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The Wheels on the Bus

Angela Lucas

She had sold her car, got a bus pass and was about to enter a brave new world.

Standing at the bus stop, she was in the queue behind a young mum, complete with pram. Sitting on the squashed hood was Kelsey. Somewhere in the depths of the push chair was another child, younger, and cocooned by the supermarket carrier bags.

Kelsey was three, said her mum. Kelsey had a cherubic face, that is, if angels ever had faces covered in equal mixes of white chocolate and nose snot; cherubic nonetheless, bonny and content, grubby and smelly, but obviously loved by her equally grubby and non-deodorant using mother.

The bus arrived, its claim to fame being that only two push chairs were allowed on at a time. The driver looked at the 4 prams at the stop and dourly said, 'Its right there on the notice, only 2 prams', then his face gained a glazed look, as if in detaching his mind from the situation, some of the mums would vaporise and cease to be his problem.

Lacking in deodorant, Kelsey's mum might have been, but what she lacked in that direction, she more than made up for with her placid pleasantness. 'We're not in any hurry, are we Kels? She's got some more white chocolate to keep her happy,' said to no one in particular. 'We'll wait for the next bus, all right Kels?'

Kelsey and her mum began to sing, 'The wheels on the bus go round and round....'

Showing her pass to the driver, she told herself, she wasn't a pensioner, she was an Autumn Gold. 'Pensioner' reminded her of chemistry lessons at school, 'Now then children, really you are just a skin full of chemicals made to look like a body.' Did 60 years finally call in the monetary value of those chemicals? She shuddered, then brightened, having already decided that in another ten years she would call herself a Third-ager, ready to tackle new exploits; be an astronaut, write a book, learn Swahili. Well maybe, she would just dare herself to go on the millennium wheel.

The Prime Minister had made a speech, just last week. He said that his government would ensure that, if re-elected, they would give equal opportunities for everyone in this great nation. 'Everyone will have the opportunity to go to University, to study, to achieve, to realise their full potential.'

Buspass knew she was part of that great 'everybody'.

The driver lurched his bus into the next stop. An assortment of people got on, led by a small boy about 6 years old, who raced to the back seats. His mother was not in the least like 'placid and pleasant' she had a voice marred by much cigarette smoking, it growled in her throat as she yelled at the boy. 'Git yer-self here now. D'you hear me? Git here, NOW.' The child stayed where he was.

The people on the bus looked round and round.

After much encouragement from the passengers, the child mumbled himself up to his mother. 'That's it, wait till I get you home. That's It.' Her threats were awesome but had no noticeable effect on the child who asked, 'Can I have some sweets?'

Buspass watched fascinated. The mother's mouth said, 'no, you b.. can't,' while at the same time, her hands gave the bag of sweets to the boy.

Maybe she's been captured by aliens, thought Buspass, transfixed. Maybe they cut her brain in half so that her mouth and her hands didn't work to the same rhythm. Half remembered thoughts from the film Apollo 13 came to her mind, and she thought, 'Houston, we have a problem.'

The driver on the bus said, 'Hold on tight, hold on tight.'

An old man sat in the seat opposite. He had the laboured breathing of lungs ceasing to function. His mouth was constantly on the move in agitation. Buspass could hardly have guessed at his thoughts.

He had a young lad once, Bert, short for Albert and named after his Granddad. The old man's mouth was further agitated, as he remembered the bomb.

59 years ago, it was. He and his wife Lily, and the young Bert had gone out to the Air-raid shelter in the street. Specially designed it had been. 'No ruddy German bomb can get through that,' they had been assured. 'They' being all the people in the quiet cul-de-sac.

They heard the bomb coming. He remembered the thick thud then the enormous catastrophic blast. The bomb had hit the ground at an angle, before burrowing its way under the shelter and detonating.

The old man heard the abrasive language bombarding the little boy. For a moment his heart was warm, as if he could see his Bert and dear Lily. 'It won't be too long now,' he said to their memories. 'I'd never have spoken to my lad like that. My Lily and I, we were right proud of him.'

And the wheels went round and round.

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