Keith Price had a face that bounced up and down with each step he made, the whole face, as if it wasn't really attached to his skull. It was once described -- at a rather drunken office Christmas party -- as like a rubber mask that had not been fastened on properly. This astute observation was made behind his back, not that Keith Price was in any way remotely bothered by the things people said about him: he didn't care.
Keith Price took the N° 38 bus from home to work and from work back home each day and had been doing this for the last sixteen years. He mostly always saw the same faces, heard the same conversations and sounds -- why is everyone else involved in important business and not me? he thought. It always seemed to be raining in the winter and too stuffy and hot in the summer. Keith Price had fallen in love with a passenger once; it took him three months to pluck up the courage to even smile at her. One day he was determined to speak to her, but she never got on the bus. She must have changed bus routes, he thought. He never saw her again.
His days were always tedious from beginning to end. But today was different. Today a large black sports bag -- that had been left, he presumed, by a previous passenger before he got on the bus -- was sitting beside him. Keith Price didn't know what to do. Is it a bomb? Is it stuffed with money? Private things? Papers? Documents? For the last ten minutes Keith Price had been trying to attract the attention of the conductor. As usual the N° 38 was stuck in traffic on the Essex Road, London. Keith Price was on his way home from his office, his dreary job, his monotonous processing of other people's information, he had been dreaming all day about the pork chop he was going to grill as soon as he got home and was quite numbly content -- until the large black sports bag appeared and ruined everything.
None of the other passengers -- and the bus was full -- seemed to have noticed the large black sports bag sitting next to him. Should he open it and peek inside? Should he take it home with him like it was his own? Should he shove it under the seat in front and forget its very existence? Keith Price didn't know what to do. He turned to look for the conductor. He had started to sweat a little on his forehead but had nothing to wipe it with other than his sleeve, and wiping sweat from one's brow with the sleeve of anything was completely out of the question in Keith Price's book. Even in a situation such as this.
The conductor was in his usual spot by the stairs, arguing with a passenger about the dangers of leaning out of the back of the bus while hanging onto the pole between stops -- the N° 38 was an old Routemaster. The conductor was extremely angry and Keith Price immediately noticed that the passenger, in turn, was unusually calm for such a scenario -- by now the whole bus was looking over too. Maybe it's his bag? Maybe the passenger has left it? Maybe it is a bomb? Maybe that's why he's smiling? He's going to kill us all. Keith Price tried to attract the happy passenger's attention, he raised his arm and coughed -- not wanting to cause too much of a scene. Look over here. Over here. What's in that bag? Why today? Why now? Why me? What's in that bag? What's in that bag? Why can't someone else deal with it? Why can't it just be collected? Surely someone must be missing their large black sports bag by now? Who owns this bag? Someone's got to own this bag. Keith Price could feel the sweat pouring from his awkward rubbery face. He suddenly jumped to his feet:
STOP THE BUS! STOP THE BUS! CONDUCTOR! CONDUCTOR! THERE IS A LARGE BLACK SPORTS BAG ON THIS BUS AND I WANT TO GET OFF! STOP THE BUS! STOP THE BUS! IT COULD BE A BOMB! A BOMB! IT'S HIS! THAT MAN'S! THE VERY MAN YOU ARE ARGUING WITH! HE'S LEFT A BOMB ON THE BUS! ANYTHING! STOP THIS BUS! STOP THIS BUS!...
Keith Price ran towards the back of the bus, passengers started to laugh, they had noticed his face comically bouncing up and down with each frantic step he took. Keith Price didn't care, he just wanted to get off the bus. He barged in between the conductor and passenger -- both stared at him incredulously -- and jumped from the moving bus, he stumbled and wobbled on impact with the hard, cold pavement, causing his whole body to tumble over onto his back and from the passenger's perspective, still seated and watching agog on the N° 38, it looked just like a reluctant small child learning a forward roll for the first time.
Keith Price picked himself up off the pavement and straightened his rubbery face. He could hear laughter from a group of schoolchildren. Keith watched as the N° 38 bus, containing the large black sports bag left him behind and trundled along and out of sight up the Essex Road. Keith Price was glad that he wasn't still sitting next to the rogue bag. Now he could go home in peace and eat his grilled pork chop.
The next morning while standing at his usual bus stop Keith Price purposely let the N° 38 pass him by without a second thought. His face hung awkwardly from his skull. Keith Price stepped onto the N° 73. It was a new "Bendybus". It was the first time Keith Price had used the N° 73 in sixteen years.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
is a Mancunian currently residing in Hackney, London. He is the founder and editor of Scarecrow
, and reviews books for
RSB. His short fiction has recently appeared online at The Beat
, Word Riot
and in numerous print publications. His novel (Dead Land
) presently awaits close scrutiny from agents and publishers alike.