Phil sat on the bus and tried to look as though everything was fine, but beneath his happy façade bedlam was brewing. He felt at any moment he might suddenly start slamming his head against the window and screaming abuse at the people around him. He didn’t want to do that; if the clown at his seventh birthday party was anything to go by, that kind of behavior only brought tears and ruined future employment opportunities. Phil looked at his fellow passengers and felt hatred. He directed his anger towards them because they were there; why he was angry in the first place was hard to say. Lest he should break down and do something he’d regret, Phil looked out the window and tried to distract himself with distant thoughts.
He remembered his first ride on a bus, on his first day of school. Actually, now that he thought about it, he realised it couldn’t have been his first day of school; he was sixteen, and it wasn’t a bus he rode, it was a pony. It was at his cousin’s house, and he got lost on a trail ride. The pony careered down a steep embankment and fell into a creek, throwing Phil from the saddle in the process. When he regained consciousness, Phil saw the pony lying in shallow water with a broken leg. He knew the only humane thing to do was put the poor creature out of its misery, and with no one else there, Phil knew it was up to him. Since he hadn’t the clairvoyance to bring a shotgun with him on the ride, he had to improvise. Anyone who has ever had to drown a pony will understand the physical and emotional turmoil Phil suffered that day.
Not all of Phil’s memories were bad. He thought about his second bus ride. He had landed in Iraq as a fresh faced twenty-year-old on his first tour of duty. Disembarking the chopper in a howling dust storm, Phil and his platoon were loaded onto a bright pink minibus with five axles. It seemed strange to him that the military would use such a conspicuous and vulnerable vehicle, but his commanding officer, Mick Jagger (who was the spitting image of Phil’s Uncle), assured him this was standard procedure. There was nothing to be done but obey orders and take a seat next to his grade eight science teacher, Miss Romley. True, it had been a dream, but it was one of Phil’s fondest memories.
He recalled the time he rode a tour bus with a famous band. It was five years ago but he remembered it like it was four years ago. He had started work as the band’s driver, but unfortunately, due to the hard-partying stereotype of popular musicians, Phil had attached some inaccurate assumptions to his job title. After the band’s show that night, they returned to the bus to find seven half-naked groupies and a kilogram of cocaine waiting for them. Phil learned that night it is no longer the sixties, and his contract with the Wiggles was terminated.
The trip down memory lane did Phil some good. He took a deep breath and relaxed a little. Looking around the bus he no longer felt like punching everyone in the face. That’s good, he thought. Baby steps. One young passenger approached him. “Mr Martin,” she peeped, “are we almost back at school? I need to go to the toilet.”
“Yes Amy,” he answered, “we’re nearly there. Go and sit down.” Maybe things aren’t so bad, he thought. He thought that every day at 2:45pm.
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