The Man Who Only Wanted A Ride Home
Andrea Huang, Grade 12, Chester Hill High School
2nd in the 'Summer Sizzlers 2011' competition
Overhead hangs the sky, like faded denim; its colour washed out by days of relentless rain. It is bleak-grey and dreary, as the bus idles on the road, one of many vehicles forming a mechanical snake. Light flicks green and traffic starts to slither forward. The bus bumbles along with its journey.
Engine croaks. Bus stops. Doors hiss open. A man enters. He is a modern day Chaplain reprising his role as The Tramp. Only, reception is more positive when it’s on-screen.
It suddenly resembles the inside of a theatre, hushed and hallowed, as the passengers surreptitiously eyeball the foreign sojourner. He is like a snail: greyish tone, fleshy form, his movement sluggish, as he hauls in his entire fortune, his living, onto the bus. Distaste odours the air, exacerbating the subtle wave of stale sweat and damp clothing that seems to trail the lumbering giant. Dirt clings to him like a second skin. His belly spills over his scuffed pants, which are slashed at the back, baring his off-white underpants. But no-one laughs; they are too unsettled by the grimy stranger. Though, the girls at the back snigger quietly, sneeringly.
“I don’t want your rubbish,” the driver gesticulates wildly.
“It’s cardboard,” corrects the lone traveller. He flashes his pass and attempts to stride past, but is halted by the driver’s harsh bark.
“No rubbish,” stresses the driver. No telling whether he is referring to the man or his bulging bags.
“It’s cardboard,” he emphasises.
Professionalism, principles and prejudice are pitched under scrutiny. This lasts for a while. The driver won’t budge. Neither will the man. A stalemate ensues. The passengers grow restless, impatience wearing their sympathies thin. Mild threats are thrown from both sides.
Finally, the driver whips out his phone and dials for the police. Worry and panic crawls its way in, but he plants his feet firmly onto the floor and takes out a pen and
paper—albeit he realises it’s hopeless — and feigns studiously scrawling down the driver’s details.
Sirens wail in the distance; it fails to offer him any comfort and instead, taunts him. He becomes acutely aware of the pointlessness; just another lost battle in an endless string of many.
He has a ticket. He is no criminal, thief or liar. But none of that matters. The irony was, to them, he was the villain, not the victim. He didn’t do anything wrong and the knowledge saddens him. Things would’ve turned out differently if his bags held groceries instead, or if he didn’t look dishevelled and destitute. He felt the anger blazing within him and with great effort, reined it in. He was accustomed to the looks of disgust, the way they dodged and avoided him on the streets like he was a leper, but never the injustice and indignation of it all.
With one final glare, he grudgingly trudges off the bus and back into the bitter cold, which embraces him like an old friend.
Maybe, he’ll try his luck with the trains.