready to make their exit. Embarrassed at the growling, he looks back at the mostly empty seats, the few passengers on board are too far back to have heard, and the young lad closest has his earplugs in. Tinnitus. Hah! He smiles as he remembers his mother’s scolding voice, ‘Turn it down, Andrew! You’ll get tintus.’ He’d laughed at her worried frown and pretended he couldn’t hear. ‘Ey? Can’t hear you, Mam!’ ‘I said you’ll go deaf. Get tintinus or whatever it is!’ He’d nodded and shrugged his shoulders with teenage indifference, but turned the volume of his portable cassette player down when she wasn’t looking. Yep, prime candidate for tinnitus the lad was; he could hear the tinny music from here.
With an expert hand, he slides the bus into its bay and sets the engine to idle, brake pulled firmly on. He looks with longing at the vending machine stacked against the interchange wall. He’ll grab a bar or two, just to keep him going. His guts gripe again as the door’s locks release and they swing open. He checks down the length of the bus in his rear-view mirror. The teenager is standing, eyes glued to his mobile, feet stepping along the aisle. Zombie kids is what he called them—completely unaware of what was going on.
“Watch the step,” he mutters as the young lad passes him, indifferent.
Pushing past the boy, a thick-waisted blonde, leggings stretching thin across her plump thighs, mutters the perfunctory ‘thanks’ and steps off the bus without meeting his eyes. He nods, his acceptance unseen, and checks the rear-view again just as the boy stumbles off, catching his boot on the metal strip of the final step. Told him! An older man, his hair greying, combed in strips over his scalp, newspaper folded under his arm, strides forward, nods then steps off too. Relieved to be alone, Andy presses the button and the doors swing shut again. His belly gripes and this time he doesn’t hold it in. The fart reverberates, ‘a real bench-trembler’, his mother would have said, and he sits in relief as its warmth spreads through his pants to the seat. The bus shudders. “Blimey!” He laughs and turns the knob, cranking up the air conditioning system and winds his window down as the smell of yesterday’s meal assaults his nostrils. “That’s a corker,” he smiles. “Ripe!” He can’t help a giggle as he winds down the window, knowing that the stench will permeate the fabric of the seat and lurk there ready for Arthur who was taking the next shift. Old bugger should keep his trap shut and not tell tales. The bus judders again and rocks. Andy frowns. Kids? Were they at it again? He stands to look out to the sides of the bus, his belly pressing against the steering wheel, and notices the whirling eddies of paper and tins filling the space outside. A man struggles to walk along the path, pulling his coat tight and walks into an invisible force that wants to push him back. Arthur stands looking out from the glass doors of the interchange, ready for his shift. The door opens, then slams against the wall as it is ripped out of Arthur’s hand and his driver’s cap is plucked from his head. He steps out, grabbing for his cap as it blows into the maelstrom of rubbish. Losing his balance, Arthur jerks and tumbles to the ground. Gripping the steering wheel tight, Andy stands uncomprehending of the scene, and watches as Arthur, now on all fours, is blown back to the ground. The fat blonde, hand delving into the mouth of the vending machine, is suddenly airborne, bloodied hand fixed around a chocolate bar.
“What the very-” Andy swallows his words in horror as the woman and Arthur are picked up and slammed back down onto the road, two flabby, now broken, middle-aged ragdolls. A screech of metal assaults his ears and he looks up to the interchange’s roof. A slab of cladding rips off and smashes to the ground, littering Arthur with broken rubble, and revealing its carcass of metal. Andy’s stomach gurgles again and he is overtaken with the urge to clear his bowels. He slumps back down into his seat, the fat of his back rippling beneath his company shirt, and grasps the keys, turning them frantically as the roof of the interchange begins to peel off. He slams the gears into first, and the bus lurches from its bay and out to the main road. Thankful for the lack of traffic, Andy puts his foot down hard onto the accelerator and steers the bus away from the wind tearing the place apart. As he leaves the town’s threshold, heading away from the coast, the wind seems weaker. He must be leaving the storm, or whatever monster it was, behind. In the rear-view mirror, he watches for a second as the lights at the supermarket and mega-pub on the roundabout flicker then disappear. Perhaps he’s just outrunning it! He puts his foot down and changes into top gear as he takes the first exit onto the road leading east.